Information Competency Gavilan College Fall 2001 Lesson #3
Evaluating Websites
blue separating line

This assignment covers certain tricks that you can use to determine who is publishing what on the Internet. Librarians are constantly trying to impress on students that websites can be posted by anyone, and say anything they want. Nobody is checking anything, there is no publisher or author, and sometimes it is very difficult to find out where the information is originating.

None of the boxes below will work, until you get to the next blue (violet?) box at the very end. I'm putting this up just as an illustration of what the librarians can do for your class. We can change this any way you'd like, find sites that match better with your subject matter, change wording or layout or anything else you'd like. Look through the assignment below and see what you think. At the very end, there is a place where you can tell me what changes you'd like to make.

blue separating line

Once upon a time, a fourteen-year old boy came home from school and told his mother that he was writing his history paper about how the Holocaust never happened. His mother was stunned, but finally asked him, "Zack, where did you hear that the Holocaust didn't happen?" Zack replied,"The Internet. It's on a Web page at Northwestern University."

Zack got his information at a website with the URL of http://pubweb.acns.nwu.edu/~abutz/. (edit 9/16/06: This page is no longer active. Here is a link to a mirror of the page before it was removed. http://www.ibiblio.org/team/history/controversy/abutz/ )

link to Arthur R. Butz homepage
You can find more information about a website by taking off pieces of the URL in the location bar. When you click on the graphic above, your browser will open up another screen with that page loaded. Go to the location bar and erase the ending directories off the URL until you have only this much left:

http://pubweb.acns.nwu.edu/ (edit 9/16/06: The personal pages for Northwestern have been eliminated.)

Hit return to get to this 'mother' page. What does this website tell you?

deleting folders from the domain name

Take another look at the URL for this website:

http://pubweb.acns.nwu.edu/~abutz/

The tilde (~) after the domain name is another clue that this page might not be an official page of the university. A tilde in a URL usually means that this is a personal website, not officially connected to the website organization. It's similar to the post-it note on the bulletin board at the supermarket -- put there by an individual customer, and certainly not an official document of the supermarket.

Any time you see the tilde in a URL, remember that this is not directly connected to the institution in the domain name.

Another way to check on the credibility of a website is to see what other websies are linking to it. Guilt by association. Use the Alta Vista search engine for this. And we'll have to use the Advanced Search screen. Find that link under the search button:
This advanced search will let us find sites that link to our URL. Type in your search exactly like this:

link:pubweb.acns.nwu.edu/~abutz/

One of the first sites on my list is an article by Alan November entitled "The Web: Teaching Zack to Think". See if you can find this site on your result list.
link to Alan November article
Describe the purpose of this website.
What is the author trying to explain?

Another link on my result list is from a previous professor at Northwestern University who has a few things to say about our website, and about the administration of Northwestern Unitersity. Find this website on your list (or you can just click on the link below.

another professor at NWU
What are his feelings about Professor Butz' website, and about the administrative decisions at Northwestern University?

Other links from my result list connected to other personal websites, with links to their personal favorites. Look at this one:

link to I love white folks page
What kinds of sites are linked on this page?

Most of the links on my result list fell into these three categories:

  • Websites on how to evaluate Internet information
  • Outraged readers
  • Hate groups

What conclusions can you draw about the Arthur Butz website from the pages that link to it?

These are the kinds of manipulations you'll have to go through to evaluate any questionable information you find on the Internet. Remember that there is nobody in charge of the Internet. There is no editor or publisher screening information. Anyone can post anything. To summarize, these are the steps you can take to verify and evaluate information:

  • Examine the URL for tildes, signifying personal websites.

  • Delete the endings of the URL and get back to the domain name. See what that has to say.

  • Use the advanced search screen of the AltaVista search engine to find links to the website. Evaluate the kinds of websites that are linking to your website.

Look at the three websites below. They are all concerned with AIDS, but have some very different points of view. In the space below the links, write a brief description of the site, and the information you find when you delete parts of the URL or run the URL through the AltaVista link search. If your sister had AIDS, would you rely on the information given?
Site 1
Site 2
Site 3

Let's take a look at one more website.

http://www.martinlutherking.org/

This site has a very definite point of view, and yet there are no clues as to the ownership of the site or the identity of the author. There are no tildes in the URL, and in fact, there isn't even a homepage that we can sneak back to. There are no mission statement or 'about us' buttons that we can follow. This page makes it very difficult to find out who is putting up this information.

But there is one clue. Notice the link towards the bottom of the page, "Hosted By ". This links to a webpage which ends in stormwatch.org. Try entering this address in your location bar.
What can you find out about the author through this link?    

Take the www.martinlutherking.org address and run it through the AltaVista advanced search to get a list of sites that link to it. You can click on the advanced search graphic to the right to get to the search screen.
Describe a couple of the sites that link to the Martin Luther King site:

Can you draw any conclusions from these associations?

separating line

road sign Let's Review
Hopefully you can see why it is so important for you to evaluate any information you find on the Web. The web is filled with all sorts of information, from historical and medical facts to hoaxes and hate. It is up to the reader to determine what information is accurate and reliable.

  1. If you wanted to check on the reliability of a website, what are two things that you can do?

  2. What does a tilde (~) mean in a URL?

blue separating line

Congratulations!

You've made it through the assignment. In the box below, let me know how you'd like us to change this for your class.

How long did you spend on this assignment?    

Please make sure you have entered your name and email address,
and don't forget to click on the submit button below.

Name:     

E-mail:     

blue separating line

Address of this page:
http://gavilan.edu/tlc/ic/eval.html
For questions or comments, contact Jo Anne Howell
Last updated on September 17, 2006 .

Back to the IC Models Schedule