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The impact of social media on critical thinking

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Social media can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be a tool used to spread misinformation and disinformation by bad actors. With studies showing that around 80% of young people, aged 18 to 24, receive all of their news from social media, it is not surprising that research by YouGov indicates that people who use social media as a news source do not perform as well on the Misinformation Susceptibility Test (MIST).

People who spend two hours or less of recreational time online each day are twice as likely to be in the highest-scoring category (30% vs. 15%) as people who spend 9 or more hours online per day.

Social media platforms such as X or Facebook, use algorithms to determine the content that is prioritised in your social media feeds. Unfortunately, disinformation and fake news are likely to be more sensational, outrageous, or attention-grabbing so get amplified, drowning out credible information and sources. People act based on the information they are exposed to, so when this information is false or misleading, disastrous results can ensue.

With news spreading quickly, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction in such an emotive and high-tension atmosphere. For example, there is a lot of noise on social media currently around the conflict happening between Israel and Hamas, with Elon Musk sharing accounts described as “well-known spreaders of disinformation.”

But with social media being an everyday part of many people’s lives, how can you think critically and use it more effectively?

Use the SIFT method:

S: Stop to check for accuracy before you hit share.
I: Investigate the source. Is it a reputable news outlet or account?
F: Find better coverage. Are multiple outlets sharing the same story, where did this story originate from?
T: Trace claims, quotes, and media to their original source

Try inverting the problem

It is also a good idea to deliberately diversify your sources or try the inversion technique.

Inversion thinking encourages us to deliberately approach information in a contrary way. By envisioning an alternative scenario, or ‘playing devil’s advocate’, to actively challenge our biases and finding alternative sources, it makes our reasoning much stronger. It helps us to determine fact from fiction and recognise how our own biases can stand in the way of us thinking critically.

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