Site Checking for Authenticity
See links at bottom for more on the subject
April 1, 2005
Intentionally Misleading Web Sites
By Frank Westcott
There are many intentionally misleading Web sites. Your students need to know that they exist and how to
recognize them. They also need to learn how to evaluate the trustworthiness and authenticity of what they
read on the Internet. They have to understand that anyone with a computer and Internet access can publish
a Web page and promote their point of view.
The following is a great example of why it's so important to teach our students how to evaluate Web sites
for accuracy and bias.
Imagine you're looking for information for your report about Martin Luther King Jr. You go online to
Google, where you type "Martin Luther King." You notice that the fourth site listed is "Martin Luther King,
Jr.: A True Historical Examination" (www.martinlutherking.org). You visit the site, and since you've never
been taught to critically analyze Web sites for accuracy or bias, you have no reason to believe that what
you're reading might be biased.
The site claims to be "A True Historical Examination". Now an educated, sophisticated, and adult observer
like yourself might notice that the homepage contains a few hints suggesting that this site isn't exactly
what it claims to be. But these clues can be missed by a student looking for information. The site looks
pretty legit and could easily be taken at face value by some of our students.
But to find out what it really is, go to the site, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and find the
link to the site's host. Click on that link and see who put together this "True Historical Examination".
You're in for a shock, as it's hosted by a white supremacy group.
What better way for a hate group to get out their message then to disguise their agenda and masquerade
their hate in a well designed, albeit historically inaccurate, Website. Keep in mind that anyone can put
together a legitimate looking site. But whether or not these sites can be relied upon as historically
accurate is another story.
For example, check out Facts About the Civil War.
Anyone who has spent any time learning about the Civil War should know that Confederate army didn't
invent "balloon-fired guided missiles." Unfortunately many of our students are under the false impression
that if they find it online, it must be true. The Internet is filled with so much misinformation, whether
accidentally or intentional, that educators need to spend as much time teaching students how to analyze
what they found as they spend teaching them how to find it in the first place.
If anyone is planning on integrating any Internet component into a lesson or plans on having students use
the Internet to search for info, it is very important that you spend some time first teaching them some
of the tricks to "test" sites to ensure they're legit.
The first thing we should teach our students is to look for an author. If a Web site appears to be
legitimate, yet includes no author, be suspicious. That doesn't mean that every Web site without an author
should be ignored, nor should every Website with an author be taken at face value. Even a well documented
site, with the author's name clearly displayed, could in fact have a hidden agenda. Luckily we have at our
disposal some very useful tools to check for these hidden agendas.
Google's "Link to" feature:
Go to Google and type in a site's URL (such as www.martinlutherking.org) and click "Go." Then select "Find
Web pages that link to." and you will get a list of other sites that link to that particular site. Some are
perfectly legitimate but some are not. First, if this site were so trustworthy and accurate why would so
many hate groups link to it? Second, why would so many Web sites teaching how to evaluate the Web use this
one as an example of a bad site? These are questions that we must teach our students to ask.
A quick visit here will allow a user to check the organization or person who owns the site in question. For
example, searching for www.martinlutherking.org quickly reveals that the site is owned by an organization
called "StormFront". Another quick search reveals that the organization responsible for the "True Historical
Examination" of Dr. King, is indeed a White Supremacy Group. I think it's safe to assume a bias in this case.
The Tilde ~
Look closely at a Web site's URL. Does it contain a tilde (~)? If so, that should set off a caution flag.
Consider the following, fictional, URL: www.reputableuniversity.edu/~walker/historyfacts.html. Because it
contains the name of a reputable university one would assume it is a trustworthy source, right? But while
it may be part of a university's site, that tilde lets us know that this portion of the site is created,
published, and maintained by somebody else. Universities typically allow their students to create Web
pages. While the pages may physically be part of the university's site, the tilde let's us know that the
university does not necessarily endorse the material.
Get a Second Opinion !
If you read something that arouses suspicion, find another source. We should constantly remind our students
that the Internet is filled with information and finding another Web site that hopefully confirms but may
contradict what one has read shouldn't be too difficult or time consuming.
The Internet is a great tool for educators and students. We must remember to tell our students that they
shouldn't necessarily believe everything they read just because it's online. If we remind them of some of
the techniques available to verify the accuracy of the information they find, we'll be able to counter the
demagoguery of these intentionally misleading Web sites.
Here are just five sites that deal with the issue of Web site evaluation. It would be worthwhile to take
some time to examine these and perhaps to also do a Google search for other pages on the topic "evaluating
Evaluating Web Sites: Criteria and Tools.
Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators - Critical Evaluation Surveys
Evaluating Web Sites
Multnomah County Library Homework Center - Evaluating Web Sites
ITS Center for Instructional Technology
Scholastic More on this subject
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