If you’ve been connected with me a while, you may already know I do a lot of writing and helping others write and launch their books. So either because of that or perhaps as a result of it, my brain is trained to think and read words a certain way.
ONE aspect of that involves sources, citations, and verifying information before automatically accepting it as fact or processing what I’m being told.
Whenever I see someone write in their manuscript “it’s been said that…” my question is “WHO said that?” If the author can’t provide the answer, we need to address that by either finding it out or using such a quote in a different way. Or removing it altogether and making the point in their own words.
If a quote is not cited or the author doesn’t PROPERLY credit where it comes from (I admit that not that many years ago, I also didn’t know how to do this correctly), then sometimes the editor I work with finds them out for an additional fee. Shout out to the amazing Lisa Thompson.
As a result, we’ve stopped some authors from unintentionally causing problems for themselves, like accidentally attributing something to themselves that they didn’t actually come up with or plagiarizing material and getting into trouble with other content creators or rights holders who may find out about the unattributed quotations.
That said, I endeavor to apply critical thinking skills in other areas of my life. As a result, Facebook almost gives me an aneurysm on a daily basis anymore. It has already been like this for a while, but I feel like this pandemic as well it being a US election year has poured gasoline on the fire with all the unverified memes and videos different people post or even send me in my inbox telling me “reshare this before Facebook deletes it!”
It drives me bananas how many people share unverified information, debunked information, or just flat out disinformation or
one-lopsided information usually with good intentions but still showing their confirmation bias nonetheless.
Every time someone PMs me some kind of “please share this with everybody you know” message, I’ll ask “why?”
If the person is willing to dialogue and answer my questions, it helps me understand what the thing is or why they’re sharing it with me, just in case I am wrong and may learn something, or whether it will show me the person is gullible and I’ll know to ignore future messages like this from them.
But if I get no answer or a person persists with sending stuff like that, I just block them and ignore their messages now. I simply don’t have the time to try helping others use common sense on the internet.
But that’s not the point of my thoughts here.
“Does this piece of content let me easily find out WHERE it came from?”
I’ve seen friends of mine who I’d consider to be right-leaning post memes of liberal politicians with an unflattering image and a quote alleged to have been given by said politician. So of course I’ll Google it and see if I can find the occasion they allegedly made such comments. It amazes me how rarely I ever find a source this way, but yet my friends will believe it anyway and think nothing of republishing it on their Timeline.
—> Confirmation bias.
They already dislike such and such a figure and would believe any story or quote depicting that person in a negative light.
Oh, and lest you think I’m bashing right-leaning or conservatives, I’ve got left-leaning friends who are guilty of that exact same thing.
If I ask you questions to verify what you’re sharing, it’s simply because I like truth and not knowingly duping myself. Perhaps for this reason I am naive in a different way and assume other people would also like to not be duped themselves and believe false information.
Nor share it or broadcast their ignorance to many people on social media.
I don’t ask questions like “where did you get this information?” or “who is the person you’re citing?” or “where can I go to process this same information to see if I might reach the same conclusion as you?” just because I’m a jerk or looking to make a fool of you.
It’s usually because either I’m genuinely curious, or interested and have never considered the point of view or angle being presented. Wait, being open to change my mind about something? How odd, right?
…because the shared content has telltale signs of misinformation or misleading information that I’ve stopped assuming everybody knows how to recognize.
Critical Thinking Skills in the Digital Information Age: A Few Tips
That all said, notice I haven’t told you what to think or what conclusion you ought to reach. That’s because it’s more important to me that I know how to think or use critical thinking skills in the digital information age, rather than making sure everybody I know feels the same way I do about topics.
So here are just a few tips on HOW to think and safeguard yourself against falling for hoaxes or believing and spreading misinformation.
1. Take a breath and slow down
The biggest reason for misinformation being spread online is simply the fact many of us share things without thinking or fact-checking. Especially when it’s something we already agree with or confirms something we already think. This is multiplied during times of uncertainty and confusion when many people are scared or confused.
When I originally started writing this as a draft over 5 years ago, it was to help people avoid falling for Clickbait. The principles I’m sharing here are not new, nor do they apply only to the current pandemic, but it feels like current events in 2020 have only exacerbated this tendency.
2. Check the source
I’m also amazed how many times I get a message in my PMs that says “this was shared on the radio!” to which I’ll ask the sender “which radio station?”
If the response is “I don’t know, I just reshared this how it was sent to me”, then what you’re doing is showing me how gullible you are and unable or unwilling to use critical thinking skills.
If you re-share something on FaceBook you can usually see where it originally came from, or at least who your friend reshared it from. But I’ll still take it with a grain of salt if I can’t get to the source. That said, WHO is the person who created the original post, and WHY should I listen to what they say?
Are they credible?
Why should I listen to this person instead of someone else?
If you can’t tell who said it or where it came from, then this is a major red flag as people who tend to want credit for their writings and research.
3. Google it
Seriously, there’s no reason in 2020 you can’t take 19 seconds and Google something. It’s ironic that as a planet we have basically all information conceivable at the touch of our smartphone fingers, but misinformation and fake news are as much of a problem as they are. Wouldn’t the availability of information lead to better-researched thoughts and opinions? One would think.
Most media outlets, whether mainstream or fringe leave enough of a digital trail online that you can find out whether they’re credible or if people at least know who they are. If not, danger Will Robinson!
4. No Seriously, check the source
That said, again, if you haven’t already done so, ask yourself where does this come from? I’m not talking about seeing where on Facebook it came from, but if it’s an article or video linked to outside of social media, who said it? If there are no sources cited, why not? It should be easy to get to the bottom of this, but if you can’t, then that’s a giant red flag.
One of the things I ask myself or see if I can find out in 19 seconds from a quick Google search particularly regarding the current global situation is…
“Was the author of this post/article/video an expert or interviewing/quoting someone who was an expert in infectious diseases or a similar field that would qualify them as an expert on the topic BEFORE the pandemic started?”
If not, then why should I find this credible?
There are so many more tips, but they can basically be distilled down to the points above. But we all have our own confirmation biases and opinions on matters.
Again, I’m not telling you WHAT to think, but these are some tips on HOW to think, which I hope you’re willing to try if you don’t already.
In closing, I encourage you to do a Google search on logical fallacies, and cognition in general. One of my favorite books on the subject is You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself by David McRaney. It’s not just insightful, but also humorous and enjoyable.
Also, since posting this I’ve been having Amazon recommend to me Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks. I have not read it yet, but the description makes it clear it tackles similar subject matter and may be worth a read as well.
And please, don’t be one of the people in the sea of faces on social media who spreads misinformation, even if it’s already widespread, and on the surface “feels true” (words someone actually said to me when I fact-checked them on a photoshopped image they were sharing).