If you’re a brand-new prepper or survivalist category and want to learn more, how can you tell if the information you find on the internet is valid or if it’s just a bunch of B.S? Here are some things to look for based on my experience in the news business.
For decades, I was an investigative reporter/photographer. Today, I am the adviser/instructor of The Broadside, the newspaper and a media outlet for Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon. One of the sessions I teach involves finding credible sources.
Here’s what I learned about the internet and valid information, and some criteria for deciding if you can trust a website and survival “experts”.
1. What are the credentials of the “expert”?
There is no national or international accrediting organization for survival instructors that I know of. Basically, you have to rely the author’s word about his training. Things to look for could be outdoors experience and association with groups (Search and Rescue Teams, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts, etc.) which spend a lot of time outdoors. These associations are easily found in communities, and valid instructors are easy to check out.
Military service is not an indication of wilderness survival expertise. As a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army, I never was sent to a survival school, nor was that part of the training for people in my specialty. The military typically only trains people in areas they will need to do their jobs. Beware of those who claim to have “trained” with certain elite units. People are not allowed to tag along on trainings that don’t directly relate to their Military Occupational Specialty.
To check out a military expert, look up his/her Document of Discharge 214 (DD214). These are public records, and will list dates of service, places served and schools attended. Don’t buy the “top secret” excuse. If someone was in the military, he was paid and had dates of induction and discharge. These are public record.
If there is a mysterious blank space in someone’s employment or business resume, check to see if that person was in prison during that time. These records are also public, but obtaining them may vary from state to state. Hey, it may sound far-fetched, but if you are planning on using someone’s advice for your very survival, you should know as much as possible about that person’s background for your sake and that of your family.
2. Where do they live?
IMHO, OpSec is a joke. If you go anywhere, there are multitudes of hidden cameras watching every parking lot, convenience store or shopping mall. And let’s not forget the invisible surveillance drones that can observe anything.If anyone wants to find where you live, they can check with the county property records, another public document.
Beware of people with no known address.
3. It’s on the internet
(or published in a newspaper, or the person being quoted is recognized as an expert from somewhere). Don’t believe anything without a credible source. Ask yourself, “Hmmm, so how do we verify this statement?”
By the way, Wikipedia is not considered a valid source, because anyone can post anything about a topic, and it will only be corrected if someone notices and makes a correction.
4. Common sense
There may be some actions a so-called expert might take that set off your BS alarm. Pay attention to these.
In one instance, an “expert” created a dugout shelter in a dry streambed in a desert. Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of gravity would know a dry creek bed is where rainwater will flow to, and subsequently be the site for a flash flood. So this dugout created the lowest point in an established path of a flash flood!
In another instance, Bear Grylls dove headfirst into a pool on a stream without checking first for obstructions. (Check out one of the most common reasons for spinal cord injuries among young people.)
A lack of common sense indicates the author is short on something. It may be knowledge.
In the news business, we don’t rely on anonymous sources unless there is the potential for extreme danger to the source. Even then, the decision to use an anonymous source is made on a case-by-case basis.
Personally, I think any author is suspect who relies entirely on a pen name. It is a credibility issue – you can’t google a nickname and find much. That’s why the Survival Mom decided from the get go to use her real name. She wanted her readers to know there was a real person behind the blog.
So who can you believe?
Check out these aspects of any survival website
Apply the following criteria to ANY website or source of information before you decide to trust it, according to Central Oregon Community College Emerging Technologies Librarian Michele DeSilva.
6. Who is responsible for the website?
What are the author’s or organization’s credentials? (Hint: if you have trouble determining who is responsible for the website, it’s probably not that credible!)
7. Don’t rely on a site’s domain alone for determining a website’s credibility!
Anyone can register an .org site, for any reason and .edu sites can have student projects or really out-of-date pages. Many .com sites are excellent sources of information in spite of the ubiquitous use of .com!
8. Keep in mind the one exception to website domains
.gov sites are reserved solely for U.S. government sites and are generally pretty credible unless they are out of date. Be sure you know when the site was created and updated. Many in the prepper and survival communities are skeptical of any and all information provided by the government, but FEMA does have useful information and, for the beginning prepper, may lend some legitimacy to the whole idea of being prepared!
9. Look for an “about” page (or a “mission” or “purpose” page).
What’s the purpose for this website? Is there a particular point of view that informs the Website? Before swallowing everything a website provides, be sure that its point of view is compatible with your own.
10. Is the website’s content up to date?
When was content last posted? Where is content coming from? Is the author creating it or collecting content from other sites/sources? If the content is coming from other places, what, if any, value is added by the website you’re looking at?
11. Some sites exist just to generate advertising revenue!
They copy content from Wikipedia or other free, online sources just to drive traffic to their sites. This continually plagues writers and bloggers in the prepper and survival niche. New “survival” websites pop up continually but never produce their own original material. Instead, they copy and paste articles from other sites, including Survival Mom articles.
The sole purpose of such a website is to generate money for its owner, and this is accomplished through ads that pay for each and every page view.
12. Does the author cite his or her sources?
Is his or her information verifiable? If it lacks common sense or in some way causes you to raise your eyebrows, it may not be the advice or information you’re looking for.
13. If the information is original, check out credentials.
If the author is presenting something as his or her original research, what gives the author credentials, or expertise, in this area? Check out their bio and look for authentic training, education, and experience related to their information.
14. Articles should be error free
Are there lots of spelling and grammatical errors on the website? Any obvious factual inaccuracies? If the author is putting out information that could save lives, the very least they can do is make sure their writing is free of basic spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors and their facts are checked and double-checked.
15. Is the website ad-heavy?
How many ads are on the page? Are there lots of links to commercial sites that have little or no relation to the topic the website is about? Is it hard to find the actual information because it’s interrupted by so many ads? A reputable blogger and writer wants to make sure that the information they worked hard to create is front and center on their website.
16. Websites need to earn money to survive, but…
Watch out for those sites that exist just for commercial purposes. A good site can have ads, of course, because websites cost money to run, so don’t disbelieve an article just because ads appear on the website. There’s a difference between a site that exists primarily to earn money via ads and one that exists primarily to provide information.
So can you rely on a survival website to learn something?
A place to start would be to decide on a preparedness topic you have some knowledge of, for example, canning. Find a canning website you can trust, based on valid information you can personally verify. Then ask the author if he/she can recommend a specialized website or source for other things you need to learn more about.
Most of us in the preparedness industry are happy to refer people to other subject matter experts. When it comes to canning, for example, I am completely incompetent to provide any information. But I know some people who could help you out.
And since by now you should be questioning my credentials for writing this story, here they are.
- Bushcraft 101: A Field to the Art of Wilderness Survival by Dave Canterbury
- Mud, Sweat, and Tears by Bear Grylls
- Prepper’s Home Defense by Jim Cobb
- SAS Survival Handbook
- Simply Canning by Sharon Peterson
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