The Web is Like a Garage Sale: Learn to Wade Through the Junk

Personally, I hate garage sales.  Nothing about digging through someone else’s used stuff appeals to me at all.  I also hate how the person selling you the “stuff” tries to convince you how great the item is.  If it is so great, why don’t you keep it?  Garage sale enthusiasts will tell you, though, that even though you have to wade through lots of junk, you can find some pretty great stuff.

In many ways, the web has turned into a giant garage sale.  Anyone can bring their “stuff” to the web and try to sell you on it.  It’s hard to decipher which items are good or bad.  There’s often more “stuff” than you can dig through in a reasonable span of time, so sometimes we settle for adequate items instead of great items.

Every day I feel a sense of information overload as I am bombarded with “stuff” through Twitter, FaceBook, Blogs, and Emails.  The majority of the information I gather via these social media sites is valuable and increases my awareness, knowledge, and relationships.  Just yesterday I used Wikipedia to learn Mel Gibson’s age, the actor’s name in The Mentalist, and the maker of Lunchables.  My job would be a million times more difficult without the web and social media.

The problem is that with all of the good that the web holds, there is also plenty of bad.  There are sites full of incorrect information, viruses, scams, and predators.

How can you keep the great parts of the web but protect yourself from the bad?

The answer is simple- use common sense.

  • When you get an email saying that if you forward it to 10 friends you will receive a check for $100- delete it.
  • If a Nigerian Prince reaches out to you with a business opportunity, and all you need to do is give him your bank account number- ignore it.
  • If you believe that by participating in a 2 minute survey, you will receive a free laptop- forget it.

Okay, those were obvious scams, but what about the more tricky pieces of information on the web?  How do you know whether or not to trust what someone says on the Internet?  Here are 5 tips for evaluating information on the web:

  • Remember that anyone can create a web page.  If the content on a page is suspect, try to find out who holds the domain name and who authors the content.
  • Never trust a photograph.  My own friends know that any picture I post has been Photoshop’d so my teeth look whiter and I appear to have a post-vacation tan.
  • Wikipedia is a wonderful resource, but just like a website, anyone can post there.
  • Google it.  When you read something and wonder if it’s true, Google the information to see if you can find more information that backs up the claim.
  • Use sites like to check political ads/claims, to check for scams/urban legends, and Accuracy In Media to check the validity of news stories.

If you follow these tips, but just aren’t sure whether you should trust what you’re reading on the web, walk yourself through the RED Model of Critical Thinking and it should guide you in the right direction.

Do you have any tips for deciphering the good from bad on the web?

Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens.  She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training.  She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting.  She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.

2 responses to “The Web is Like a Garage Sale: Learn to Wade Through the Junk”

  1. Owen Ferguson

    Hi Breanne,

    Completely agree that critical thinking skills are in more need than ever when trying to sift through the vast amount of information the internet throws our way.

    I posted some of my thoughts on this last year with a specific focus on management fads: How to evaluate new management concepts.

  2. Avil Beckford

    Hi Breanne,

    Thanks for sharing your perspective here is a post that I wrote last year on How to Analyze Information


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