Howard Rheingold says no crap is good crap.
How can you figure out what’s deceiving you and what’s true on the Internet? Howard Rheingold, a writer, teacher, and techno-futurist (all right, I made that one up, but it’s true) wrote an article on his informal course in Internet media literacy, called Crap Detection 101.
Mr. Rheingold knows the Internet is filled with lots of crap and we all need to know basic information literacy to sort the crap from the not-crap. To him, crap equals ignorance, ineptness and out-and-out lies and deception.
Here are a few of the ways he advises you to check for online deception:
The most important question to ask is: Who’s the author? Who wrote what you’re reading (or who filmed and edited what you’re watching)? Can you discover the identity of the author? Can you communicate with the author, or enter into a dialogue by adding comments on his or her site? Can you search and find other information about the author? If the author says they have a degree or credentials, can you verify that they really do have that degree or credentials?
Does the website design match the content? (For instance, would a "World Institute of Whatever" have a badly designed web site?)
Does the site list any sources for their info? (Like footnotes, links to other sites, quotes from other books… you know, anyone else saying the same things.)
Have others linked to the page? If so, someone else might trust the site. Who are they?
Take a critical stance. Ask yourself: Is it possible that someone is trying to pull something over on me?
Finally, think like someone whose job it is to glean the truth from massive amounts of information, where some of it might be wrong. Think like a detective or an intelligence analyst. They get many clues, and must sort out the ones that mean something from the ones that don’t mean anything. They look at patterns of data, and already recognize some of the bad actors spouting untrustworthy information, and know some of the tricks that the usual suspects are likely to use.
How do these truth detectors approach information? The best info experts use triangulation – they find three other sources of information from three different places, which improves the likelihood that the information is correct.
If you read Mr. Rheingold’s article, read the comments, too. Some commented that he should have gone further than he did in his article, and told people to develop alternate ways of seeing the world. Mr. Rheingold responded:
But in terms of actually inducing people to question reality, I think it’s best to start with smaller steps. 😉
Crap Detection 101>>