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Knowledge on the internet

"It must be true, I read it in the paper". Once this may have had some justification, but now it is just a joke.  When the Internet first started the same was true of it.  If you stated something which you had found on the Internet people would scoff and say "Oh you can't believe what you read on the Internet, anyone can put any old rubbish on there".  This is true and it still happens, (particularly on social media, which for some perverse reason people are ready to believe).  However where we once used to go to the library we now turn to the Internet which is becoming better by the day and gives access to far more resources than you could find in your local library.

There are three important resources which are leading the drive to the Internet becoming the essential source of reliable information.

There may be others but these are the three that I know.  When wikipedia first started it may have been unreliable, it does get its material from public contribution.  It has the strength however of peer review so erroneous information is soon corrected.  It has the even better strength of the citation, so users may verify information for themselves.  To assess the quality of information on Wikipedia look at the citations.  Any thing you find on the Internet is merely opinion if it is not backed up by original sources.  This is particularly true of social media which has a lot of misinformation and articles with hidden political agendas.

The second resource, the Internet Archive, has become very important for citations.  One of the problems with the Internet is that links to other pages (URLs) stop working if the page is removed, or moves somewhere else.  There are a number of reasons this can happen; domain lapses, site make-overs without use of redirection, etc.  But whatever the reason, The "Way Back Machine" attempts to provide an answer.  I believe this started as an archive of the web, trying to preserve the history of the web which is a dynamic entity.  It has now branched out into digital archiving of books, music, etc and is working in conjunction with libraries to achieve this.

The third resource, Snopes, first came to my notice when we had those emails that would come in "attention grabbing statement - Please forward this to everyone you know".  Of course the headline was a spoof, but human nature being what is, the gullible meekly obeyed thinking they were doing good.  Copying a few lines from the email and searching on Snopes enables one to find a rebuttal so you could return this link to the sender and hopefully re-educate them.  I have added this to my signature and I now get very few of these.

Without wishing to offend anyone, check all Urban Myths at https://www.snopes.com/ but please don't send them to me, I do not forward chain letters.

Just recently there has been a new initiative involving the first two in collaboration with others to combat misinformation on the web, see this October 2019 blog entry, Fighting Misinformation Online.  The two organisations Wikipedia and The Internet archive are working together to enrich our experience, see this blog, Weaving Books into the Web-Starting with Wikipedia.  If you find these resources helpful it is worth supporting them.  Even a small once off donation from enough of us will help to ensure they continue for years to come.

1st November 2019

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