How to be an Internet Skeptic
Your favorite professional organization probably produces a scholarly Journal.
That Journal is under the direction of an editorial board composed of some of the big (or nearly big) names in the field.
Before an article appears in their Journal, it is reviewed by board members and/or experts
chosen by the board.
Only the good, believable, defensible stuff gets printed in the Journal.
Not so for the internet.
There is no editorial board.
Anyone who can obtain access and/or a little space on a server can send an email message or put up a web page that proclaims anything.
True or not.
Confirmed or not.
Safe or not. Written by the leading authority in the field, or written by a charlatan with a hidden agenda.
In the long continuum that ranges from "gullible" to "paranoid" each internet user must find in the middle a healthy skepticism. Err on the side of gullibility and:
- You will become a victim of mischievious email attachments.
(the latest ones pretend to be American Express, FedEx or your bank; threaten to close your email account; download keyloggers; or open backdoors to hackers)
- You will be inundated with spam (for everything from cell phone plans to pharmaceuticals).
- Your identity will be stolen.
- You will spread senseless chainletters.
- Your computer activities will be logged and reported by spyware.
- Your computer will be used by others to store and share files (music, movies, games, porn).
- Your computer will be used by others to forward spam.
- You won't even notice most of this happening.
Retreat into paranoia and:
- You will miss important email messages.
- You won't take advantage of the facts, discussions and opinions on the internet.
- You won't be informed and connected.
- You will miss legitimate opportunities.
So, how do you find that middle ground of healthy skepticism?
- If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't true.
- If it's "free" then you are probably paying in ways you don't realize.
(Your email address and your personal information or the storage and bandwidth of your computer may be the "payment" they want.)
- Don't believe or pass on stories that you cannot confirm (unless they are consistent with your political leanings, of course).
- Check the credibility of authors and page owners.
- If you can't find independent corroboration of facts, be doubtful.
- Learn to use some truth-checking tools:
- BroadBandExperts provides another list of internet scams to avoid
- Online shoppers may wish to check out "Don't Be A Target: Avoiding Fraud and Scams"
- Host Merchant Services provides this information about Online Fraud Prevention
- Brittany K, in Mrs. Crawford's fourth grade after school class in New York, suggested the security tips in "A Guide to Computer Crime and Prevention".
Just for fun, ask Google.com to look for "Don't believe everything you read on the internet" and you will get about 1.3 million hits.
Do you believe that?