In February, we had Jill Hurst-Wahl of Syracuse University and Hurst Associates give a presentation to the Professional Consultants Association of Central New York on the topic of learning how to find trustworthy information online. As consultants, it’s important for us to have the right information when we talk to clients, and yet there’s so much information that it can get confusing.
One of the ideas Jill presented was to start with a particular industry or location to see what you can find out from them. For instance, if you’re looking for information about something going on in San Antonio, it’s probably best to look for an online news source in San Antonio because people there would have more of a reason to get the information correct. Likewise, if you’re an accountant you’re more likely to find the most accurate information for doing taxes on the federal and state tax sites rather than anywhere else.
Another idea she presented was an interesting belief about Wikipedia. She stated that if you need technical information Wikipedia is usually very accurate and offers way more information than you might get elsewhere. For instance, if you needed to know the full breakdown of an enzyme, you’ll get it correct and possibly get more information than you need.
On the other side of that, if you’re looking for information on people or newer companies and technology, some of what you read might be slanted or not totally correct based on timing and the number of people who are editing it, thus you might not want to trust everything you read about those subjects and use it as gospel.
Finally, she stated that using a source like a blog or a social media site might not give you the most accurate information based on the point of view of the writer, and the same can be said for certain businesses or associations whose points of view might be skewed towards what they feel is representative of their members or clientele.
For instance, a local chamber might share their opinion on a local business issue without being balanced enough to share the opinion of someone who feels a different way. Social media sites like Twitter might break stories faster than news does, but accuracy is always faulty because it’s coming from the perspective of the person who happens to be breaking the story, and many news sources place more emphasis on being first than being totally accurate.
Overall, you find sources that you feel are trustworthy and you stick with those unless you need total confirmation. Then you go to those sites where you’re getting direct information instead of conjecture. Very good advice across the board.