The Credibility Question
Whenever you find information on the Web, you have to determine the source's trustworthiness. The Web makes it easy for people to create fake companies, bogus think tanks, fictional surveys--and even fly-by-night universities, as in a recent case in England, where employers and students were fooled by "university" Web sites unrelated to any real university. Yet investigating a source's credibility can be tough, especially if you're new to a topic.
"Approach a Web site the same way you would a magazine or book," he says. "A quick skim should tell you, 'Who are these people and what do they say about themselves?'" To find out who owns a Web site (including a physical street address and contact person, sometimes with phone number), plug the domain name in a site like Geektools, which queries the whois database of domain name registrations. Similar sites include Better-Whois.com for U.S. sites that end in .com, .org, or .net, as well as Allwhois for global sites. To find IP addresses, try ARIN's Whois or the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority for those outside North America.
Amazon.com-owned Alexa helps you identify a page's traffic, how long it has been online, and how many sites link to it, for example. But while this works well for big commercial sites or associations (such as The League of Women Voters), it won't help much with small-business names or obscure groups.
Finally, for an extensive list of links to groups that seek to educate the public about bad information on the Internet, hate information, and online scams, visit The Virtual Chase: Legal Research on the Internet. After all, "forewarned is forearmed" was never truer than with the Web.