The internet is full of information and answers generated by other users. Some of it is provided by official Government agencies, academics and reputable businesses. But some of it (actually a large proportion) is provided by everyday people like you and me. User generated content on the internet is constantly growing and developing and influences our travel destinations, purchasing decisions, gives us advice on medical concerns, tells us what movie to watch and even how to bake a cake or ride a bicycle. The trouble is we don’t know if the information we are receiving online is accurate or not. Is it an expert who has written an answer to a question on a forum or is it some random posting their opinion on the matter?
Trip advisor is a website where users leave reviews and information on travel destinations all over the world. They can say that a particular tourist attraction is great and worthwhile or on the contrary they can also write about how it may be a waste of time, overpriced and overall a terrible place to visit. These people leave reviews anonymously a lot of the time or with untraceable accounts and so if someone just has a bad day and leaves a terrible review, potentially thousands of tourists will avoid a certain area from one person’s – seemingly factual – opinion. This could make or break businesses in the tourism industry as a result. Check out the review for Neilson Hayes Library, Bangkok……OUCH!
Wikihow allows people to create step-by-step guides for free on anything they want and a lot of the entries actually seem quite well rationalised and created with real insight into the matter. The trouble is a step-by-step guide that may be available on how to get over the loss and grief of a loved one, or a guide on how to manage certain medical conditions could potentially be written by a good-intentioned, yet misinformed 13 year old. The mental health of vulnerable people in the real world could be at stake here.
Yahoo answers is one of the most visited sites on the internet for sources of information. People ask questions, other people answer their questions – it’s as simple as that. Yet the problem is that this website can reward and promote people who give inappropriate or false answers to user’s questions. Of educational websites, it is the 2nd most visited and it has even been described as a “teacher’s worst nightmare” because of the misinformation it can sometimes produce. Yahoo answers can also rank above academic sources and government websites in a Google search. Usually once user’s find what they THINK is what they are looking for, they stop searching and use that piece of information – which could be written someone completely clueless on the matter. Here’s an example:
Of course the big player on the matter is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a large database of informative articles on nearly anything you can think of. And it is all written and created by people on the internet, and these people don’t have their credentials checked. Businesses can have a page created about them without them knowing. And as for accuracy, it was found that 60% of informative pages on businesses had multiple inaccuracies. This was the same for medical entries as well but a whopping 90% of these entries were inaccurate. Factual errors were found even for common medical conditions. Someone was so annoyed by Wikipedia’s credibility they bothered to set up a protest website:
It’s great to have access to such vast arrays of answers and information provided by others – if it is true and accurate. Keep in mind that anyone can provide answers and information on the internet; so your product review may be done by amateurs and the advice you took on how to skateboard may have been written by a 60 year old.
Freeman, S. (2014). 90% of its Wikipedia’s medical entries are inaccurate, say experts. [online] Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2639910/Do-NOT-try-diagnose-Wikipedia-90-medical-entries-inaccurate-say-expertsDo.html [Accessed 20 Jul. 2014].
Leibenluft, J. (2014). Why Yahoo! Answers is a librarian’s worst nightmare.. [online] Slate Magazine. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2007/12/a_librarians_worst_nightmare.html [Accessed 20 Jul. 2014].
Long, R. (2012). Google Needs To Reevaluate Yahoo Answers. [online] Web Design Blog. Available at: http://www.omegaweb.com/google-needs-to-reevaluate-yahoo-answers-wiki-answers-chacha-etc-opinion/ [Accessed 20 Jul. 2014].
Oliver, A. (2012). Iffy-pedia: Up to six in ten articles on Wikipedia contain factual errors. [online] Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2131458/Up-articles-Wikipedia-contain-factual-errors.html [Accessed 20 Jul. 2014].
Wikipedia-is-wrong.com, (n.d.). Wikipedia is Wrong. [online] Available at: http://www.wikipedia-is-wrong.com/ [Accessed 20 Jul. 2014].