As it turns out, if you’re smarter, richer, and better educated, you’ll be much, much better at finding accurate information on the Internet. What it basically boils down to is critical evaluation of sources, which is an aspect of research skills anyone who’s done a term paper should have internalized a long time ago.
The divide played out in interesting ways when it came to searching for information. Those who searched at Yahoo and MSN were evenly distributed across income groups. Over half the high-income parents, however, used Google, while only 8 percent of low-income parents did–they apparently preferred AOL search. The authors suggested that this difference arose from the fact that high-status parents were over four times more sensitive to search engines returning irrelevant results (the authors consider Google the gold standard for search engines).
The AOL vs. Google thing is the Internet version of the slow kid in your 8th grade English class not understanding why Readers’ Digest isn’t as good a source as The Economist.
Other aspects of the divide extended beyond choice of search engine. 70 percent of high-status parents went back to the original list of search results after hitting an irrelevant site; less than half of low-status parents did the same. They were also twice as likely to tweak search terms when they ran into a set of results they were unhappy with. Finally, those higher up the socioeconomic ladder were more likely (43 percent) to trust information from universities and research organizations than those at the bottom (16 percent).
The good news is that this enormous and unprecedented information resource is available for less than the cost of cable TV, which pushes it pretty far down the socioeconomic spectrum. The bad news is that, like other forms of information, those with poor educational backgrounds are ill-equipped to use it well and capitalize on its power.