Successful online readers need to contemporaneously evaluate truth, relevance, quality, impact, and claims made while evaluating the usefulness of the information they find. They need to quickly search and sift through multiple modes and multiple sources to find what they’re looking for. These activities prove to be a challenge, and they’re made increasingly more difficult as groups spread bogus information online.
In the past, I’ve written about the need for you to be a healthy skeptic as you read online. This means that you need to consider how sincere the author of the webpage is as they publish and share their materials.
To help make sense of the types of information we find online, I use the model first identified by Brem, Russell, & Weems (2001). They identified three typical web environments that represented different levels of information sincerity: hoaxes, weaker sincere sites, and stronger sincere sites.
Hoax websites are defined as website “fabrications” created for entertainment purposes, usually invoking the ridiculous, but maintaining a “superficial appearance of scientific professionalism”
Weaker Sincere Sites
Weaker sincere sites are defined as more “balanced between reputability and disreputability” than hoax websites or stronger sincere sites. The claims made on weaker sincere sites are believable and supported by data found online, but they do not stand up to close examination.
Stronger Sincere Sites
Stronger sincere sites present information that include several elements that affect the credibility of the website: “professional markers” of organization, credible experts, and an “air of precision and authority.” The claims made on stronger sincere sites are believable and supported by data found online, and generally can be proved by facts and investigation.
This model helps frame sources online in a continuum that stretches from the factual to the absurd. This helps readers think of online texts as not being either “right” or “wrong, “true” or “false”, or “fake” or “real.” There is instead a focus on subtle shades of grey as we consider credibility and relevance of the text, and the bias or perspective of the author.