Sunday, 5 February 2012

My tips on searching for facts on the Internet

Let's face it, we all have opinions (you know that old saying... and if you don't then you're probably not old enough) and, since this is the Internet, we can all find information to back up our opinions.

I find there can be a vast difference between "information" and "facts". I'm sure I could search right now and find tonnes of information on how cats really do suck the breath out of babies or detailed instructions on how to turn into a true life vampire. Somehow I think those pages would be totally void of anything resembling facts.

If anyone's wondering, here's how I search out facts online.

1) I don't take anything at face value. If a page says their information comes from a trusted source, I look for a link going to that trusted source. If they don't have a link then I go to the source and search the information there. Anyone can say they got their information from WHO or Snopes or a big newspaper. I want to see their proof. If I told you that I know that Big Foot is alive and well and living in the Rouge Valley (he was seen in the McDonalds on Kingston Road), would you believe me? After all I read about it in the Toronto Star.

2) Look at where the information is. If you're researching something specific (especially medical research) and the only proof available is someone's personal blog, chances are you should run like hell. Run faster if they're selling the cure. Flag down a taxi and bolt if they claim the information's only on their site because the media AND the medical profession are all holding a vast conspiracy and the blogger is the only person able to share the *truth*.

Seriously. If you managed to get all the media and/or medical profession together in one place (I don't even want to know the logistics of this), chances are they'd only agree on a couple of things 1) the date and 2) where they were. And, most likely, people would argue over that too. Think about it... Fox News, Huffington Post, The Toronto Star, and The Sun are all media... do you really think they're all conspiring together?

3) A picture means nothing and the more graphic and heart-tugging the picture is, chances are it's false. You get an email or a message on Facebook and the picture is a small child, covered in bandages and bruises... and that child needs your help. Human nature urges you to provide that help. But stop and think for a second first. Even if the child is real and you can help, a couple of minutes on Google is not going to hurt. Check Snopes and if you can't find anything there, check other urban legend sites. Search the child's name, or the hospital, or the location. If none of that information is even available then how much help can you provide? And remember no one is checking your forwards. If the email is claiming someone is donating a monetary amount for each forward (whether it's Facebook, Microsoft, a hospital, or a cancer organization), just delete it.

Also, pictures are faked all the time. Just because you find a picture and it looks real, doesn't mean the photo is real. I've got a photo in my dining room of my son holding my daughter in his hand. They both have wings and are standing in a forest glade. Does anyone here think that really happened? No matter how nifty it looks, if it looks too fantastic to be real, chances are it's not. If you can't verify the picture then don't forward it as true. The photo that comes to mind first is one of a child taking a photo of a cloud shaped like a teddy bear. Of course it was passed along as a real photo, no mention of it being lifted from a movie.

4) If it's too good to be true... We all laugh at the badly written missives sent from across the world to our inboxes in all their various guises. People we've never heard of who, for some reason, have discovered our email address because we're so trustworthy and want to give us millions (either outright or to give to someone else, with us getting a large monetary bonus). And they all can't spell and have lawyers with email addresses. They send out those emails because, sadly, people do fall for them. Then come the people who send out emails claiming to be a friend in need (using the friend's name after hacking that friend's address book), asking for money to be wired because they need help now. If you get a bizarre email from a friend, email them directly and let them know. If you get a link from a friend, email them back and ask if they sent it. Never click on a link until you've verified it.

The saddest one of these is the fake job scam. Someone gets an email from a company regarding their resume. They email back and forth and get offered a job doing something specific like data entry or accounts receivable. The email sounds professional and the person has a company name and title. The company is overseas. Then comes a variety of scams, all aimed at someone who's floundering financially and desperate to find a real job. All sound a *bit* reasonable. Direct deposit information for your paycheque... paying for a background check... answering security questions. One job even claims to set you up as their contact in your country, handling their financial information. The first ones set you up for identity theft and stealing from your bank account. The last one leads you directly into money laundering and/or dealing with multiple bounced cheques from another country.

If someone's going to leave you an inheritance, it will not be by email. You will get real mail and a phone call. You will meet them in person. There will be tonnes of paperwork. And their lawyer will have a full address and an email address that's not by

If you get a job offer, google it. Get an address and phone number and call the number. Find out if the person, who ostensibly sent you an email, works there. If it's real, you will turn up concrete information about the company and the person wanting to hire you. If it's not, you will dig up all sorts of information proving that too. If you're poor at Googling, ask friends. That's how I found out about these scams in the first place. And I'm glad that the person who did get the email, took the time to ask friends before replying.

So basically, read, then read some more, and take it all with a big grain of salt. Happy reading everyone!

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