An experiment on assessing web content critically

  • Awareness
  • 23/06/2016
  • Latvian Safer Internet Centre

The Latvian Safer Internet Centre, in cooperation with the largest Latvian social network, conducted a little experiment: they examined whether young people believe everything they read and see on the internet, and whether they verify the veracity and source of information before providing their contact information to unknown persons.

For a period of less than two days, a seemingly unsafe banner was placed on the profile pages of children and young people, aged 10-20, in It stated "Want to receive the new and stylish iPad? Do not be late! Only the first 500 to respond will receive iPads! Register before 7 February, 12:00 noon and receive it as a gift!"

The banner and text were deliberately designed to be as unprofessional as possible, looking like those pushy banners which tend to show up on various websites reporting that you have won the lottery or inviting you to receive a new device with one click. An iPad costs several hundred euro; even a cursory read of the banner text should have alerted users to the fact that there was something not quite right. It's not a usual occurrence in life… people don't just receive 500 iPads for free for the mere fact that they have signed up to a website.
The banner was supplemented with information stating that the promotional campaign was organised by – the Latvian Safer Internet Centre - making it possible for anyone to check the veracity of the information. The banner was clicked by 2,281 children and young people, more than half of whom (1,211) registered on the website and provided their phone number and/or email address. Unfortunately, there were also some children who specified their home address. After completing the registration, a campaign page opened with a text as follows: "Congratulations! You have fallen for the trick too! Do you know that 45 per cent of European young people do not check the veracity of the information available on the internet? Do not believe everything you see or read on the internet! Assess it critically!". The aim was to make them think about how easy it was to fool them and lure them into providing their personal information.
It's a lucrative business for fraudsters to place such banners on various websites: at first they collect email addresses, phone numbers and home addresses, and then, depending on the type of fraud, they send invitations to donate money, buy or sell something, blackmail by phone, threaten to ‘visit' the home, and so on. Someone will definitely fall for the trick and, as the saying goes, opportunity makes the thief!
After seeing the reaction of children and young people to false information, this experiment confirms the need to develop their ability to critically assess the veracity of information available on the internet and analyse its content.
Find out more about the work of the Latvian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.

Related news

Developing critical thinking and media literacy through education

  • News
  • 16/06/2016
  • BIK team

Acknowledging the various benefits and opportunities that both the internet and social media can bring, but also emphasising the potential threats and dangers which they can present, the Council of the European Union has recently adopted a set of conclusions on developing media literacy and critical thinking through education and training.