Youngsters trust Google so much that they don’t think twice before clicking on websites that turn up at the top of their search to complete their projects, found researchers at Northwestern University.

If they don’t use Google, researchers found that students trust other brand-name search engines and brand-name websites to lead them to information.

“Many students think, ‘Google placed it number one, so, of course it’s credible. This is potentially tricky because Google doesn’t rank a site by its credibility,’” said Eszter Hargittai, associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern. In the study, 102 students at the University of Illinois at Chicago sat at computers with researchers. “Search engine rankings seem extremely important. We found that a website’s layout or content almost didn’t even matter to the students. What mattered is that it was the number one result on Google,” said Hargittai. Aside from Google, other online brands that students mentioned most often to complete tasks were -- Yahoo!, SparkNotes, MapQuest, Microsoft, Wikipedia, AOL and Facebook.

Some of the students did give more credibility to websites ending in dot-gov, dot-edu or dot-org. However, Hargittai said most didn’t know dot-org domain names could be registered by anyone, and thus are not inherently different from dot-com sites.

“Just because younger people grew up with the Web doesn’t mean they’re universally savvy with it. Educators should show specific websites in class and talk about why a source is or isn’t credible,” said Hargittai. The study is published by the International Journal of Communication.

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