Being able to evaluate websites is one of the most important skills for the modern age. In the age of fake news, information bias, satirical, and purposely fraudulent sites, it is critical you can decipher the reliability and purpose of a site. Do not pass along inaccurate information. Question everything! Look at all the clues and use every tool at your disposal. Some of these tools include:
.com Used for commercial sites. These are generally for businesses trying to sell a product or service.
.edu Used for educational sites.
.org Used for organizations, either not for profit or for profit. These might have specific agendas or causes.
.gov Used by the United States government. These are reliable.
Currency: When was the site created? When was it last updated? How important is currency for your topic?
Relevancy: Does the site specifically address your topic and help answer your research question(s)?
Authority: Who is responsible for the site? Can you find out anything about the author or group that published the information by doing a Google search for their name? Do they have the credentials or expertise to write about this topic?
Accuracy: Is the information correct? Check other sources to verify. Is the page free from errors and typos?
Purpose: Why was the site created? Is it to inform, entertain, sell, or persuade?
One of the biggest mistakes people make when evaluating websites is to only look at the site itself. We tend to read the site vertically and judge it based only on what it is telling us. If it seems professional, is free of errors, is current, and lists the authors and sponsors, we often take it at face value. This can be a huge mistake. Most professional fact checkers do what is called lateral reading. They will instantly open up another browser tab and begin to see what they can find out from other sites about the author, organization, content, and purpose. Only after searching outside the site, will they come back and read the site itself.
It is important not to rely too heavily on only one method of evaluating a website. You should use all the tools at your disposal. So use a combination of checklists, lateral reading/searching, and sources such as Snopes that reveal fraudulent information.
To learn more about lateral reading, look at the attached article. Use your myMCC username and password for access.
Try out Mike Caulfield's SIFT Method for evaluating online information.