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A Non-Idiot’s Guide to Getting Help on the Internet

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Illustration by Cassandra Dale

We live in a world where supercomputers ride in our pockets, giving us instant access to incomprehensible amounts of information. Within the context of firearms and defensive topics, there’s no shortage of forums, Facebook groups, and YouTube channels brimming with opinions and information, but it’s only almost free (and we’re not talking about what you pay an internet provider). No, all of this information comes at a cost, and the cost of dealing with lots and lots of misinformation.

As a responsible armed citizen, the sources you draw on for advice on training and selecting equipment may very well have significant physical and legal consequences. This begs the question: Given the vast amount of information at your literal fingertips, how do you disregard the nonsense and hone in on reliable information?

There are two key concepts that’ll help cut through crappy information on the internet — and in life, overall — and identify legitimate, meaningful, and relevant information.


Before you start critically assessing information provided by others, make sure that you’re asking smart questions. You’ve heard there aren’t any stupid questions, but since you’re smart enough to be reading this article, you also know that’s not true. Want to know what’s even worse than a stupid question? Conceptually good questions that are asked stupidly. Don’t be the guy or gal who pops over to <RANDOM FACEBOOK GROUP> and asks something like, “I just bought a new Glock and need a holster, what should I get?” or “What do you think of XXXX gun?”

If you ask that question in a typical group, you’ll be mobbed by responses from well-intentioned and highly motivated people with absolutely no idea of what the right answer is. Guess what, you’ll get what you deserve, because you couldn’t be bothered to craft a good question. If you ask that same question in a better managed online group, you’ll be told exactly what we’re about to tell you. You’ll also have to go back and reword the question, or you’ll just be ignored and left to die of shame.

Here’s the thing, that question isn’t inherently stupid, because you have a need and are asking for help. You have a firearm, you need a holster for it, and you’re asking for help to solve your problem. However, the sample question above is structured lazily, and hopefully you expect more of yourself. As structured, the question defines little and invites all. It opens the door to answers that provide nothing of value, because the question doesn’t set parameters that request something of value be provided. Keep the following points in mind when asking questions that you want useful answers to:

+ Ask as specifically as possible, as broadly as necessary.
+ Don’t ask for subjective information or information that’s likely to be tainted by individual or institutional attitudes or beliefs.
+ Clearly define the purpose (what you need to know) and objective (why you need to know it).
The last point is the one that we can easily dissect, and to do so we’ll take a page from the Agile product development playbook that uses something called user stories to generate performance requirements for a given product. The basic structure of a user story is:
+ As a <role>, I want <feature> so that <reason>.

This is a systematic way to define roles, features, and reasons. Collecting your user stories defines your use case, which you can think about as the problem solved by the application of a given product, with specific features. In your context, the product you’re developing is the answer you need, and the requirements are communicated by your question.

Now, take every piece of information you need and build a user story for each one, painting a clear picture of exactly what and why you need that information. Example below:

+ As a <Responsible Armed Citizen> I want an <AIWB holster that is tuckable> so that <I can wear it to work without breaking the dress code>.
+ As a <Responsible Armed Citizen> I want <
an AIWB holster that doesn’t shift when I wear it> so that <I always reach for the gun in the same place without searching for it>.
+ As a <Responsible Armed Citizen>
I want <an AIWB holster that is easy to put on> so that <I have no excuse to leave the house without it>.

Now that we’ve broken out specific needs into bite-sized pieces, we can stitch them together into a coherent question by tweaking the same format used above.

+ <Use Case>/<Amplifying Information>/ I need to know <Specific information>.
+ <I carry concealed>/<at work (where I have to tuck my shirt in), and just picked up a new Glock 19 Gen 5. I’m an average-sized guy, and> I need to know <if anyone has input on an AIWB holster that is easy to put on, tuckable, and that doesn’t shift when worn>.

What does that look like without the weird brackets and italics?

“I conceal carry at work (where I have to tuck my shirt in), and just picked up a new Glock 19 Gen 5. I’m an average-sized guy, and I need to know if anyone has input on an AIWB holster that is easy to put on, tuckable, and that doesn’t shift when worn.”
See how much information is contained in that question? Of course, you won’t sit down and write out user stories and use case/need statements every time you need to ask a question — that’s pretty obvious, and it’s not the point. We’re not telling you what to do; we’re outlining a way to think. You don’t sound out the syllables of every word you read, because (like the author) you moved past Hooked on Phonics a few months ago, and now your brain automatically does the work for you. It’s the same deal here. Take the time to “sound out” your questions before asking the world, because if you don’t know what you’re asking, how the hell would anyone else? And, worse, you risk obscuring any valuable responses beneath an avalanche of uninformed opinion and brand whoring.


You’re probably wondering why this article has the word “crap” in the title, and why the editors didn’t catch the obvious typo. What do those guys even do here? Well, the joke’s on you, because now we’ll go over the CRAAP Test. No, not that kind…

The CRAAP acronym is a test used to evaluate the reliability of the sources you’ll come across. CRAAP stands for currency, relevancy, authority, accuracy, and purpose. For a source to be reliable, it has to pass all five parts of the test. This alone weeds out at least 90 percent of what’s on the internet, along with whatever weird conspiracy theory your cousin tells you at family reunions.

Currency: Before anyone gets confused by the word currency, we’re not talking about a system of money. In this context, currency deals with the age of the information, and as a general rule, we assume the more recent information is and the more frequently new knowledge is incorporated into the source, the more valuable and accurate it is. This isn’t to say older information isn’t valuable, but it needs to be viewed through a lens of compatibility with the current body of knowledge. A good source will reference past information as needed to provide evidence for or against their point. This leads us to…

Relevancy: The information within the source has to pertain to you and your use case (there’s that term again). As we can all accept, perfectly good information on tire pressure isn’t exactly relevant to your need for information on good iron sights.
Best gear and practices for a Special Operations team running direct action missions doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re best gear and practices for picking your kid up from school. Is there crossover? Likely, and that’s exactly the key to finding relevance to your use case in your sources.

Authority: Authority is where we ask who compiled the information, and what their qualifications are. Are they an Instagram dilettante or a vetted subject matter expert? What is the depth and breadth of their knowledge? Where does their knowledge come from, where does it stop, and do they acknowledge the limits of their expertise? Have they conducted separate but similar critical analyses and research? Do they have a conflict of interest?

Folks commonly fall into a logical trap known as the argument for authority, or appeal to authority. Being an authority doesn’t grant one immunity from critical analysis. If anything, an authoritative position should demand careful review, and anyone who refuses to provide support for their advice or positions should be viewed with skepticism. As Carl Sagan famously said, “Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.”

When evaluating someone’s SMEness, ask yourself, “Is this person speaking from a position of understanding techniques or principles?” Principles are valuable; they drive technique development or gear selection. Any African Grey Parrot can repeat information, even good information, but that doesn’t translate to an understanding of why. If your source cannot or will not articulate why, that source isn’t a source; they’re just a recording.

Accuracy: “It works for me” is evidence of nothing except that whatever it is worked for that one guy, that one time. Is there evidence? Has the evidence been observed by others as well? Is it reproducible? Has this information been reviewed by known SMEs or organizations? If so, do they agree or disagree, and on what grounds? Is the information presented impartially, without obvious bias? Spoiler alert: There’s money to be made by providing information, and this can taint its accuracy, leading us to…

Purpose: Why did the author present this information? To sell you something? To validate their own purchases? To cope with their father’s disappointment in them by collecting Instagram followers? There’s a difference between a statement that has been thoughtfully positioned to explore and evaluate, and a response or article that begins with a foregone conclusion, cherry-picking information to support its premise.

Now that we’ve finished our crash course on how to avoid at least some of the painful nonsense on the internet, you have some tools at your disposal, and no excuse not to use them. Don’t be intellectually lazy, and roll into your web browser, mustard stains on your wife beater, incoherently demanding information and devouring any available input without regard for its quality. Ask smart questions, be critical, be skeptical, and demand evidence.

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