How Can Teens Fight Misinformation? Boost Your Critical Thinking SkillsPosted October 26, 2021, 1:19 pm by
Want To Fight Misinformation? Buff Up Your Critical Thinking Skills.
Social media makes conspiracy theories, misinformation, and just plain gossip spread very quickly. That much is obvious to anyone who spends much time on TikTok or Instagram.
But actually uncovering misinformation can be a real challenge. It takes time to figure out real news from fake news, often because misinformation campaigns are coordinated. All that anti-vaxxer disinformation that spread like wildfire during the pandemic? Turns out that most of that misinformation could be traced back to one of 12 “influencers” active in the anti-vaxx circles.
How can even one person make a difference in the fight against fake news? To start, you can help squash fake news by becoming a better critical thinker. When you improve your own critical thinking skills, you can better identify fake information. Becoming a better thinker can also have significant benefits to your mental health and academics.
There are many tools, books, and quizzes available to help you train your critical eye against fake news. But you don’t need formal training to improve your own critical thinking. In fact, becoming a better critical thinker often just requires paying attention.
When our brains disengage or respond emotionally to material, that’s when our critical thinking turns off and we become vulnerable to misinformation. The following tips will help you actively engage with information that you might only passively consider in your daily life, allowing you to “turn on” the critical thinking parts of your brain.
Be a Sharper Thinker
I call it “SHARP thinking,” and it’s a step-by-step approach to reasoning. Part reflection, part reasoning, part creativity, the techniques used in the SHARP thinking method can empower you at school, at home and at work. All you need to do is follow these steps:
- The first step in better thinking is to actually engage in thought. Stop and reflect on the meme you just saw or the article you just read instead of engaging in an automatic response or raw emotion.
- Hone. Focus your thinking by asking questions about what you see in your Instagram feed. Lots of them. Curiosity and openness can go a long way to improving your reasoning abilities. (More on this later.)
- Accumulate. Effective thinking requires “going deep,” drawing on well-researched ideas and facts, and analyzing evidence. Recognize and avoid extraneous or illegitimate information.
- Reason. Use evidence to engage in thoughtful, logical reflection. Make sure you’ve truly backed up an idea or an approach with evidence and reason.
- Perspectivize. Expand your perspective by looking at problems in different ways, from different vantage points. This is particularly important when working with others.
If you forget a step, sometimes, that’s ok! Just by engaging in a few of these practices, you’ll be practicing critical thinking.
Be An Information Skeptic
As you can see, using the SHARP method requires you to gather a lot of information before making a decision about whether to believe something you saw on TikTok. This means asking a lot of questions. As a teen, you’re ready for deeper, more analytical thinking. Asking a lot of “why” and “how” and “so what?” questions will help get you there.
When confronting information on your cell phones, YouTube, or even the news, ask targeted questions that help you evaluate, consider, and develop your own conclusions about the information in front of you. When you come across information ask yourself:
- Where is this information coming from? Is it reliable? Why or why not?
- How does the source’s point of view influence the reader or viewer?
- Who is sharing this information? What do they have to gain from sharing it?
- What is the purpose or intent of this information? To educate? To sell something? To change my mind?
- Why should I believe this?
Asking these analytical questions about the nature of the information, its intent, and its source can help you practice the sort of critical thinking necessary to evaluate fake news. But also, repeated practice will make this sort of interrogation a habit that you’ll naturally carry into all situations. Through some healthy skepticism, you’ll be able to form your own, more complex opinions and ideas about information rather than taking everything at face value. And you’ll have a powerful new weapon to help fight misinformation online.
There are other good reasons to improve your critical thinking skills beyond learning to spot and resist misinformation online. Learning to be a critical thinker can lead to a much happier life. Research has shown that critical thinking skills can be more important than raw intelligence: People with strong critical thinking skills report fewer negative life events (think large credit card debts, engaging in an extra-marital affair, or driving drunk) than those who were merely “intelligent.” In other words, being naturally intelligent won’t keep you from getting sick, but good critical thinking skills might lead you to make healthier choices that mean illnesses are few and far between.
Improving your critical thinking isn't limited to these tips and there are many other strategies out there. But these techniques, when practiced regularly, will translate into habits that make you a strong critical thinker, a more engaged citizen, and a smarter consumer of news and information. Those, in turn, will make you less likely to be duped by fake news or to fall victim to misinformation. And that will help you recognize and, perhaps, fight against misinformation in your newsfeeds and online.