Never trust a single source: The new rules for learning anything online
By Contributing Author
Are you old enough to remember when there was no internet? It was a time when people had to visit the local public library and read books to research information. There were no computers or high-speed internet connections that gave you immediate access to a virtual library of content. People had to search through several physical books to learn a few simple facts.
Who remembers when there was no social media, too? Now, thanks to social media, everything is so easy to discover I can easily tell what color of shirt you wore last week. Some experts are even predicting the future of social media to feature far more astonishing inventions.
The internet has turned the modern age into a world of convenience. However, there are some disadvantages to learning new things online. Perhaps the most significant disadvantage is the plethora of misinformation that has circulated across the world wide web. Many websites might publish information, but it doesn’t necessarily come from reliable sources. Therefore, don’t assume everything you read online is accurate.
Below are the top five new rules for learning anything online. These rules will help guide you on the internet, so you don’t believe in too much false stuff.
1) Don’t Trust Wikipedia Completely
Contrary to popular belief, the famous online encyclopedia Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Thousands of volunteers write the articles found on Wikipedia. Anyone is allowed to edit a Wikipedia article and submit the edit for review. Sometimes the facts of your content will get disputed, but not always. There is no real guarantee that all Wikipedia articles are 100% accurate.
Any teacher or academic professor will forbid their students from using Wikipedia for research. They continue to stress the importance of using academic textbooks to retrieve research information. That is why schools continue to issue textbooks in the first place. You should continue to use academic encyclopedias rather than Wikipedia.
The Encyclopedia Britannica is a much better alternative to Wikipedia. For one thing, the authors of Britannica articles are screened for their credibility. They are not just random people contributing information to the encyclopedia. Instead, the authors have professional credentials to support the topics of their contributions.
2) Learn from Several Social Media Groups
People like to subscribe to gurus and skilled individuals on social media networks like Facebook and Instagram. Just make sure you’re not listening to only one person. Instagram influencers might sound smart, but many of them provide educational tutorials and lessons to make money. There is no telling whether their teachings are accurate or not.
If you’re a business owner looking to pick the right influencer for your brand, you don’t want to base your judgments on just the recommendation of one social media source. You want to spread your tentacles to be sure you’re choosing the right guy.
For instance, someone could buy real Instagram likes to gain more traffic to their posts. If these posts appear popular to people, they might assume the influencer knows what they’re talking about. Since Instagram users might purchase likes to gain traffic, you cannot assume their intelligence level is indicated by the number of likes on their posts.
3) Google Snippets Are Not Perfect
Whenever someone needs to answer a question, they will usually type the question into the Google search box. The idea of “Googling it” is a common way in which people discover information online. The Google search engine now publishes an immediate answer to a question at the top of the search results page.
Google developed “featured snippets” in 2014. They are excerpts from various webpages which have information related to your search. If you search a question in Google, the snippets utilize an automated algorithmic process to find the answer and feature it at the top of the search results page. The answer will include a link to the web source where it is published.
People typically look at the snippet answer while ignoring its web source link. That is a mistake. Sometimes the answer comes from an unreliable source, especially if the question is long or exaggerated. Google is pretty good about giving you reliable sources for the snippets, but not always.
You should take it upon yourself to check the source and compare it to other sources. The general rule of thumb is to review the top five website sources listed in your Google search results. Visit each website and take notes on the information provided. Compare the data and see what is the same and what is not the same.
4) Review Multiple YouTube Video Sources
YouTube is a fast and easy way to learn new things. You could find millions of tutorial and how-to videos on YouTube. There are videos about virtually every topic known in existence on the platform. But what you must understand is that YouTube does not have verified professional users. In other words, a self-described teacher or guru is not necessarily knowledgeable in their alleged field of expertise.
Anyone can upload a YouTube video and pretend to be an expert in something. A content creator with thousands of subscribers doesn’t necessarily have real knowledge in any particular subject. You don’t know if they purchased subscribers or provided a lot of popularized misinformation to their subscribers.
The best thing to do is to watch multiple videos from different content creators about the same topic. When you hear different perspectives on an issue, you can compare the similarities and differences in what you heard. That will give you a better idea of what is the truth and what is still up for debate.
5) Watch for Political Bias on News Media Websites
We live in the age of fake news. If you follow politics, you’ll understand this term very well. Republicans and Democrats accuse each other of spreading fake news all the time. Conservatives might tell you that CNN articles are fake news, while liberals might say that Fox News articles are fake news. How do you know which news media websites are trustworthy?
Unfortunately, you will never get a clear answer to this question. There are so many variables that determine the sincerity of a news reporter and their articles. When you visit a news website and read an article, look for factual statements with sources to back them up. The sources might appear as clickable hyperlinks or citations.
The problem with the news media today is it’s so opinionated. Every news organization has a particular political or social agenda to achieve. They strive away from facts and the simple act of reporting the real news. All you can do is look for sources and hope for the best. If you can locate multiple sources to support the facts presented in a news article, then you can probably trust it.
There is plenty of knowledge and skills you can learn online. The trick is to choose reputable sources for all the information you research. And if you want to learn from social media websites like Facebook or YouTube, try to find several supporting opinions to back up the lessons. Never rely on just one YouTube video or Facebook post for your information. Look at several videos and posts.