Dr. Free-Ride: You two are both exploring the internet more lately, and you know that one of the things people use the internet for is to sell you stuff, right?
Younger offspring: Yeah.
Elder offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: So how do you tell if the people selling you stuff are telling the truth about what they’re selling?
Elder offspring: Rave reviews about the item.
Dr. Free-Ride: Rave reviews about the item from whom?
Elder offspring: From … people who bought the item.
Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm. How do you tell if the people reviewing the item really bought it?
Elder offspring: Hmm.
Dr. Free-Ride: Actually, can you think of a situation where someone reviewing the item might not be the most trustworthy person to get a review from?
Elder offspring: Let’s see … If they have a record of stealing, snatching, or paid to do something.
Dr. Free-Ride: Can you say more about that?
Elder offspring: Like, being bribed to say good things about the item.
Dr. Free-Ride: I see. What if they weren’t bribed exactly but — say someone posted a review on one of your Harvest Moon forums about a new Harvest Moon game and you found out later that the person posting the review worked for the company that makes Harvest Moon?
Elder offspring: Then I couldn’t just go on that review. I’d have to talk to some people who played the game but didn’t work for Marvelous Interactive.
Dr. Free-Ride: Why wouldn’t it be enough for you to have the Marvelous Interactive employee tell you, “Look, it’s a really good game!”?
Elder offspring: Well, Marvelous Interactive is in Japan, and the Japanese people who play the games might have different opinions of them than most of the American players. And if they work for the company that makes it, they might be lying. But all the Harvest Moon games I’ve played have been pretty good.
Dr. Free-Ride: I’m not even sure that they’d necessarily be lying. But the people who work for the company that makes the game have an interest in you doing what?
Elder offspring: Buying the game.
Dr. Free-Ride: What if there was someone who was making a lot of posts to these forums you frequent, and you started to feel like, “Wow, here’s someone whose opinion I think I can trust,” and then you found out later that that person was an employee of the company making the games she was reviewing, and she had hidden that fact?
Elder offspring: Then I would shun her! And then not buy the game.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, it might still be a good game. But …
Elder offspring: … I’d want to hear about what it was like from someone else who played it and who wasn’t trying to hide the fact that they worked for the company that makes it.
Dr. Free-Ride: This kind of situation is sometimes called a conflict of interest. Sometimes the people who are telling you stuff, even if they believe it, may have a strong reason to believe that stuff themselves that doesn’t apply to you.
Younger offspring: Like the reason that they want you to buy the game so their company will make money.
Dr. Free-Ride: So my question is, what kind of information do you want about someone on the internet who’s telling you “This is a great product!” or “These are the facts!”? What kind of information do you need to know before you take their word for it?
Elder offspring: I don’t know.
Dr. Free-Ride: If someone told you, “This new movie is the best movie ever!” would you believe them automatically, or would you need to know more?
Younger offspring: I’d want to see the movie, or toy, or game, or whatever myself so I could decide whether I liked it.
Dr. Free-Ride: You trust your own opinion more than other people’s opinions anyway, huh?
Younger offspring: Mmm-hmm. I won’t trust them until I actually see it myself.
Dr. Free-Ride: I see. No product reviews for you. You just want the products.
Younger offspring: Not all of them.
Dr. Free-Ride: What if there’s someone on the internet who’s not actually trying to sell you a product, but rather they’re trying to tell you what the facts are? What if someone has a webpage that says it’s actually good for kids your ages to drink a lot of coffee? I see from your incredulous looks at me that right off, you’d be skeptical of that particular claim, but maybe you think caffeine isn’t good for kids because the grown-ups are plotting to keep kids from drinking their coffee. What kinds of information would you need to be able to evaluate a claim like that on the internet?
Younger offspring: I don’t know.
Dr. Free-Ride: Well, there’s a lot of information on the web, a lot of pages claiming here’s what you need to know about health, here’s what you need to know to make a wart go away, here’s what you need to know to build a tree house, here’s what you need to know about dinosaurs or the environment or space. How do you tell which information out there is good information?
Younger offspring: Mmmm …
Dr. Free-Ride: Do you have any ideas? Because if you don’t, I’m a little scared to let you play in the internet.
Younger offspring: What was the question again?
Dr. Free-Ride: How do you tell which of the websites that are out there are giving reasonable information that’s based on facts?
Elder offspring: Google?
Younger offspring: Wikipedia.
Dr. Free-Ride: Did you know that Google actually has sponsored search results? Do you know what that means?
Elder offspring: It means that they’re paid to show those results.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, it means someone has paid Google money to put their link at the top of the search results. Of course, Google labels those sponsored results so you can tell which ones someone is paying for you to see. You can tell that they’re not necessarily high in the search results because a lot of people are linking to them.
Younger offspring: Can you check to see if some things on Google are not sponsored?
Dr. Free-Ride: There are plenty of things on Google that are not sponsored. But the other thing you should know about Google — do you know how they determine the order, more or less, of the pages in your search results?
Elder offspring: No.
Dr. Free-Ride: It’s by how many other sites link to it.
Elder offspring: Oh.
Dr. Free-Ride: And sometimes other sites link to it because it’s true, or credible, or based on good arguments and good facts that people have been able to check, but sometimes people link to a site on the internet to point and laugh and say, “This is ridiculous!” But the pointing and laughing doesn’t necessarily show up on the page that a lot of other pages linked to to point and laugh.
Younger offspring: So you can’t tell the links in Google are good just because they’re near the top of the list.
Dr. Free-Ride: This brings us back to the larger question. There’s a lot of people out there on the internet putting a lot of things forward as true. What kind of strategies do you guys have for figuring out what you can trust?
Elder offspring: I don’t know.
Dr. Free-Ride: You spend a lot of time on the internet to not have a strategy about this.
Elder offspring: I really only go to a few particular sites where we talk about games.
Dr. Free-Ride: I guess that’s true. You’ve been hanging out in forums. Do you feel like you’ve had a chance to get to know the other posters there?
Elder offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: Are there some whose opinions you trust more than others?
Elder offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: How do you form that judgment about whose opinion you can trust and whose you can’t?
Elder offspring: Well, we’re talking about what we like or don’t like about particular games. I basically have my own opinions about the games I’ve played. The other people whose opinions are pretty similar on the games I’ve played are the ones whose opinions I look for about the games I haven’t played yet. But we could still end up disagreeing about those once I play them.
Dr. Free-Ride: Trust could be trickier here, since most of what you’re talking about is subjective judgments about games.
Younger offspring: I post on that forum, too.
Dr. Free-Ride: I didn’t know that. I do know that you have conversations in real life with your schoolmates about stuff. Do you ever talk about who’s a good teacher, or who’s a mean teacher, or who doesn’t play fair on the playground?
Younger offspring: Yeah, I talk about that with my actual friends — the ones who are my friends all the time, no matter who’s watching, not nice when they feel like it and mean when their other friends are around. Some of my classmates lie.
Dr. Free-Ride: Are you able to recognize when they’re lying?
Younger offspring: Well, I recognize now who’s going to lie to me.
Dr. Free-Ride: Maybe they don’t always lie, but when you found out that they lied to you before, how did it change things?
Younger offspring: If I catch them in a lie, the next time they try to tell me something, I feel like they’re lying.
Dr. Free-Ride: Yeah, there are some people who are convincing liars. You think you can trust them and then find out that you can’t, and that really hurts.
Elder offspring: Trust can break.