With ever-changing information flooding our screens and influencing our everyday interactions, you might feel overwhelmed and anxious about what’s going on in the world. It’s been even more challenging to sift through information, especially since social media has made it so easy for anyone to share their thoughts, regardless of their credibility. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial that we enhance our critical thinking skills, so we can be conscious consumers and responsible communicators.
So, how does one think critically? Critical thinking, although explained mostly in schools, actually comes to us naturally. If you’ve been told to stop asking “Why?” so many times when you were a kid, that was your critical thinking brain in overdrive trying to analyze and reason events and experiences that were still a mystery to you. As we get older, we are taught facts in school, and our curiosity about the outside world subsides as we dig our heads deeper in books. We no longer find ourselves pointing at a rising sun and asking “Why?”, since the answer can be easily found in textbooks and online. However, as our questions about life become more complex, and sources of information become less reliable, our critical thinking skills must evolve to protect our intellectual integrity.
Below are the steps I take when critically analyzing online news sources. However, these steps can be applied to pretty much any situation where information is presented or exchanged, like researching for a school project or having important conversations with family and friends.
Beware of Information Bias
Unless they are omniscient, no writer or journalist can recount every detail of an event. Leaving information out is unavoidable. Now, why information is left out is up to you to find out. Sometimes, information is taken out to avoid bringing up tedious details of an event, but, other times, doing the investigative work might help you to uncover the writer’s personal or political bias.
Recognizing Information Bias in the news is simpler than you think. All you need to do is brush up on the 5 Ws (Who? What? Where? When? Why?) and 1 H (How?). Here are questions you can ask yourself to get started:
Who wrote the article?
Some questions to ask yourself as you research the writer’s background are: “Is an ‘About Me’ page accessible on this website?”, “Does the writer have experience and formal education in journalism?”, “Has this writer written other articles related to this topic?”, and “Are there evidences that show that the organization this writer is working for supports one personal or political belief over another?”
What is the article about, and what facts have they used to support their claims?
We English teachers love a good satire, but we are also wary of how quickly social media can spread satirical news as facts. If you are finding a story hard to believe, you may have good reasons to doubt it. So, to make sure the facts presented to you are reliable, read similar articles from other sources and compare.
Where did the event happen, and where is the writer from?
A thing I like to do when I travel is watch popular news channels in whichever country I’m in. It’s always fascinating to see how news from distant places can be so different from news at home. These differences can both positively and negatively influence us – it’s harmful to us when information about other places and cultures is skewed to change people’s beliefs, but it can also benefit us when it offers new perspectives on what is happening around the world.
When was the article written?
Since social media has made it easier to share and re-post news, it’s vital that you check the date of when the article was first published. Some online articles are timeless and can be shared again and again; however, when it comes to news about current events, articles you find must be up-to-date. As a matter of fact, date-checking should be the first thing you do when you read anything online.
Why is checking the publication date so important? The world is constantly changing, which means that information is constantly changing. Therefore, you want to make sure the facts you find are not outdated to avoid introducing issues that have already been resolved or disproved.
Why was the article written, and why is the event important?
Although journalists are supposed to be objective, this is not always the case. As I mentioned before, Information Bias is unavoidable, so we need to be more skeptical of the facts presented to us and the facts that are excluded.
We must be skeptical of information, since the way we interpret and absorb facts affects our everyday life. It shapes our beliefs and interactions with the people around us. Therefore, by asking “Why?”, we become more attentive and are less likely to be misled or fooled. Once we have the answers to our “Why?”, we will also communicate our ideas better with reason and accuracy.
How does the article contribute to the ongoing discussions of the event?
Each story we read has the potential to change our perception of the world, so it’s vital that we understand the impact one article has on our overall understanding of the issues we are researching. For example, you will come across various articles about racism online and offline. These articles might delve into racism’s history, while others might discuss current events. Some articles might make you hopeful, while others might make you fearful. By recognizing how a single article influences the ongoing discussions of an issue, you will have greater control over how you internalize information and be more open-minded about different opinions.
You will realize as you continue to work on your critical thinking skills that people have many opinions. Therefore, being a critical thinker means that you are open to understanding all perspectives, even if they clash with yours. Besides analyzing and reasoning, critical thinking is, foremost, the art of respectful listening.
Like lifting weights to strengthen your muscles, your critical thinking skills can only improve if you practice regularly. Having to dissect information might seem daunting at first, especially with so much new information published every day, but I promise you that it only becomes easier over time.
What are other strategies you use to think more critically? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!
Until next time!