How to check if a Web site deserves your trust
One of the questions readers ask more often than anything else is how to evaluate Web sites for accuracy. My own kids go to the Web constantly for school papers, and I sometimes find myself assisting them with homework assignments.
Sometimes it's obvious that a Web site is less than trustworthy, but often times it takes a little homework to find out what's really going on.
How can you actually tell if a Web site is trustworthy?
Rule number one is to determine who is behind the Web site. Is it obvious what or organization or firm is accountable for the data you're looking at? Is there a link or an "about us" page that describes who is responsible for the site? Is there a phone number or physical address that might allow you to contact the organization other than by e-mail?
If the answers to these questions are "no," this is probably not a site you want to trust.
The next layer to probe is the actual veracity of the information being offered. In other words, is this Web site providing me accurate, truthful data? At this point, you'll need to ask:
» Can I easily determine the site's author?
» Does the author have expertise with the subject matter?
» Are the facts clearly supported or linked to other legitimate sources?
» What about the quality of the writing? Are there obvious grammatical and/or spelling errors? (If so, this would make me wary of the content.)
» Has the site been recently updated?
If the answers to any of these questions are troubling, I'd take the site with a grain of salt.
Is the Web site's content really just a pitch to sell something? Let's say you're researching a trip for your school group to Disneyland. You want an accurate assessment of hotels and car rental places and perhaps an idea of reliable tour operators. Can the Web site provide unbiased information to plan the trip?
Here are some clues to determine the neutrality of a site:
» Does the point of view seem to be fair and balanced? Does the site mention shortcomings, or is everything too good to be true?
» If there are ads on the site, are they different from the content? (If an agency is providing you information on Disneyland, are they also trying to sell you trips to Disneyland? )
Again if a Web site clearly seems to be pushing an agenda, you might have to closely consider its reliability. For example, any credible newspaper or magazine clearly delineates between ads and editorial. If your source can't do the same, it's time to move on.
Assessing a Web site usually comes down to common sense. At the same time you may have to do homework in evaluating sources that will allow your kids do their homework.
is general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org