One of the 21st century goals for the library profession is to ensure that our patrons and the public at large are “information literate”. For those that are not familiar with the concept of information literacy, you can find a definition on the web site for Association of College and Research Libraries.
So why all the fuss about information literacy? Well, with the advent of the internet age, many of us have witnessed first hand the astronomical increase of information sources, voices, and opinions on all manner of topics. And at times, it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction among the cacophony of the internet. Further muddying the waters are deceitful practices such as electronic astroturfing, which is described by George Monbiot of the Guardian (UK) as an increasingly used tactic by corporations, government agencies, and special interest groups to influence, and in some cases, undermine public opinion.
So what does this mean to you as a student researcher? I often suggest to students that they should identify the professional society or trade association associated with the industry or occupation they are researching. A good strategy for this task is to limit your Google search to .org sites, as in this example. But in an era of electronic astroturfing, its not just enough to trust any old .org site. Students need to go one step further. In the case of electronic astroturfing, look for contact information on the web site. Is there a verifiable street address? Phone numbers that allow you to talk to real persons? How long has the association/society been in existence? Do they publish a newsletter or magazine, and if so, is the publication acknowledge as a voice of authority within the profession?
It seems the more information you find on the internet, the more you need to verify its authority, accuracy, and value!