This morning I came across an unfamiliar site through a post-link I’d followed on a familiar blog. As usual, I did a perfunctory scan of the header and layout of the page. That took a few seconds. Then I got into reading the post. It was well written and the topic was fresh and interesting.
I was almost through the second paragraph when the inquisitor in me took my attention to look for the date of the posting. It wasn’t prominent nor was the post date easy to find. I flicked down to the comments section and picked the date of the first comment: October 21, 2008.
I resumed reading, having sorted in my mind the post’s place in time. About a third way through the text, I started inspecting intermittently the blogroll, names of commenters, checking out links to other sites, while continuing to read. I recognised that I was looking for links to sites or blogs that I might know.
It was then I realised that I was subconsciously prioritising my time, and my reading, by checking out the authenticity of the writer before getting further into what was quite a meaty post. In particular, I was scrutinising what I had gleaned from the post so far, weighing that against what I already knew.
I recalled doing this many times in the past when I had come across commercial sites and others that might waste my time while reading cogent story lines that amount to nothing - or worse, pernicious propaganda. The ‘trust’ mechanism within me kicks in fairly rapidly these days. It tends to be vicious if I suspect my time is being wasted.
Do young learners need this?
It also occurred to me that the routine I’d just accomplished was one difficult to explain to a young learner who may need to discover a thing or two about appraising the authenticity of information found on the Internet.
By flitting through what to others may seem a jumble of unrelated checks, I sketch an overview of where the post lies in relation to what I already know. This amounts to my knowledge of the topic and associated writers or sites familiar to me, as well as the possible up-to-date-ness of the information likely to be proffered by the content of the post.
How do you recognise baloney?
My usual reaction to bogus information, once it’s identified, is instantly to wipe all that I’d held in the temporary enquiry channel of my thinking to do with what I’d read in the post or article, and move on.
Over the years I’ve developed what Carl Sagan referred to as a baloney detection kit. It is only part of the routine I practice when checking out information or ideas new to me. It kicks in at an advanced stage for there is no need to use it if I’d already identified bogus information from perfunctory checks and judicious hunches.
What do you do when you come across a post on a blog new to you or article on an unfamiliar site on the web?
Do you use a routine to check out authenticity?
What would you do if you found that all your commonly used checks and routines returned insufficient information for you to form a useful opinion about the authenticity of an article, or of the information contained there?