In his essay, "Picking Nits on the Net", John Oughton reminds Internet users that information on the Net does not have a guarantee of authenticity, so it must be carefully evaluated. Oughton gives some examples and also provides some useful advice on evaluating information on the Internet. Oughton's writing is well supported by reasonable arguments, informative and very useful, and the examples that he uses are commonly encountered by most Internet users; however, sometimes he understates the advantages of valuable information on the Net. Some examples that Oughton uses to support his claims are very reasonable. As we can see in his thesis, he states that in this computerized era, people should be critical in evaluating any information on the Internet. To support that argument, Oughton gives some reasons.
First, he says that information we get from the Internet is not reliable, with no assurance of its credibility. It is really true since people with whatever background of knowledge can write and design nice looking Web sites and it is easy to disseminate any information by using the World Wide Web. Second, he also states, "all information on the Internet looks equal" (463). In particular, when surfing the Net, we might find that at first sight, some information really looks similar and real, and usually we do not think about its quality rather than its quantity. Indeed, misleading information and fake images might trick even skeptical persons with its good quality. It was not so long ago, when I came across some sites intended to attack certain people, beliefs, or organizations that I realized how irresponsible information could really be harmful.
For that reason, I agree with Oughton that " the unexamined site is not worth believing" (462). Moreover, Oughton's writing is very informative and useful to Internet users. For example, when he gives some guidelines for surfers to surf the Net by suggesting to determine the credibility of sources, to check citations from individuals or institutions before forwarding them, and to remain skeptical in analyzing information on the Net. These guidelines, which are leading surfers to be more critical, I think, are very helpful and important in examining an extremely large collection of information on the Net.
They are the basic things Internet users need to know before surfing the Net. In addition, the examples that Oughton uses in the first paragraph about "forwarded copies of false" virus warnings, "myths about LSD... in sticks-on tattoos", and "a mortally ill little boy who wants the postcards... to get into The Guinness Book of Records" (462) are also very common for most Internet users. As an Internet user myself, I can relate to what Oughton says, since I often find pieces of forwarded junk mail in my mailbox. These pieces of mail are usually about false virus warnings as mentioned by Oughton. Sometimes, I even receive mail that tells me I would be lucky if I forward it to a number of people. Unbelievably, some people actually do that, and I have to waste time deleting that mail.
Apart from the effectiveness of Oughton's arguments, some of his arguments understate the advantages of valuable information on the Internet. For instance, Oughton is over dramatic when he states", with its huge range of news, information, opinion, promotion, and entertainment, the Internet... is no more reliable a source of fact than is your neighbor at the water cooler and backyard fence" (462). According to his statement, it appears that most of information we get from the Net is unreliable, like gossip with no validity. As a consequence, people who read his article might think the quality of information is worse than the reality that appears on the Net. Nevertheless, there are times when I have had problems with viruses; however, I received an e-mail that informed me how to deal with it, and it really worked. Evaluating the reliability and quality of information found on the Internet is one of the biggest problems facing Internet users.
I find Oughton's essay edifying and useful for surfers. It makes us even more aware of the problems of unreliable information on the Net and how to critically assess it. Although people's reactions may vary from easy acceptance to skeptical dismissal, the truth is that the Internet provides extraordinary information sharing with a lot of great resources. Still, it would be wise to examine and screen information on the Net with caution and discernment.