The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

Internet convenience may cost creditable information

With the proliferation of the Internet in recent years, students everywhere have benefited from its wealth of information. Whereas students in the past might have searched a text for hours to find information, knowledge is now only a click away.

“The Web is great,” electrical engineering professor Tom Chen said. “Not just the Web, but also search engines like Google, too. They can make sense out of everything out there.”

However, as helpful as the Internet can be, there are several reliability problems, Chen said.

“The information on the Web can be superficial and students are tempted to stay at that level without digging deeper. It tempts students into being lazy researchers,” Chen said.

Web users also need to be aware of misinformation.

“Unreliable information is most prominent on the Internet,” Andrew Leckey, visiting professor at Boston University’s College of Communications said. “The Internet increases the likelihood of mistakes because news is being put out all the time. There is a rush to get information out and that results in errors.”

Leckey, who is also a candidate for SMU’s journalism chair, recently spoke to journalism students on campus.

Harried students have the tendency to find information on the Web and accept its credibility. This can cause some problems, Chen said.

For example, many companies post “white papers,” informal papers or reports written by employees, on their company Web sites, Chen said. Students have to be wary of this kind of information because it has not been edited by professionals.

“Students will often use these white papers as references, but they can be superficial, misleading or even technically wrong,” Chen said.

Ultimately, the burden of determining information’s credibility lies with the Internet user.

“You have to be your own quality control when you are doing work,” Leckey said. “It’s particularly important to pay attention to what publication information is coming from and what the bias may be.”

Chen agrees. He said the most important factors to consider when examining a site are the source of the information, the motivation behind the site and verifiability from other sources.

It seems to be a First Amendment issue,” he said. “People are free to say whatever they want and are not liable within certain bounds, such as libel. So the burden will fall on the news consumer.”

It is a burden that can sometimes weigh heavily on busy students.

“I like using the Internet for research because it is so convenient. You can do it from home,” senior political science major Jennifer Thrall said. “But there are also a lot of drawbacks. Sometimes it seems to take longer to find credible information, because I have to verify everything, and I don’t really want to take the time to do that.”

According to a recent survey conducted by Belo Interactive, a subsidiary of the Dallas-based media company Belo, 46 percent of respondents age 15-25 cited newspapers as the most credible form of media. Twenty percent of respondents believed television was the most credible, followed by the Internet at 12 percent. The radio rounded out the results with 9 percent of the vote.

Survey results are based upon the response of 1,649 users of Belo’s four interactive news sites in North Texas.

Chen said he is surprised by these results.

“Something in the newspaper is not inherently more trustworthy just because it is printed on newsprint,” he said. “Anyone can write a newspaper editorial or publish their own newspaper that is unreliable, just as anyone can post a Web site that is unreliable. I guess people just rate the Web lower because there is a wider variety of Web sites, including a lot of junk.”

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