Common Mistakes People Make when Researching Online

In this post, I will talk about common mistakes people make when using the Internet for research. The “research” could be anything from what phone to buy to fact-checking information you heard on the news.

Please note everything I say are my own opinions.

Only using social media as a source of information.

Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Yahoo Answers, Disqus) are very popular places to get information from others. You will find the users on social media have wildly varying opinions. Unfortunately, most of these answers are given with little to no facts to back them up (a few do though).

In addition, social media tends to attract trolls who try to sow discord. Usually they gather like-minded minions who all-at-once gang up on someone they decide not to like that day. This wastes a researcher’s time, since he has to filter out irrelevant posts.

Summary: Occasionally you will find a good user on social media with quality information that is not just an opinion, but from my experience most social media answers are quickly written and are of poor quality.

“Everyone says the same thing, so it must be true!”

This one is a very common mistake. I even fell into this “everyone else says it” trap when I was younger.

This is when you do research and find a lot of people giving the same exact (or close) answer, and you believe what they are saying to be true just because everyone agrees. The problem? Everyone saying the same thing does not equal a true answer.

Sometimes (really a lot of times) the majority is not correct. How do you know that 2 or 3 people didn’t give misinformation online a while back, and everyone else jumped on the “band wagon” automatically believing what they were told and repeating the same to others?

You must conduct a lot of research – and may even experiment for yourself – to verify other people’s information (I do this a lot when solving IT problems). Some information will be accurate and others will be junk.

Some answers are obviously wrong. Like if a dozen or so people all claimed at once that they could jump 20 feet into the air with no assistance, you could safely assume they are lying (or are very delusional).

Another example is the “Linux is more secure than Windows” crowd on the Internet. You will find tons of websites that give this kind of misinformation (e.g. Windows gets viruses, while Linux doesn’t) with virtually no technical arguments to back anything up.

Something similar happened on an Internet forum I was on several years ago. A ton of people (15+ posters) made claims that were very outlandish and unrealistic. Finally, one guy posted saying they were all lying and said if they were really doing what they claimed, they would have seriously hurt themselves. Listen…everyone except a couple of people stopped posting. The guy obviously was correct. They all were lying to boost their egos or whatever the reason.

Summary: The majority is not always correct, and may even be deceived themselves from rumors they heard or unfounded opinions presented as “facts”. Worse they may even be lying due to an agenda they have. This does nothing to help the researcher who is needing honest, accurate answers to his questions.

Blindly trusting information obtained on Wikipedia without verifying.

I’ve observed many people quoting Wikipedia like it’s the Bible and can give no wrong answers. I must disagree.

I have read things (e.g. health & politics) on Wikipedia that were at the very least biased and at worst propaganda. This is due to literally anyone being able to edit most articles on Wikipedia.

I had one Wikipedia article that made a bold claim, but when I clicked the link going to the supposed source of this information, the link didn’t even exist. Someone just made up stuff and gave a phony link to make it look good to people who didn’t bother to verify.

Even if the article’s author is telling the truth, a self-appointed “fact-checker” on Wikipedia may erase their edit due to a severe bias.

Summary: I find Wikipedia useful when it comes to topics such as PC/Console/Server technology or basic information about someone popular (e.g. their age & net worth). Anything else (e.g. politics, science, history, the Bible, etc.) tends to attract people with a major bias to intentionally give misinformation to others.

“Professionals (e.g. doctors, politicians, scientists) can be trusted to give accurate information on the Internet.”

Unfortunately, people who should “know the facts” don’t always know the facts. Sometimes they guess while claiming they “know for sure”, they may assume information they received is correct (without verifying), or they just plain make up information to support their agenda.

Of course, I am not saying all professionals do this, but it is a very common occurrence (e.g. fake news via the mainstream media).

This means if you automatically believe information without verifying “because my doctor said so” or “my nice newscaster in a suit & tie said so”, you may find that the information was not as accurate as you thought and this may lead to trouble for you.

Also, watch out for professionals who predict the price of stocks & cryptocurrency. In my experience, many people who give trading advice are just guessing themselves while passing off their opinions as verified facts (e.g. “the price of a particular stock @ $22.00 per share will rise to $25.00″…later on it doesn’t come close and may even drop).

I am not saying they have bad intentions when giving advise, but if you are not careful, this can bite you badly in the wallet.

Summary: Always verify information you receive, even if it comes from a “trusted” source. That source may be giving accurate data, but you should still do your due diligence and verify.

Posted in General, Internet and Servers