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Watch your Internet sources

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Greg Peck
November 30, 2012

A letter we printed in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election made me shudder. The writer rightfully suggested that politicians flood us with too many falsehoods and downright lies. Instead of believing misleading advertisements, this writer urged readers to find the truth about what a politician really says by going to the Internet.

I’m afraid, however, that too many people spread misinformation and falsehoods on the Internet, and too many gullible people believe such trash. I get emails almost daily that are passed along by readers who’ve received some forwarded information about some politician or issue. I seldom take time to read them. If I don’t know the source, I can’t trust that it’s reliable.

Earlier this month, I read a story in the Daily Targum in New Brunswick, N.J., about journalism students unwittingly using unreliable Internet sources.

Because of the widespread accessibility and volume of available information, some Rutgers University instructors face the challenge of teaching students how to discern reliable versus faulty sources for their research papers, the story explained.

Kathleen McCollough, an adjunct professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, was teaching a workshop titled “The Internet and Critical Thinking.” When she started teaching, she was shocked at students’ poor research methods. Students too often wasted time and risked bad grades by using sources that lacked quality.

She told reporter Theresa Lin that students should assume the role of an investigative reporter when determining the quality of sources by questioning whether a site’s author could have ulterior motives.

So should a lot of voters—and those emailing me political chain letters with questionable material.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook



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