Evaluating Websites

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This tutorial is a quick run-through of some examples of bias online.

Bias: (From American Heritage Dictionary)

  • A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgement
  • To influence in a particular, typically unfair direction

Let's see some biased websites!

Let's say you're writing a Theology paper on the Amish in Lancaster County, and you found this website:

You might be inclined to trust it because:

  • It provides seemingly helpful information about the Amish
  • The URL is a .org website, and you know these are usually (but not always) non-profit websites
  • It offers statistics about the Amish population
  • The website looks well-designed and recently updated

Let's take a closer look....

Look at the logo and information for a minute to figure out the purpose of the website and then answer the question below:

What is the main goal of this website?

Mission to Amish logo

Is this a biased website? Of course it is! Some of the information may be correct, but you can't trust it as an objective source about the Amish because its main purpose is to convert them.

Let's take a look at another site.

Fracking (or Hydraulic Fracturing) is a method of removing natural gas from the ground for energy. Maybe you're writing a paper on whether or not fracking is a good idea.

You found this site that seems to explain a bit about it. Click the link to open it in the window to the right.

Should you use it? Take a look on the right:

  • The website is very professional
  • It explains about fracking and earthquakes
  • Facts and data are included
  • The URL is a .org site, and those are usually non-profits

Let's check further.

Take a look at more information like the Supporting Organizations:

Fracking website menu image

Read the names of the supporting organizations. What types of organizations are providing funding for this website?

Would you trust energy companies to publish unbiased information about fracking?

No, it's how they're making money!

Let's see another example...

Take a look at this website about bottled water. Click the link to open it in the window to the right.

You're writing a paper about whether or not bottled water is safer than tap water.

It looks okay:

  • The author says he/she isn't trying to sway you on the issue
  • It lists links to further reading
  • It lists only fact-based information

Let's take a closer look...

Take a closer look at ads and sponsors: 

water health website

Lots of websites have ads. Does this mean it's not trustworthy?

When someone is trying to sell you a product you can't assume the information is reliable!

These are just some common ways websites can be untrustworthy.

Watch for:

  • website sponsors
  • the site's ultimate purpose or goal
  • any vested interest

Always take a closer look!

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