[EAS] Internet Credulity

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Jan 24 13:54:01 EST 2005

Subject:   Internet Credulity

(from NewsScan Daily, 24 January 2005)

     A new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project has
found that only 1 in 6 users of Internet search engines can tell the
difference between unbiased search results and paid advertisements.
All of the major search engines return a mix of regular results
(based solely on relevance to the search terms entered) and
sponsored links (for which a Web site had paid advertising fees).
Only 38% of Web searchers are aware of the distinction, and of those
only 47% can always tell which are paid -- even though they're
usually labeled by the search engines. PEW researcher Deborah
Fallows says: "We're still in the infancy of the Internet. People
are still kind of so pleased that they can go there, ask for
something and get an answer that it's kind of not on their radar
screen to look in a very scrutinizing way to see what's in the
background there." (AP 24 Jan 2005)

A dismaying finding, and yet another instance where our secondary
schools, and probably even colleges, are failing. Not that the need
for a little critical thinking is unique to Internet searches.
Newspaper and television content these days is often little more
than paid advertisement.
As regards the Internet, I have long pointed to simple tutorials
like <http://sosig.ac.uk/desire/internet-detective.html>, as a way
of improving Internet savvy. It is not the only such tutorial, but
the oldest known to me. (It can even be downloaded for off-line
Finally, I must say I'm 'kind of' disappointed in the syntax of the
quoted Pew researcher. It kind of lessens one's confidence in the
reported results of their study.


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