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Saturday, April 15, 2006

 

Avoiding the Perils of the Internet

I don't think it's an understatement to say that the Internet is as much a revolution in human communications as television, radio, or the printing press were when they were first introduced. The Internet puts the entire wealth of accumulated human knowledge at your fingertips. No previous generation had such immediate access to so much information. And the poplarity of the World Wide Web, combined with the proliferation of blogs, homepages, etc. truly makes free speech real for the entire population. In principle, anyone can publish anything they want on the Web and have it potentially be read by everyone else.

OK, that's the rosey, naive utopian vision of the Internet. The unfortunate reality is that the Internet is equal parts amazing universal knowledge database, cess pool of lies and misinformation, welcoming communities for people to find other people with similar interests, outlet for still other people to exercise their worst anti-social impulses anonymously, forum to debate and discuss important issues, and platform to spew the most vile propaganda and smear campaigns.

The truth is the fact that the Internet makes free speech real is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. You can't blindly trust every web page you visit or every email you receive. To make the most of the Internet, you have to put a bit of work into making sure the information you're getting is accurate.

So, in the interest of helping my fellow web surfers, here are some sites that I think are trustworthy and can help you avoid getting sucked into the cess pool:
One thing all these sites have in common is that they provide external references so that the interested reader can check their facts independently. This is a pretty good indicator as to whether the site is actually trying to provide good information. In contrast, many sites that try to spread false information or distort facts will make intentionallly vague statements that are difficult to verify, and provide no references to back up their position. This is not a perfect test of a site's veracity, but it is a good starting point. In general, it's always a good idea to remain skeptical of anything you see online that can't be easily independently verified.

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