Students can barely Google themselves -

Students can barely Google themselves

Study shows students rely on search engines to determine credibility of online sources


University students are too trusting of internet search engines, according to a study published in the International Journal of Communication. The paper, authoured by a group of communication researchers at Northwestern University concluded that students considered a website credible if it was placed at the top of a Google, or other name brand, search engine.

Students included in the study were given information-seeking tasks and then videotaped as they completed each assignment. The results suggest that just because today’s university students have grown up with the internet, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily adept at using it for research purposes. More than a quarter of the 102 University of Illinois at Chicago students sampled, told the researchers that they clicked on a website because of its proximity to the top of a search list. “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,” the paper reads.

When one female social science student was asked by a researcher “What is this Web site?” she responded with, “Oh, I don’t know. The first thing that came up.”

Only 10 per cent “of participants made remarks about either a site’s author or that author’s credentials while completing tasks.” However, even among these respondents “none actually followed through by verifying either the identification or the qualification of the authors whose sites gave them the information.”

As search engines, like Google, don’t generally rank websites based on their credibility, the paper concludes that any intervention to educate students on evaluating the credibility of a website should recognize “the level of trust that certain search engines and brand names garner from some users.”


Students can barely Google themselves

  1. This headline, with the phrase “google themselves”, implies that students are unable to find information on themselves through Google, which has no connection to any of the statements in the article. This is a misleading headline.

  2. Also, just out of curiosity, what does a student’s gender (third to last paragraph) have to do with her ability to do research? I thought listing people’s race, gender, etc. unnecessarily–especially in stereotyped situations–was a violation of journalistic ethics.

  3. @ Mature Student,

    The study identified the anonymous student as female.

  4. So?

  5. I was reporting on the study. Should I have not reported on it accurately?

  6. How does reporting her gender contribute to the accuracy? The study, in my read of your article, has nothing to say about gender differences in students’ use of Google, only that students in general use it poorly. Therefore, the gender of any one respondent is irrelevant. Moreover, in a cultural context where women have been historically stereotyped as being stupider than men, the insertion of the word “female” is gratuitous. It’s like referring to someone as a “black criminal” or a “male wife beater.”

  7. News broadcasts will often include race in a description of someone the police are looking for, and gender is implied by the phrase “wife beater.”

    You’re right though that gender is irrelevant to this story, but I was only reporting it the way it was reported in the study. Perhaps I should have included the full quote which read:

    “The following exchange between the researcher and a female social science major illustrates this point well:”

  8. Pingback: Tech & Science » Students Not That Web-Savvy, Rely Mainly On Google: Report

  9. Pingback: Students Not That Web-Savvy, Rely Mainly On Google: Report | Latest Global News

  10. News reports will list the race of the person police are looking for because it’s relevant to the search. That is to say that if they are asking for the public’s help to find somebody, it’s going to be difficult to describe the suspect usefully without alluding to their race. The same goes for when the cops are warning people about a criminal at large. However, you will not hear news reports ever name the race, religion, etc. of a suspect in custody or on trial unless it’s relevant to the case in some way.

    This issue is always relevence. In this case, “When one social science student was asked by a researcher…” would have made exactly the same point.

    As an aside, now that we have same sex marriage, “wife beater” does not denote that one is male.

  11. “In this case, “When one social science student was asked by a researcher…” would have made exactly the same point.”

    Whatever the relevance, or irrelevance of identifying the student as female, why would it be unethical to quote directly from the study being reported on?

  12. Because the media, and journalists in particular, play a major role in shaping public perception. In that regard, journalists have a far greater responsibility than do researchers to make sure their use of language isn’t perpetuating stereotypes. Consequently, a lot of journalistic guidelines spell out that one should only identify the race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. of the participants in a story if it is relevant to the story. Here’s an example I just found in a quick Google search–this one pertains to race specifically, but the same typically goes for all types of reporting where marginalized groups are involved:,0,1485302.htmlstory

  13. The internet and search plays a huge role in a student’s life. They will search everything from where to get a pizza, they will Google friends and professors for background information trying to see if they can find personal details, post intimate details of their own lives and yes, use as a research tool.

    There doesn’t seem to be much understanding of how some websites use Search Engine Optimization to gain ranking in the search engines for monetary gain.

  14. All I could think while reading to the end of this article was “haha.. I wonder how I can find out the credentials of the person writing this article, or of the researchers who came up with these conclusions”, as most of the students I meet are very web-savvy, and while they do have a high degree of brand loyalty, they’re also highly suspicious of information until that trust has been earned.