If you asked a random person for a Web site reference 20 years ago, you'd probably get a strange look and a response about spiders. However, the question might spark just as much discussion today as it would have before you were born.

The Internet has grown tremendously in scope since March 15, 1985, when symbolics.com became the first registered domain name. With wireless and high-speed Internet, information transmission today is faster than ever. ČIn seconds, a student studying abroad in Sydney can read up-to-the-minute scores of a Vanderbilt basketball game played concomitantly.

For all its benefits, nevertheless, such advanced communication technology has a darker side. The Internet is a blank canvas for anyone who ever desired to see his or her name in print; but for those preferring anonymity, user names and pseudonymous e-mail accounts provide freedom resembling that of a middle-schooler with a telephone before the advent of caller ID. You can even find a web site that will give you help to learn how to write an anonymous letter. The internet is also a place where people can take advantage of being incognito to find answers to embarassing problems such as vaginal smell.

Many users accept the obvious inaccuracies online as either satire or stupidity. This isn't anything new. In the press, false information crops up fairly often. Corrections aren't anything unusual in newspapers. Additionally, even the most reputable publication can have an employee intentionally submit erroneous material. Just ask Jayson Blair. The former New York Times reporter repeatedly fabricated quotes and interviews and even plagiarized other articles.

Of course, the author's motive is rarely malicious. However, by masquerading untruth as its opposite, the author deliberately attempts deception, inviting heavy criticism if ever unveiled.

Along the same lines, some Web sites purport to be educational while posting untrue material. While this can certainly contribute to misunderstanding and confusion, the people posting the incorrect information aren't solely responsible for all of the misinformation in the world. The World Wide Web's main growing pain consists of users' failure to second-guess every bit of information gleaned online. Although many people say they don't necessarily believe what they read on a Web site, facts are flashy on the digital highway and the made-up information almost always seems the most interesting.