Every day these headlines grab my attention, and each time I think to myself “What’s really happening here?” Have our skills really declined or has our perception of the situation changed? Then I look at my own Facebook timeline and I start to believe the hype. It seems nearly every day someone posts a hoax or believes a satire piece from TheOnion.com. It’s painful to watch.
Has social media made us more gullible? Do we believe everything we read now just because it was posted by someone we trust?
The thing I find most disturbing about this is that today we have more access to fact-checking resources than ever before!
You don’t have to drive to the library to check an encyclopedia anymore. Today, we can pick up our smartphones, Google anything and find answers in seconds. But we don’t. We simply don’t fact check. We hit like, share, re-tweet, +1, etc and keep scrolling without asking any questions!
We have stopped being critical consumers of information. We read headlines, not full articles. When was the last time you read about the author of an article to validate his/her authority to speak on a topic? Never?
We have lost our sense of healthy skepticism. And I’m equally guilty. A quick scan of my own Twitter feed includes many re-tweets of @omgfacts and @googlefacts, and I didn’t fact check any of those tweets myself. For shame!!!
The first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. Well, we have a critical thinking problem, folks.
We have to stop being passive consumers of information. Let’s go one step further, we must take responsibility for passing on incorrect information. Just this week one of my friends posted the infamous Facebook Privacy Disclaimer Hoax. I kindly commented that just posting some legal-sounding phrases in a Facebook status will never actually give you privacy/copyright protection on an opt-in social media website. She responded “Oh well, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try.” But yes, yes it does hurt, because someone else is going to read that post, copy/paste and continue the madness! In the words of Susan Powter- STOP THE INSANITY!
Here are some tips for stopping the insanity and returning to a state of critical thinking on social media:
- Google it. Before you re-post that article about Starbucks or Target not supporting the troops, just Google it! I’m not saying that the first answer you read will be the right one, but the very act of Googling and then reading additional information will give you more data from which you can draw a conclusion.
- Snopes it. Chances are if you Google a hoax, the first search result will be a Snopes.com article anyway, but it never hurts to search Snopes itself.
- STOP and THINK. I know that sounds simple, but clearly we’re skipping this step of the 5 Steps to New Thinking. If you stop and think, you won’t end up posting the article about how taking a vitamin C supplement and eating shrimp will cause you to bleed out of your eyeballs. Stop and think- “does this even make sense?”
- Look for the usual suspects. You know how every hoax post/email starts? It starts with a combination of the following components: a) “This happened to a friend/relative of mine…”, b) “This is not a joke- share this with everyone you know…”, and c) dramatic and emotional claims typically written in all uppercase letters and followed with several exclamation points. When you see any of those characteristics, your critical thinking senses should perk up.
- Take a deep breath. Half of the hoaxes I see re-posted are intended to spark emotion/outrage. Before you re-post something and add on the usual “I’m shocked/outraged by this!” take a deep breath and remember that when our emotions are stirred, we easily fall into critical thinking traps.
- Never trust a photograph. Have you heard of Photoshop? Google it.
- Check the source. It would take me less than a day to register a legitimate-sounding domain name and build a website full of factual-sounding information. Unless you’re the girl from the State Farm commercial that believes “They can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true” then you should know to dig deeper than the content itself. Who wrote it? Why? What is his/her/their objective?
- Ask questions. Here’s a list of 70 questions to get you started.
Lastly, when in doubt, don’t re-post. If you aren’t 100% sure the information you’re about to share is accurate, then don’t risk getting caught up in a hoax or piece of mis-information.
What are some ways you employ critical thinking while consuming information on social media sites?
Editor’s Note: Breanne Harris is the Solutions Architect for Pearson TalentLens. She works with customers to design selection and development plans that incorporate critical thinking assessments and training. She has a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and has experience in recruiting, training, and HR consulting. She is the chief blogger for Critical Thinkers and occasionally posts at ThinkWatson. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter for more of her thoughts.