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Ars Technica reported today on a study published in the International Journal of Communication. Researchers at Northwestern University found that students are apt to just click that top link when searching for information online, with minimal assessment of the quality of information they're going to find there.

102 college freshmen's computer searches were tracked as they used Google, Yahoo and a number of other search engines to research information. And as they searched, most students clicked on the first search result no matter what it was. More than a quarter said explicitly that they chose it because it was the first result. "In some cases, the respondent regarded the search engine as the relevant entity for which to evaluate trustworthiness, rather than the Web site that contained the information," wrote researchers.

The study found that less than 10% of students mentioned the author of the information in their searches, and none of the students took the step of verifying author data. While students did note that.gov and .edu domains are more credible, many students also believed that .org sites had these same stringent standards.

The study's key findings were that students place huge weight on the search engine itself to be an arbiter of accurate information, believing somehow that Google page ranking is a mark of veracity, not merely an SEO seal of approval.

Kids need to learn that there's more to finding information that just Googling it.

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Audrey Watters


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