The Credibility Unit is designed to help students reflect on three facets of credibility online: 1) how they establish their own credibility; 2) how they assess the credibility of people with whom they interact; and 3) how they assess the credibility of online information sources. The lessons raise the benefits and risks associated with the volume of information available online; the factors that make credibility difficult to portray and assess; the potential harms associated with misinformation or misinterpretations of online content; and the responsibilities associated with posting and using online information.
Credibility refers to the trustworthiness of people and of information. Credible people are accurate and authentic in how they present themselves, especially their credentials, skills, and motivations. Accuracy is the hallmark of a credible information source. The volume of information available online creates both opportunities and risks—for learning, for making informed choices, and for connecting with other people. On the opportunities side, anyone can contribute information to knowledge communities like Wikipedia, where alternative models of expertise, based on the community pooling knowledge rather than limiting knowledge to “authorities” with traditional credentials.
• What are the benefits and risks associated with the volume of information available
online? How do you know when you can trust online information sources?
• How do you present a credible self online? What are your responsibilities when posting
information about yourself, about other people, or information in different online spaces?
• How can you assess the credibility of other people based on their online profiles, blogs,
and other content about them? What are your ethical responsibilities when you are an
On the risks side, it is relatively easy to post misinformation in online spaces such as Wikipedia, or to misrepresent one’s credentials and expertise in online forums. The potential harms are especially apparent in spaces such as medical forums, where the information one shares can potentially harm unknown others. Indeed, certain properties of the Internet make it difficult to assess whether information and people can be trusted—including the potential for anonymity in many online spaces; the asynchronous nature of communication; and the absence of cues (such as tone and facial expression) that help us assess what people say offline.
Therefore, students and teachers alike need to consider responsible strategies for assessing the credibility of other people; for signaling their own credibility; and for evaluating information sources, especially knowledge communities such as Wikipedia.
Unit Lesson Overview
Analyzing the Credibility of a Website
Wikipedia, Research, and You
Are They Credible?
Establishing Context Online Through Network Mapping
Making Credibility Judgements Online