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.”