Why It Matters
Because bad information has serious consequences: people who believe in health fraud scams may die, people who fall for business scams will lose money, and people who trust bad legal advice can end up in jail.
Because people are too trusting of computers and the internet. Note the following:
- In a national poll commissioned by Streaming Media, 1232 respndents were asked about what sources they trust the most for news. Of the 550 regular intrnet users in the poll, 76% said they could learn everything they need to know from the net; 51% said the internet had the most accurate information. [Editor and Publisher, May 15, 2000]
- In a Pew Internet Survey on education and the internet [http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=39, 71% of online teens say that they used the Internet as the major source for their most recent major school project or report.
- In a Pew Internet Survey on health and the internet [http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=26], Fifty-two million American adults, or 55% of those with Internet access, have used the Web to get health or medical information. . . A great many health seekers say the resources they find on the Web have a direct effect on the decisions they make about their health care and on their interactions with doctors. 10% have purchased medicine or vitamins online.
10% have described a medical condition or problem in order to get advice from an online doctor.
21% have provided their email address to a health Web site; 17% have provided their name or other personal information. 80% of health seekers say it is important to them that they can get this information anonymously, without having to talk to anyone.
- A nationwide survey by the Markle Foundation released in July 2001 found that the leading metaphor in the public's mind for the internet is "a library."
Varieties of Deception
Virus warnings from the uninformed
Data input errors -- typos, misplaced decimals, mistranslations, misspellings, problems of numeracy. See Jerry Lanson, "Online Errors Survive to Byte," Online Journalism Review, http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017964185.php and Carl M. Cannon, "The Real Computer Virus," in American Journalism Review, April 2001. Also, CyberSlip-Ups, from CyberJournalist.net http://www.cyberjournalist.net/slipups.htm
Parodies (which may be taken seriously by the unwary -- articles in The Onion have been cited in student papers, for instance)
Self-Proclaimed experts who aren't all that expert. See "Aska and You May Receive," in Searcher, May, 2000.
E-Mail scams: Fake donations, free credit offers, home loan offers, credit repair, penis enlargment, become irresistible to women, porn photos, free cell phones, work from home, etc. Beware anything with exclamation points.
Stock manipulation and other scams
Domain name fraud: Hijacking discontinued domain, domain squatting, domain-misspellings, defamatory content on lookalike (martinlutherking.org, globalwarming.org, a counterfeit of Bloomberg used for stock manipulation)
Hacks -- substitution of content on someone else's web site Online auction fraud
Identity Theft. See "Internet Users at Risk" in Searcher, January 2001.
The biggest lie of all, perpetrated by us, on ourselves: that everything is on the Internet:
See also the Berkeley "How Much Information Project," at http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/research/projects/how-much-info/charts/charts.html
Protections for Searchers
General Fraud and Hoaxes
Better Business Bureau Online http://bbbonline.org/
Don't Spread that Hoax http://www.nonprofit.net/hoax/default.htm
FTC Consumer Protection http://www.ftc.gov/ftc/consumer.htm
Give.org http://www.give.org/ -- the BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers advice on telling the real charities from the fraudulent ones.
Internet Fraud Complaint Center http://www1.ifccfbi.gov/index.asp. The FBI site. Check out the Fraud Tips and the IFCC Warnings, or file a complaint here.
Internet Fraud: How To Avoid Investment Scams http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/cyberfraud.htm
Internet Fraud Watch, from the National Consumers' Federation http://www.fraud.org/internet/intinfo.htm. The Internet Tips section has info on several kinds of scams on the net.
Internet Scambusters: a free e-zine http://www.scambusters.org/. Includes the Scam Check Station, with info on specific kinds of fraud, a Stop Spam section, and archives of previous issues
Scamwatch http://www.scamwatch.com/. From InterGov International. You can check out the latest scam reports or the FAQs, or report crimes and scams.
Urban Legends Reference Pages http://www.snopes2.com/. Investigates urban legends and determines whether they are true, false, or "of undetermined or ambiguous veracity"
the Virtual Chase: Groups That Alert the Public to Internet Fraud, Fanaticism and Bad information http://www.virtualchase.com/quality/alert.html -- For all kinds of fraud, not just health fraud.
VMyths.com - Truth about Computer Virus Myths and Hoaxes http://www.vmyths.com/
CDC Health-Related Hoaxes and Rumors http://www.cdc.gov/hoax_rumors.htm
Dietfraud HQ http://www.dietfraud.com/
Fraud and Quackery: Internet Resources http://www.pitt.edu/~cbw/fraud.html
HON Code of Conduct for Medical and Health Sites http://www.hon.ch/HONcode/Conduct.html?HONConduct719879 -- sites displaying the HON symbol agree to be monitored for compliance with these standards.
How To Spot Health Fraud http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/1999/699_fraud.html -- advice from the FDA
MedlinePlus: Health Fraud http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/healthfraud.html
Internet Pharmacy and Online Pharmacies Verification http://www.nabp.net/vipps/intro.asp -- check out any internet pharmacy to see if it is approved by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy
QuackWatch http://www.quackwatch.com/. An excellent, frequently updated guide to health scams and excessive claims.
USE A LIBRARY or ASK A LIBRARIAN.
Sez Who? Who wrote it? Who sponsored it?
Why are they giving this away for free? Free to the user does not mean free for the people who maintain the page; a website can be quite expensive. What are they hoping to gain from posting the information? Note: some online search engines no longer tell users when top placement has been paid for: AltaVista, MSN, LookSmart, Direct Hit, HotBot are among the ones who have been charged in a lawsuit for this.
Check for clues to the origin of the document in the URL. Some URLs are more credible than others.
The more inflammatory or impassioned the site, the more exclamation points it has, the greater the need to confirm from other sources
Use link searching to find out what kinds of people and organizations are linking to the site
Always ask, How do they know that? Ask, Does that makes sense?
Be skeptical of your data. Be especially skeptical of the data you want most to believe.
Verify in at least two other sources -- one of them in a reputable reference source.
Use Google as your general search engine. It doesn't sell placement.
See also the advice on the CyberJournalist Cyber Slip-Ups page http://www.cyberjournalist.net/slipups.htm
Arnold, Stephen E. "Internet Users at Risk" in Searcher, January 2001.
Burbules, Nicholas C. "Paradoxes of the Web: the Ethical Dimensins of Credibility. Library Trends, Winter, 2001.
Cannon, Carl M. "The Real Computer Virus," American Journalism Review, April 2001
Detwiler, Susan. "Charlatans, Leeches and Old Wives: Medical Misinformation." Searcher, March, 2001 [http://infotoday.com/searcher/mar01/detwiler.htm
Ebbinghouse, Carol. "Medical and Legal Misinformation on the Internet." Searcher, October, 2000.
Katz, James E. "Struggle in Cyberspace: Fact and Friction on the World Wide Web." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Nov. 1998
Lanson, Jerry. "Online Errors Survive to Byte," Online Journalism Review, http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017964185.php
Lasica, J.D. "Search Engines and Editorial Integrity." Online Journalism Review, July 23, 2001 http://www.ojr.org/ojr/technology/1017778969.php
Mintz, Anne. "Dangerous Data Ahead." Searcher, May 2000 [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/may00/mintz.htm
Mintz, Anne. "Database Quality and Accuracy: a Selected Bibliography http://www.ibiblio.org/journalism/dbqcbibliog.html
Mintz, Anne. Web of Deception: Misinformation on the Internet. Information Today, 2002.
O'Leary, Stephen D. "Rumors of Grace and Terror." Online Journalism Review, October 5, 2001 http://www.ojr.org/ojr/ethics/1017782038.php
Piper, Paul S. "Better Read That Again: Web Hoaxes and Misinformation. Searcher, Sept. 2000 [http://infotoday.com/searcher/sep00/piper.htm]
Tomaiuolo, Nicholas G. "Aska and You May Receive," in Searcher, May, 2000.
For questions about the presentation, send e-mail to marylaine at netexpress.net