The Internet, 'Fake News,' and Tax Research: Yes, they really do affect your bottom line.

Author:Farrah, George
 
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Before the days of the internet, tax research was conducted by tax professionals with access to information not readily available to the general public and followed high editorial standards. Corporate tax executives might have challenged the conclusions of the research, but they did not have to think twice about the validity of its sources.

Today, internet search engines like Google give easy access to an almost infinite amount of information. Taxing authorities provide direct online access to primary source content. Law firm and accounting firm websites are full of articles written by tax professionals on a vast array of topics. White papers abound, most advocating particular positions. And let's not forget about tax bloggers.

Access to free online resources has sparked a sea change in the approach to tax research. Companies can now use these resources to conduct their own research. But are they the most efficient use of limited time and labor? Is online information current, or accurate? And, most important, does it offer the best results?

Much like free medical websites, free online tax resources might be useful when researching simple questions, but relying on a free online medical resource for a serious health issue could be profoundly dangerous. Similarly, sole reliance on such resources for tax research could pose personal, professional, and systemic risk to companies and their bottom lines.

This article explores how corporations and firms can establish tax research guidelines to ensure the integrity of the tax research they rely on for making critical business decisions.

Understand Strengths, Limitations of 'Free' Resources

Fast, free data seems like the ideal solution to keep track of the dynamic and ever-changing landscape of tax law. At first glance, this premise makes business sense. Why pay for something like tax research when you can get it for free?

No doubt, there are many advantages of having access to so much information. Broad internet searches can find quick answers to simple questions, such as a basic tax rate, or to gain a baseline understanding of a subject. Such searches, however, often result in many hits, and wading through them can be cumbersome. For example, a search for "like kind exchange capital lease" on Google returns more than half a million hits.

Haystack Dilemma (or, Who Moved My Needle?)

For issues that go beyond the basics, which arise frequently in tax law, researchers would benefit by having access to curated, organized, well-referenced, reliable, and current information. Moreover, the insight of an experienced practitioners wealth of knowledge is invaluable. Given enough time, an internet...

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