Don’t believe everything on the Internet

If you believed everything that came through on the Internet, we would all be beneficiaries of millions of dollars left by a Nigerian prince!

The Internet is plagued with lies and misinformation  peddled by frauds and quacks such as bananas can cure Aids; Aids is a myth; a concoction of garlic, olive oil, beetroot, and lemon can cure Aids; or even more shocking and tragic is that having sex with young girls cures Aids or worse still using body parts of albinos cures Aids.

There are those who sell fake cures and then there are the conspiracy theorists who claim Aids does not exist or that the American CIA is trying to kill black people or that circumcision does not reduce the risk of HIV infection.

I often get emails from readers asking me wild questions from what they read on the Internet. The Internet is a powerful tool—it connects us, provides valuable information, but it is not monitored for malicious content.

Anyone at any time could post anything from anywhere; there are no safeguards. Anyone can set up a website to publicise and sell fake cures or promote a crazy theory, so it is up to users to be able to tell the good from the bad. Hence, information literacy and, in particular, understanding how to assess the credibility of information is very important.

Hints to help with source credibility is: how current the information is, the authority or qualifications of the author, site design, bias in content, and writing style.

Some of these are easy to manipulate. A person can make up fake qualifications to seem like they are an authority; they may even create fictitious recent scientific studies to make it seem like they are evidence-based.

But some good give-aways are: Is the site trying to sell you something? Is there bias? Is the page focussing on only one issue and not objectively considering alternatives, especially when it is a controversial issue? How does the page look and is it well written? Is it a shabby looking site with obscene adverts, blue and yellow font and flashing GIFs using very unprofessional and strong language? Does it use scientific reports to substantiate their claim?

You can also Google to see if others have posted reviews of the website. What is the domain name? Sites such as .edu .gov tend to be government and university sites which are more credible.

Warning: Be careful with Wikipedia because anyone can author its content. If you have doubts about any information then it is more likely a hoax.

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