The challenge of finding authentic information in a socially networked world

Information professionals need to approach research issues with Internet sources openly yet cautiously if a participatory culture in our society and knowledge networks is to be achieved. Social constructivist philosophies that underlie participatory culture should not be an excuse for factual errors or misinformation, but instead an opportunity to develop the skills needed to verify and create authentic information. The affordances of Web 2.0 applications that record the publication of participatory mistakes is in itself reason for the implementation of open policies toward publications such as Wikipedia. Here the cost of free, easily available and verifiable information is that it should be verified by the reader and Wittenberg (2007) further suggests that young people are capable of utilising their peer networks in this process. Wikipedia policies have developed to include verification of the source of information as part of the publication process and it is a simple matter of checking the version history of the article to ascertain the nature of the source of that information (Garfinkel, 2008). These new steps in a research process are not second nature to adult educators who may be migrating their skills from traditional print text to Wikipedia when learning, teaching or managing digital information.

Challenging questions about the authenticity of Internet sources such as Wikipedia can be difficult to contextualise for educators when deceptive practices by some online identities such as those identified by Sessions (2009), Yardi, Romero, Schoenebeck and boyd (2010), may damage the reputable nature of other Internet sources. Developments in information policies of some education institutions have sought to cater for such shifts occurring in new digital environments and provide ‘contained’ spaces for learning (Hay 2009; Lorenzo, 2007; Wittenberg, 2007). While in a somewhat opposite shift, some education organisations are moving toward a wider conception of connectivist pedagogy and investing in MOOCS (Rodriguez, 2012; Wittenberg, 2007).

The affordances of Web 2.0 technologies have also helped to redefine constructivist approaches toward evaluating the authenticity of Internet information through the creation of connectivist social bookmarking applications such as Diigo and Delicious (Lorenzo, 2007; Starkey, 2012). Tagging and annotating websites and Internet resources is as beset by as many challenges as Wikipedia authenticity issues, however, these technologies can potentially assist academic knowledge networks to verify information quickly and strengthen the philosophy of a high quality participatory culture. Garfinkel’s (2008) frustration with correcting errors relating to his biographical information on Wikipedia are significant examples for educators seeking to promote an authentic participatory culture because here we can see and learn from the errors that prevention is better than the cure.




Garfinkel, S. (2008). Wikipedia and the meaning of truth. Technology Review, 111(6), 84-86. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database. Retrieved from:


Hay, L. (2010) Shift happens. It’s time to rethink, rebuild and rebrand. Retrieved from:


Lorenzo, G. (2007). Catalysts for change: Information fluency, Web 2.0, Library 2.0, and the new education culture. (March). Retrieved from or


Rodriguez, C. (2012). MOOCs and the AI-Stanford Like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from:


Sessions, L. (2009). “You looked better on MySpace”: Deception and authenticity on Web 2.0, First Monday, 14(7), 6 July. Available


Starkey, L. (2012). Teaching and learning in the digtial age. Oxon: Routledge.


Yardi, S., Romero, D., Schoenebeck, G. & danah boyd. (2010). Detecting spam in a Twitter network, First Monday, 15(1), 4 January. Available

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