Exercise: Assessing the Credibility of Online Sources
As online technology rapidly develops, the criteria for evaluating these sources develops as well. Online sources are so new that their status as academic sources is not fully established; therefore, you should verify that your professor will accept online sources before you invest time in browsing the Web or assessing the credibility of sources you find there.
Once you've determined that online sources can be used, you'll still need to assess their credibility. The following criteria for assessing online sources will help you to determine whether electronic sources are both professional and appropriate for your paper. Keep in mind as you review these criteria that many are based on standards used for traditional print sources; others are clearly relevant for electronic sources only.
The CRAAP Test
The link above leads to a credibility test developed by CSU Chico. Take some time to look it over. In a moment, we will use it to test the credibility of a website concerning Dr. Martin Luther King, jr.
The following web site presents a racist, biased, and highly problematic perspective on Martin Luther
King and the Civil Rights Movement. It shows that online publishing creates a myriad of problems. It is
easy to publish online, but it is sometimes difficult to know for readers what the purpose of a website
is, who the audience is, and who published the site. The prupose of this web site is not to provide
insights into Martin Luther King's life, but to promote the perspectives of a White Supremacist group.
We'll go through the CRAAP principles to show how you can analyze a site and find out whether this a
reliable source for your research or whether it is a biased perspective that is not supported by facts.
Martin Luther King jr.
The CRAAP system has five points:
Let's begin our analysis with Currency. Consult the questions on the worksheet. Can you find a publication date for the any of the pages on the website? While many of the sources used on these pages contain dates, none of the webpages themselves contain publication dates. Have there been any recent revisions to the site? Again, it's difficult to tell. Navigating the site, you will find several links with the word "New" appearing next to them. However, since there's no way of gauging when these new links were added, you must assume the information is not current. Finally, are the links on the site functional? Right away, you'll notice that the first link on the right-hand side of the page "Historical Writings" does not work.
Now, let's look at issues of Relevance. Does the information on the site relate to your topic. Unless you're writing a paper condemning Martin Luther King jr., probably not. The majority of the links on the website cast him in a negative light. Clicking on "Civil Rights Library" will take you to a page filled with links intended to paint the Civil Rights Movement as "un-American and subversive." Who is the intended audience for this page. Two items on the front page suggest an audience. The link above the picture of MLK jr. beckons "Attention students." At the bottom of the page, a link reads "Download fliers to pass out at your school." The site appears to be designed as a resource for students. If these details don't raise red flags, the next section certainly will.
The Authority of the website raises some important questions. Who is the author? If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you'll see a link claimed the site is "Hosted by Stormfront." Clicking this link leads you to the organization's homepage. Stormfront is white supremacist group led by David Duke. Does this qualify Stormfront to talk about the Civil Rights Movement? No. Furthermore, the only thing we know about many of the people on the site is their participation in various white supremacy organizations. Can you contact the author of the site? While you can visit Stormfront's website, and probably reach someone via the message board found there, no direct contact information is given. Finally, consider the fact that the site has a ".org" extension. What does this suggest about the intention of the site (remember ".org" is reserved for organizations)?
Now, let's tackle Accuracy. Where does the information on the site come from? The home page has quotes an excerpt from a Newsweek article, but the remainder of the site isn't as credible. If you click on "Truth About King" you'll be taken to an article by Kevin Alfred Strom. Who is he? Click on his name to be taken to his website. Not surprisingly, Strom is a white supremacist as well. Has this site been reviewed or refereed? This is unlikely for one reason - the site isn't academic. Remember that it has a ".org" extension. However, despite the fact that it isn't an educational site, it is clearly trying to masquerade as one. Is the site biased? Most certainly. We've already established ties between the author of the site and the white supremacist movement. Clearly, this organization can't be trusted to give an unbiased view of the Civil Rights movement.
Finally, we'll address Purpose. What is the purpose of this website? Is it to inform students, or to persuade them to believe Stormfront's claims? Furthermore, is this purpose clear, or is it implicit? Which is most prominent on the site: fact, opinion, or propaganda? Does Stormfront bring an impartial view to the table? Finally, what sort of bias does an organization like Stormfront automatically bring to a website concerning the Civil Rights Movement.
Web Source Analysis Questions
- In what ways did Stromfront's website mimic an academic website?
- What characteristics of the Internet make it difficult to tell a credible academic site from one simply pretending to be academic?
- Go to this site (http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/). Using the CRAAP system, examine the website and determine what makes it more credible than Stormfront's site.