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This post on ReadWriteWeb (or, more accurately, the comments on this post) will probably pass into internet infamy (it’s already being hailed as a new meme). For those who don’t have the time to go read the whole thing, here’s a summary:

ReadWriteWeb (a blog about the web/web apps/new developments) posted an article about the Facebook/AOL partnership, entitled ‘Facebook wants to be your one true login’. It then started popping up when people did a search for ‘facebook login’. People blindly clicked the link, couldn’t find the login button for Facebook (rather *ahem* unsuprisingly), and started complaining about it in the comments.

And boy, did they complain! There were wailings, moaning, and gnashings of teeth. There were people begging and pleading to be let into their Facebook accounts; cursing and swearing and claiming that they would never, ever use Facebook again. Even after the article had been amended to include a large disclaimer saying ‘THIS IS NOT FACEBOOK’; even after the comments thread started filling up with regular RWW readers who pointed out (in a variety of helpful, witty, and sarcastic ways) that this was NOT FACEBOOK, they kept coming.

[For those sceptics who suspect a 4chan attack, or similar, RWW have stated that, according to thier site traffic, these users were being directed to them by a Google search for ‘facebook login’. The post is still (at the time of writing) the number 2 Google result for ‘Facebook login’]

I can’t quite decide whether this whole thing is hilarious or depressing. Probably both. But as some of the commenters pointed out, it was an interesting collision of two worlds – the very web/tech savvy RWW community, and the, well, less-so…

This post highlights the enormous gaps we are facing in information and digital literacy, and I think it could be used as an effective tool for teaching information literacy. It’s something we all have to do, and, while most of the people we’re teaching will be starting from a higher-level than these poor, lost Facebook users, there are still lessons for everyone from it.

Firstly – and I really can’t stress this enough – LOOK at the webpage you’re on. RWW has a very different design to Facebook – should that be a hint? This is applicable to all situations. Your bank website look a bit different? Don’t just assume it’s a redesign – check.

Secondly, READ the webpage. If the commenters wanting Facebook had actually read the article, it would (should?) have been pretty clear to them that this was not Facebook. Ok, companies do sometimes post relatively lengthy news items on their front pages, so I’ll forgive the very first commenters for this. But after the disclaimer had been posted? 30 seconds of reading would have saved them a whole lot of trauma. This principle can be applied to all websites – if you don’t bother to read what’s there, you’ll have no idea a) if it’s really what you’re looking for b) if it’s not what you’re looking for, why not and c) what context the information you take from this page should be put in.

Thirdly, use the address bar. Not just for naviagting to sites, but for checking what site you’ve come to through search engines or links. Is it really Facebook? Does it say ‘facebook.com’? Is it really an academic website? Does it say .edu, or .ac.uk etc? The address bar is one of your best friends for a quick and dirty verification of a page’s credentials.

Fourthly, read what other people have written. Does the page have comments? Great! Read them! One of the great resources of the internet is the collective intelligence it can harness. Reading the comments that others have left can be a great way to determine whether this thing is right for you, whether it’s a new mobile phone or a degree course. Of course, you may have to wade through some spam and a load of trolls, but learning to recognise spam and trolls is also great practise in assessing the value of information. It’s a win-win – and it can save you being forever tarnished by the fact that you’ve left a 5 line comment about how much you hate the new facebook and just want to log in now please please please (linked, btw, to your facebook account, so everyone knows exactly who you are), when the previous 10 comments have all been variations on ‘lol, how stupid does anyone have to be to think this is really facebook’.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, don’t let Google do your thinking for you! This is an absolutely prime example of how people’s trust in Google has led them astray. They didn’t think. They didn’t analyse. Google says it, so it must be right. Well, Google was wrong. According to the RWW analysis of events, the RWW page was the top Google result, ahead of Facebook itself. RWW claims that ‘Google failed its users’. Well, maybe so. But the users also failed themselves, and we, as teachers and promotors and champions of information literacy need to take that to heart. Ok, so it’s not specifically our job to teach people to use Facebook (I would *love* to see that on a job description), but it is our job to get people across the digital divide without letting them fall to the sharks.

A hat-tip to @calire, for pointing me to the original post

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