information literacy roman numeral 5

Mar. 26, 2012

You can often find the owner or publisher of a website by using the Whois? Database. It is sometimes helpful to know who publishes the information you are reading. (Please note example site contains racist/offensive subject matter)

A good example of why you may want to check publishing information is illustrated by this website: www.martinlutherking.org. This Web address looks innocent enough, but the information on the site itself is definitely not. We have had many teachers tell us their students have brought it to their attention when researching Martin Luther King Jr. Be forewarned the site contains racist and inappropriate content.

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We do not condone sites of this nature; however, the reality is that if a student conducts a search for Martin Luther King in Google, the martinlutherking.org site generally appears in the top five results, claiming it is a “valuable resource for students and teachers.”  Since research suggests students are most likely to choose results on or near the top of a list of results, many students are likely to click on this site.

Even though this site is blocked by many school filters, teachers may be interested in knowing what type of information their students might be accessing when researching in unfiltered environments.

Another reason why students might choose to click on this site is because of its URL, which includes the name Martin Luther King right in the Web address. It would seem the publisher has thought carefully about how to present this site and make it look appealing to young researchers.

But who has published this site and how do we find out? If you are ever unsure about the information on a Web page and want to know who owns the site or has published the material, go to www.easywhois.com.

If we continue using this site as an example, we would do the following: In the search box labeled Whois Lookup type martinlutherking.org. Click next.

You will be asked to enter a provided random number into a box. Type in the number and click next.

Whois? tells you the dates this site was created, specific contact names and addresses at which the organization is based. You also learn the name of the server, STORMFRONT.ORG. (Look to Registrant information.) The Martin Luther King site is published by a White Supremist organization called Stormfront. Notice the .org. This suggests that Stormfront.org may be a Web address on its own. (There are links to the Stormfront website on the Martin Luther King site.)

If you type this Web address into a search engine you will see the main site of the White Supremist group. A quick glance at the owner’s home page would tell anyone that this is a site from which we do not want our students reading and researching information.

Researching website owner information may not be something you do all the time, but it may be revealing if you are at all concerned about the quality of information on a site and want to know more about it.

If you wish to teach this skill to students, choose an example site that is appropriate for your age group. Two good ones to try are:
Harry Potter: www.harrypotter.com or
The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus: http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus.html

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