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The Internet is a wonderful and unique source of information, but you should avoid giving it full credence unless you have corroboration. Unlike other resources, there is no law, regulation or Internet policy ensuring that the information posted on the Net is true, objective or intelligent. In cyberspace anything goes.
The consequences of making decisions based on invalid information from the Net can range from a major inconvenience to jeopardizing the financial viability of your company. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for the information you include in your correspondence, reports and presentations, regardless of the source you use. So, ensuring that you receive accurate information from the Internet is vital.
“As a first step, make sure the Internet information you obtain is from a credible source,” advises Hakeem Oseni, production manager of NetNoir, a Web site featuring entertainment and business news for African Americans (www.netnoir. com). Since the range of informational quality on the Net is enormous, Oseni recommends you rely on highly regarded Web site providers. For example, government and educational institutions (typically, those sites that end in “.gov” or “.edu”) generally post comprehensive, up-to-date information. Many commercial sites (typically, sites that end in “.com”) also offer high-quality information as long as users recognize that these pages are profit driven.
Personal pages and Web sites sponsored by advocacy organizations are the most suspect. The information obtained there should be used with caution since the data these organizations provide tends to support their own agenda. The same rule applies for newsgroups and mailing lists.
“Brand recognition is another way to evaluate information on Web sites,” Oseni adds. He suggests you begin your Internet search by visiting the sites you believe represent quality. Numerous sites are sponsored by credible media outlets, including NetNoir, that stand behind the validity of the information they provide. Advertisers also drop “validity” hints. If you’re visiting a site that you’re unfamiliar with but see advertisers that you recognize, the information provided is probably reputable.
“Nothing beats good, old-fashioned research,” states Stephen Jackson, president of hypeitup.com Inc., an Internet marketing company in New York. “Take everything you get from the Internet with a grain of salt.” Put the Internet information you receive to the reliability test. Here are some tips to help you critically evaluate your Internet sources:
- Assess credibility. Does the company or organization hosting the site have the qualifications to do so? If their credentials fall short, the quality of the information they provide may also be deficient.
- Look for current data. Find out if the site is updated on a regular basis. If it is, the information on the site should be pretty timely. Most sites post the “date of last update” on their home page.
- Track grammatical, spelling or typographical errors. If the company sponsoring the site is careless in these areas, it may also be negligent in delivering accurate information.
- Beware of information you receive from message boards and chat rooms. “It’s impossible for any company to monitor these areas,” Oseni cautions. Message boards contain information posted by other Internet