In today's world of information overload, relying on simple tricks such as reading the URL is not always as straightforward as it once was. Although reading the URL can give you some insight many sneaky groups count on your reliance that a site marked .ORG will be a nonprofit and purchase the URL with nefarious intent. Deep diving into one website and looking at it intensely is now referred to as Vertical Reading and refers to the idea of reading down (or vertically) as you usually do on websites. It has its merits and should not be completely ignored but it also has many limitations and people who know how to play to all of the common things you have been taught to look for. (Did you know anyone can now buy a .ORG URL?)
A new method of fact-checking called Lateral Reading has been created to encourage you to open new tabs and google the organization, people, and other information on a web page to check to see if a web page is what it presents itself as. Fact-checkers will search many different places to get the back story before they trust a site or story.
When evaluating a website there are several things to take into consideration, one of the first things to look at is the URL (Uniform Resource Locator: a protocol for specifying addresses on the Internet) this can often tell you several things about the website, the creator, the audience, the purpose and sometimes even the country of origin. The URL is the address you type in to get to a web site the http://uscupstate.edu/library (our library’s address) or https://www.google.se/ (Sweden’s Google search).
A domain name is like a website’s proper name (the part after the www.), businesses and organizations often have a domain name that is their corporate name (for example Microsoft’s domain name is Microsoft.com). The domain suffix is the end of the domain name (the .com part) and can offer insight into the type of organization the site is linked to. For example, any commercial enterprise or corporation that has a web site will have a domain suffix of .com, which means it is a commercial entity. Popular domain suffixes include ".com," ".net," ".gov," and ".org," but there are dozens of domain suffixes. However, since any entity can register domain names with these suffixes, the domain suffix does not always represent the type of website that uses the domain name. For example, many individuals and organizations register ".com" domain names for non-commercial purposes, since the ".com" domain is the most recognized.
The domain suffix might also give you a clue about the geographic origin of a web site, each country also has a unique domain suffix that is meant to be used for websites within the country. For example, Brazilian websites may use the ".br" domain suffix, Chinese websites may use the ".cn" suffix, and Australian websites may use the ".au" suffix. These country-based TLDs, sometimes referred to as "country codes," are also used to specify different versions of an international website. For example, the German home page for Google is "www.google.de" instead of "www.google.com."
.com = Commercial site. The information provided by commercial interests is generally going to shed a positive light on the product it promotes. While this information might not necessarily be false, you might be getting only part of the picture. Remember, there's a monetary incentive behind every commercial site in providing you with information, whether it is for good public relations or to sell you a product outright. (See the Information, Disinformation, Misinformation page)
.edu = Educational institution. Sites using this domain name are schools ranging from kindergarten to higher education. If you take a look at your school's URL you'll notice that it ends with the domain .edu. Information from sites within this domain must be examined very carefully. If it is from a department or research center at an educational institution, it can generally be taken as credible. However, students' personal Web sites are not usually monitored by the school even though they are on the school's server and use the .edu domain.
.gov = Government. If you come across a site with this domain, then you're viewing a federal government site. All branches of the United States federal government use this domain. Information such as Census statistics, Congressional hearings, and Supreme Court rulings would be included in sites with this domain. The information is considered to be from a credible source.
.org = Traditionally a non-profit organization. Organizations such as the American Red Cross or PBS (Public Broadcasting System) use this domain suffix. Generally, the information in these types of sites is credible and unbiased, but there are examples of organizations that strongly advocate specific points of view over others, such as the National Right to Life Committee and Planned Parenthood. You want to give this domain scrutiny. Some commercial interests might be the ultimate sponsors of a site with this suffix. (See the Information, Disinformation, Misinformation page)
.mil = Military. This domain suffix is used by the various branches of the Armed Forces of the United States.
.net = Network. You might find any kind of site under this domain suffix. It acts as a catch-all for sites that don't fit into any of the preceding domain suffixes. Information from these sites should be given careful scrutiny.