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In this age of FREE advice, suggestions & web tutorials, how does one go about differentiating the credible from the questionable…the legitimate from the bogus? “The internet is full of bad advice & information”. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it’s true! Our online world has more than its’ share of misdirection & incompetence…some deliberate, some not. So, what’s a poor site surfing seeker of information to do? My suggestion is simple. We need to become more discriminating consumers. How do we accomplish that? By forcing ourselves to examine & evaluate the sources of our information? Anonymity is one of the biggest advantages to operating online. It’s also one of the biggest obstacles to the validation of information. As long as you talk a good game, you can masquerade as whoever or whatever you chose. And while there are valid reasons for masking online identity, there are just as many questionable ones. That being the case, I propose that internet trust be earned, not given indiscriminately. For musician/songwriters, the web is a useful tool. Forums like this one provide an environment for people with similar interests to learn and interact. But they also serve as a breeding ground for posers. It takes a while to figure out who’s legitimate & who’s not, but that’s a necessary part of the process. So, how does one go about verifying online credibility? Hopefully, the individual in question has made that a simple process. I’ll use myself as an example. I have little need or desire to mask my internet persona. In a nutshell, what you see is what you get! My name is Tom Hoffman…I chose the member-name “tunesmithth” because my primary website is tune-smith.com & my initials are TH. I deliberately avoid exaggerating my musical credentials. What credentials I do claim, are easily verified. The “About Me” section of my member profile is detailed & publicly available. It contains both member name & real name, as does my “Tips & Tidbits” blog. It also provides a link to the Metro St. Louis Historical Site http://www.stlmusicyesterdays.com/Nickels.htm. You’ll find my name listed near the top. My member signature, which displays at the bottom of every post, includes 4 links….3 YouTube channels + Tune-Smith.com. Accessing those links, pages & blog gives you access to original mp3s, drum tutorials, guitar & drum demonstrations, music videos, an “Arrangement 101” playlist, published articles, photos, etc. The Library of Congress website is searchable by title (*Songs by TEH), or registrant name. Either will yield a history of copyright registrations for Tom Hoffman...a matter of public record. What I never volunteer is exact date of birth, where I went to school, political preference, religious affiliation, etc. The only ones who benefit from data like that are Identity thieves, data collection entities, marketing firms & special interest groups. So, given that I’ve provided all the resources necessary to assess my musical qualifications, does that mean you should trust my advice implicitly? In a word, NO! But it does mean that I’ve done my part. All I can do is make the information available. It’s your responsibility to research, evaluate & decide who to place your trust in! No one can do it for you and you shouldn’t want them to! When it comes to my own online interactions, I operate by a simple rule. Unless you’ve done your part, I’ll probably disregard your advice. Sorry, but if I can’t verify that you’re qualified to offer me the advice, I won’t be taking it seriously! I’ll probably respond courteously, thanking you for your insights. I simply won’t act on them! Why would I? If you’re a relative stranger and you haven’t bothered to provide some sort of qualifying credentials, how would you expect anyone to take you seriously? In fact, shame on anyone who does! So where does that leave the individual who’s determined to maintain online anonymity? As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons for choosing to do so. But, those reasons don’t outweigh our need to verify. Bottom line…if people aren’t in a position to supply something, they forfeit their right to be taken seriously. Life’s a trade-off! People who truly have the need to operate anonymously should be willing to recognize the limitations imposed by that. Fair or not, I simply don’t know a better way. *Please refer to member comments below for case-in-point. Tom Hoffman