The Art & Science of Parenting in the Digital Age – “Can I Trust What I Find on the Internet?”

Everything can be found on the Internet!
Learning to search the Internet is a very important skill for young people. There is so much knowledge in the world today and most of it can be found in ONE place – the Internet!

From web pages to forums, social media sites, Pinterest groups, blogs, videos, the Internet is full of information!

Even if one types a question into a social media site, many people will probably reply with help (they call it “crowd sourcing”).
Everyone can search – It is easy!
Just type anything into any search bar, and one can easily get links to more information.
•    But how will one know whether the search results are true?
•    Which one of the links do I click on first?
•    How do I tell what is best?
•    How do they decide which results are shown first? 
The answer is: “It Depends!”
Most search engines do not give objective search results
In the past there were many search engines that use different criteria to decide which results to show first. These sites (e.g. Altavista, Bing, Yahoo!, Dogpile etc) compete for users with their criteria.

However, most of the searching is done either in google.com, youtube.com or Facebook Graph Search. These sites also rank results based on their guess of what the user likes.

For example, if 2 people search with the same word “Genghis” in Google, the search results may look very different. Google presents results according to what the user has clicked in the past. 
Now the user may sometimes be confused, especially if the results are different, and sometimes opposite to the others.
But why do they show different results?
Facebook, Google & YouTube are businesses that depend on advertising for profits. Part of the money they earn from advertising is used to provide everyone the “free” search service.

If more people use the search engine, then they can sell more advertisements to company for more profit. Therefore it is very important to the search engine that users click more.

To get users to click more, they would try to guess what you like to click on, by tracking your habits from the past. Then they show you the results in that order.

What can I do to make sure I am reading “correct” information?
It is harder to be sure (compared to the past)!
But it is easier to teach our children to do more, because they are now better at using the Internet!
Golden Rule #1 - Always compare a few sources
Do not stop with the first search result. Continue to the second, and third. See if they say similar things. One will be able to be more sure whether some information can be trusted.

Golden Rule #2 – Always check their “proof”
Even if someone quotes from a source like Straits Times, BBC, New York Times, it is always good to search further whether that has really been reported. Sometimes webpages use these “names” but the information may be inaccurate.

Golden Rule #3 – There are always different sides to a story
No matter how “real” or “true” a webpage may seem, remember there are always different ways to look at it.
Parents can spend time to read with their children, and help them to see the different view points. The more we show them the way, the more they become aware of other ways to look at things.

Enjoy the Internet!

Originally written for Innova Primary School.

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