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Be Wary

How to trust what you read on the Web

How do you know if what you're reading right now is true? Well, you don't, really. But before you see what I write, these words pass before several pairs of eyes to ensure each article's accuracy. That's the trust that comes with glossy print magazines. With the Web, however, I can put my manifesto, declaration or "news" before an audience of millions without any checks or balances, or anyone to curtail my version of the truth. Audri Lanford, editor of Internet ScamBusters (http://www.scambusters.org), notes: "Anyone can publish anything. Whether or not it happens to be true, they can reach a wide audience." What's the solution? If you're looking for information or news online, you've got to be a critical browser and identify the warning signs of a slanted data source. Lanford offers these tips:

  • Be skeptical. If it sounds too weird to be true, it probably is.
  • Don't ever believe spam-Lanford says 95 percent of it is a scam.
  • As you become comfortable on the Web, you'll become familiar with the brands that can be trusted. Ask your Web-savvy friends if you're not sure.
  • The online versions of publications you trust, such as The New York Times and Entrepreneur, are as trustworthy as their print counterparts.
  • When in doubt, check a site's credibility through The Better Business Bureau online (http://www.bbb.org), TRUSTe.com, the National Fraud Information Center (http://www.fraud.org) or ScamBusters.

Other points to consider:

  • Like milk, Web sites expire. If a site hasn't been maintained in six months or longer, the information is old news. In Web time, immediacy is just as important as accuracy.
  • Sponsored sites have an obvious slant. The fine print at the bottom of the page will quickly reveal its creators. When there's a financial gain to be made from a Web site, you should question its content.

Web geek Karen Solomon (ksolomon@wenet.net) writes about technology and e-business for a number of publications, including Wired and Business 2.0.

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