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Just Because It’s Online Doesn’t Mean It’s Right
Companies can take steps to ensure information employees get from the web is trustworthy

By Greg Wright  8/20/2012
 

Some Americans distrust information they get from the web and fear that using bad information they find online could get them fired from their job, according to a recent survey.

However, experts said HR professionals can put steps in place and offer tips to employees to help prevent bad information from the Internet making its way into official company documents, web pages and other materials.

“Yes, there is misinformation and also outdated and incomplete information,” said Andrew Schorr, founder of the Patient Power online education resource and author of The Web-Savvy Patient, (CreateSpace, 2011). But there is a lot of good information, too.”

Schorr knows from personal experience. He used information he found on the web to find a specialist to treat his leukemia. This led to Schorr being enrolled in a clinical trial that he credits with saving his life.

Mancx, an online community for answering business questions, released a study in July 2012 that revealed 98 percent of Americans who look for information online distrust the information they find. Meanwhile, 14 percent believe they could lose their jobs because of bad Internet information while 36 percent said they fear losing credibility.

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Mancx from June 29, 2012, through July 3, 2012, among 2,088 adults ages 18 and older, of whom 1,942 look for information online.
HR professionals can create a company policy on how employees and contractors should find and use data and information they cull from online sources, said Lorrie Thomas Ross, a web marketing expert and author of The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Online Marketing, (McGraw-Hill, 2010).

Schorr and Ross offered this advice:

Websites and blogs that provide telephone numbers and e-mail contact information usually are more trustworthy, Ross said.

Beware websites (like Wikipedia or ezinearticles.com) and blogs that allow multiple authors to contribute to their content, Ross said. Some contributors may not be as knowledgeable as they claim. It may be worth searching for the authors by name to find out whether they are in fact experts in the fields they claim.

Use more than one search engine to find information, Schorr said. Look for recurring information from multiple sources because this data is more likely to be credible.

Go to online communities, such as SHRM Connect, Quora or LinkedIn, where experts on issues you are interested in gather, Schorr said. Ask these experts whether the information you are finding is accurate. Schorr said an online cancer care community directed him to the specialist who treated him for leukemia.

Websites or documents posted online that cite references or where the information was obtained are more reliable, Ross said.

Above all, Schorr said, employees who must go online to gather information should be savvy and “smart shoppers.” 

Recognize that many websites are created by people who have an agenda or want to sell a product, so never trust information that comes from one source.

“I encourage people to be healthy skeptics,” Ross said.

Greg Wright is a Maryland-based freelance writer who has covered Congress, consumer electronics and international trade for major news organizations, including Gannett News Service/USA Today, Dow Jones and Knight-Ridder Financial News. He can be reached at gregoryleonwright@msn.com.

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