How can I ensure that my Internet search results are valid?

Particularly when a critical inquiry question is focused on identification of current trends, the validity of the actual search itself needs to be confirmed, in addition to the validity of the information that the search returned. How was the search conducted? What keyword search strings were used, and what information resources were consulted? For example, if a writer makes the statement, No research exists in this particular area, has there really been no research conducted–or was that writer just unable to find it? Making sure that you have been as thorough as possible in identifying alternative ways of phrasing your search terms is one way to ensure valid search results.

However, even when you’ve done that, there is another hidden pitfall. The way that some search engines are programmed, Google in particular, may actually affect the validity of your research findings by returning results based on your location and previous searches, a phenomenon Internet analyst Eli Pariser dubbed “filter bubbles” in a 2011. “Filter bubbles” are related to the concept of “self-selection bias” in the social sciences, in which survey results can be skewed by voluntary participation in the survey; for example, only the disgruntled employees chose to participate in an employee satisfaction survey.

While other Internet analysts have disagreed about the extent of the “filter bubble” phenomenon, nonetheless, it is prudent not to take the results of any one Internet search at face value.

The following post provides a more recent Internet analyst’s view of the filter bubble phenomenon: Measuring the Filter Bubble. Keep in mind that the authors of this study also have their own particular point of view, however their results and explanation of the phenomenon are quite compelling.


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