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Evaluating Bias in Websites

Bias is an important word to understand when you are doing research on the internet.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary:
Bias - “a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgement"

Bias means having certain preferences, inclinations, or attitudes. People prefer different products and services and have different opinions, beliefs, and values.

When searching the internet for resources, it is important to be aware that websites may contain an author’s preference or bias. These preferences or biases reveal the point of view of the author. Some websites present a certain bias with the purpose of trying to persuade you to think a certain way, or behave in a certain way. For example, some websites may try to persuade you to think a certain way or convince you to buy a certain product. There are websites that may only present one side of a controversial issue in order to sway your thinking and your actions. Other websites strive to remain objective and unbiased. They contain information that is mostly factual, and they address both sides of an issue or topic.

Being aware of bias in websites is important so that you may evaluate the information carefully and ultimately formulate your own opinion. When you are researching information using website sources, it is important to think about the purpose or reason why a website is created and what point of view, if any, is being presented. There may be several reasons, and you should think about the author’s purpose of writing whenever you visit a website.

Look at the list below and keep it in mind when you are doing your research.
An Author’s Purpose:
The next time you look at a website, think of the author’s purpose and think of P. I. E. S. This will help you to evaluate the information and make a better decision about its trustworthiness and validity.

At times you may want an opinion, such as about a product, service or a topic. Blogs, editorials, letters to the editor, and articles written by critics or product users are examples of where you may find bias on the internet. Usually these are obvious sources of bias, but there are other websites that have a hidden agenda, and you may not be aware of it. These sites may look objective and factual, however, they may not be a credible resource.

Keep in mind the following questions to help you recognize bias:

  •  Is the information presented in a fair objective manner?
  • Has some information been left out?
  • Can the facts be verified with another source? (cross-referencing)
  • What is the tone of the language used and is it free of emotion-arousing words?
  • Are there pictures and photos which may arouse emotion?

  • Is the appearance of the website appealing and colorful with lots of graphics, animation, or celebrities trying to grab your attention?

  • Does the website contain advertising?

Here are some important steps you can take to help you recognize bias:

1. Notice the domain suffix – .com .edu .org  .net  .tv  

2. Search information about the author or organization creating the website.

3. Find out the websites that link to the page.

    Do this by typing the “link” command in the search box of a search engine such   as Google. 
        Type “link:” followed by the URL. Example: link:www.nra.org/

4. Identify the host domain.
To do this, shorten the full address to the domain name. 
This will help you learn more about the purpose of the website. 
You can read the mission statement and find out who owns the website.

All of these steps will help you recognize bias so that you can evaluate information and determine its trustworthiness and validity.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000). 
“bias” Retrieved March 22, 2009, from Bartleby.com
Web site: http://www.bartleby.com/

Christensson, Karen M. (2008). Bias. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from 
RADCAB Your Vehicle For Information Evaluation
Web site: http://www.radcab.com/

Kirk, Elizabeth E. (1996) Evaluating Information Found on the Internet. 
Retrieved March 12, 2009, from The Sheridan Library at Johns Hopkins University 

PRACTICE evaluating bias in websites. 
With your partner, complete the Internet for Ed Bias checklist.doc for one of these websites:

1.  Vitamin and Mineral Supplements