Critical thinking is important, especially online!
In this day and age, misinformation can be easier to find than information! It's important to build up a database of trusted sources for credible information. In our day-to-day lives, a lot of us encounter circumstances that require us to think critically.
Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasonable judgement based on that information.
Plenty of occupations use critical thinking skills every day, whether we realize it or not. From triage nurses deciding the order of patients to treat to a soccer coach developing strategy to attack opponents' weaknesses , critical thinking is a critical part of our lives.
Unfortunately, we aren't always aware of when to apply these skills. We've all seen something while scrolling the internet that seemed too out of left field to be true. But sometimes, it seems just plausible enough that we take it as truth. So, how can we stop this?
Strengthening our critical thinking skills can help combat online misinformation. Just by taking some time to analyze the content, we can quickly discern truth.
Develop critical thinking skills
The first step (or first seven steps) to determine the legitimacy of online content is to develop a solid plan for fact-checking. When you see something that raises flags, quickly run through this checklist:
Approach all content with an open mind. When you approach with an open mind and unbiased thought you open your perspective on the topic. It's important to challenge your perspectives.
Understanding the content/message helps you determine if the content is truthful. Ask yourself these questions to identify weak spots in the information. This enables you to reveal the nature of the message.
- Does the evidence evolve from the topic?
- Does the evidence conflict or agree with previous evidence?
- Is there enough evidence to support the presented conclusion?
- Are the sources credible?
- Does it contain illogical or circular logic presented?
- Are the conclusions strong or weak?
Draw a valid conclusion based on your analysis. Does the evidence presented logically lead to the conclusion? Is the evidence fact-based or opinion-based? Is the source credible? These are all important questions to help you decipher the meaning of relevant information.
Next, identify all possible solutions to the problems you see in the information. While a few solutions may jump to your mind immediately, it's best to take your time and allow yourself to truly find all the best solutions.
Be decisive based on the data you confirm and the solutions you find. Whether you deem the information to be credible & truthful, or full of falsehoods, you can confidently move forward.
- Effective communication
Can you explain and back up your conclusion? If so, you can effectively debunk the message or dissuade others from believing the misinformation. Strengthening your critical thinking skills makes you able to present a solid argument!
Finally, the best way to improve critical thinking skills is by, well, improving your critical thinking skills! Reflect on your personal critical thinking skills and honestly assess them. Are there areas that you skipped over? Where did you let emotions and biases affect your conclusions?
By examining yourself honestly, you allow yourself the opportunity to grow! Develop positive feedback loops in your critical thinking habits and be sure to discuss questions or concerns you have with any trusted individuals in your life.
What does this look like?
Critical thinking is described as, "the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you."
While critical thinking is largely an internal process, there are many opportunities to reflect it outwardly.
- Always check the source! Most times, a shady source identifies fake news & false facts.
- Try to check 3 websites; compare the information, is it reliable? When fact-checking online, it's best to compare the information with various sources.
- Compare with what you know! Check a book and refer to your own knowledge. Sometimes, you can tell something's wrong just by looking at it. In these instances, refer to a trusted source whether it's your brain, a university website or a book.
- Check the date: some information online is out-of-date or re-shared. This can immediately identify accurate information shared truthfully or an attempt to paint a false narrative.
- Talk to someone! Ask friends, family members, or experts you know about what you read. Always talk about it if it's worrying or upsetting. Chances are what you read was designed to evoke emotion that clouds judgement of the information.
What are good sources?
Good sources tend to be people or organizations working under a non-profit model. When it comes to science, government, university and non-profit organizations often have the least bias in the information they release to the public.
Farming Smarter, is a trusted source of information in Alberta. We change the way people farm through sharing what we learn in our field work. We can supply western Canada and southern Alberta with the latest in agronomic research ≥ enriching farmers' knowledge and raising bottom lines.
Universities are another source of information and will have researchers connected to the university's website. Outside of universities, government sources such as AgCanada provide unbiased information because researchers work for all Canadian citizens rather than a profit motivated company.
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