False advertising can come in many forms beyond commercials and ads. For as assignment our media fluency class this week, we were asked to determine the truth value of a website on the fictitious Pacific Northwesterm Tree Octopus. Despite the fact the the name of the animal sounds completely fake, the website is quite convincing and got me thinking about how easy it is to lie on the internet.
The website has a "media" page with links to news articles, video interviews, and literature discussing the tree octopus. It first looks like there is a long list websites and articles covering the tree octopus, but once I checked the sites I saw that they were all published by the same people and therefore do not count as multiple sources.
The creators of the website even took precaution against people searching the animal on other websites by eliminating the most obvious and reliable one: The Endangered Species List. This was done by stating that though the species is at great risk, it has not yet been put on the official list.
Another trick the site employed was to create a page dedicated to sightings. If you look just at the first two pictures, the tree octopus looks like it could actually be real. If you take the time to scroll down, however, the pictures get increasingly fake looking. Most were just plastic or stuffed animals.
Here are a few ways to check the accuracy and reliability of any website you visit:
1. Check who published the websites.
This can generally be found at the top or bottom of a given website. In the case tree octopus website, the site's mission statement and author biographies were clearly written by crazy people or to be taken as jokes, Either way, they provide evidence to any reader that no site they create should be taken seriously.
2. Cross check your information.
A simple Google or Wikipedia search can go a long way. Viewing a few different reliable sources published by various authors to see if information matches up can almost always verify skepticism.
3. Be thorough.
Don't be fooled by what the website places at the top of the page or the names of links it posts. Scroll down the page to see what lies below. If links are given, do not assume they are what they are titled. Click on the links and visit the other pages to see if they are real or fraud.
4. Be skeptical.
Don't assume all sources are reliable or that people on the internet are honest.