How successful are people at using the internet to find solutions to law-related issues?
Catrina Denvir of University College London (and previously the Legal Services Research Centre) is undertaking some very interesting research to find out how well young people use the internet to deal with law-related issues.
She’s investigating an anomaly: young people have a higher level of access to the internet than any other age group but are less likely than other age groups to use it to help resolve a civil justice problem.
Her research involves two groups of young people:
- School aged participants undertaking GCSE’s/A Levels (15-18 years old)
- University Students (from a range of disciplines)
She began with the university students and recruited 100 undergraduates at UCL to participate in the study.
The students were asked to use the internet to answer questions relating to the protagonists in a hypothetical scenario involving a legal problem. Participants were encouraged to take their time searching the internet and to treat the problem as they would if it was a problem they were experiencing themselves.
Their search processes were logged and analysed to see how successful they were.
How well did they do?
- Internet use did increase their knowledge. There was a significant increase in the number of correct answers as a result of their internet search.
- Despite the instruction to take their time, students typically spent less than 10 minutes searching
- Searches were structured around search engines and individuals didn’t search within individual websites
- There was a failure to consider the reliability of sites. There were instances of Yahoo Answers and EHow.com being used in preference to reliable sources
- Some participants didn’t consider jurisdictional differences – and referred to US websites
- Increased knowledge of rights did not translate into appropriate action. There was a failure to recognise an urgent need to get advice.
Catrina’s preliminary conclusion is that that there is an important role for the Internet to play in self-help but that it is important not to overestimate its utility. The internet (imperfectly) increases knowledge of rights, but this knowledge does not lead to confidence or competence to take action.
Our own conclusions are that:
- This report shows the importance of the aggregator service on the Advicenow website (www.advicenow.org.uk) which checks and selects the best available rights information in England and Wales.
- There is a need to improve the quality of available information to ensure it provides a guide to action. Advicenow’s own research highlights a widespread failure to do this.
- We need to provide tutorials on how to search the internet for information on rights and the law.