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It’s easy to get sucked into the mindset that everything that appears on the Internet is true without bothering to check whether it’s a reliable source. Things often get bounced around the Internet so much that it becomes an echo chamber and even something that clearly was originally meant as humor or sarcasm gets amplified until people think it’s true.

For instance, an article in the humor newspaper The Onion, said that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was encouraging Satanism among children. It went viral burning all over the Internet and was taken as 100% factual pretty much everywhere it went.

Read more about it here:
http://www.snopes.com/humor/iftrue/potter.asp

Even more basic things can be taken the wrong way. This can get you into trouble. Under the heading A “Cat’s” Tale in the Prologue (National Archives magazine) article linked to below, it explains how many serious looking websites, publications and even USA Today quote an interview that stated it was former President Richard Nixon who renamed Washington’s Birthday, Presidents Day. The original source? A humor column published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Michael Storey which is openly attributed  (complete with author photo) to the author’s cat.

Read more about it here:
http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2004/winter/gw-birthday-2.html

So the next time you’re looking for something on the Internet, don’t just take the first result that comes up, really look at it and ask yourself is this really reliable or not.

By Sarah S. Uthoff, Reference Librarian

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