Young people are supposedly our most Web-literate citizens, said Clive Thompson. “But just how savvy are they?” Not very: They simply swallow whatever they find on Google. To study kids’ online-search skills, scientific researchers asked a group of students to look up answers to a series of questions. Not surprisingly, the kids relied on Web pages at the top of Google’s results list. When researchers switched the order of results, most students were easily tricked, and relied on the (falsely) top-ranked pages.
Other studies have also shown that students really don’t bother trying to assess the credibility of information found online. Is an “article” a disguised advertisement? Was that profile of Martin Luther King Jr. actually posted by white supremacists? The average high school and college student is unable to discern the hidden agendas. This naïveté is largely the fault of schools, which rarely teach critical thinking. And mastering “crap detection 101” isn’t easy; you need to be savvy about the world and how it works. Ultimately, a broad-based education is the only “true key to effective search.”