Critical thinking in the age of Facebook and YouTube

The schism in tomorrow’s society will be between those who know how to access, assess and use the multitude of information becoming available and those who just drown in it and do not possess the critical thinking ability to use what’s available.

Critical thinking used to be done by professional editors and publishers – now it is up to you

Critical thinking may not be on the front of your mind when reading interesting articles or looking up topics on the internet. Not that long ago, the critical thinking was done by magazine and Newspaper editors or publishers. Today, everyone can publish anything for immediate public consumption.

Information is so manifold and accessible. Entire degrees worth of information is out there for those who know how to find it. Dr. Google is a real thing and bush-lawyers are sprouting in every suburb, not to mention the YouTube experts-in-everything pandemic.

About 20 years ago, a prescient, young academic wrote that the schism in tomorrow’s society will be between those who know how to access, assess and use the multitude of information becoming available and those who just drown in it and do not possess the critical thinking ability to use what’s available. I think we are well and truly there.

This worries every parent whose teens are finding grossly incorrect and unsupported opinion pieces on the net.

Information is power

Leaders have wanted this power over the masses since before Roman emperors put their faces on coins and sent statues of themselves around the empire in early propaganda campaigns.

Ignorance, coupled with the bombardment of information from vested interests, is becoming a real force in the public discourse. I won’t argue the point here, but witness Brexit, Trump, boat-people and asylum seekers in Australia etc. More recently, of course, we have the Facebook debacle – they will sell your information in order that vested interests can better take advantage of you. This is not a statement against or in support of any position, but just pointing out how vested interests ensured the propagation of their arguments through online sources. Without being subjected to critical analysis, they shaped public opinion and won the day.

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Leaders have wanted this power over the masses since before Roman emperors put their faces on coins and sent out statues of themselves around the empire in early propaganda campaigns. Now it is here. Ave social media and the internet.

A short list – some attributes to keep in mind

I would like to share the following short list of what to keep in mind when reading anything, online or anywhere else.

IDENTITY: Who is the writer – is this person qualified in the area he or she writes about. Remember that being a Chef does not qualify someone to spruik health advice. Being a fitness trainer does not qualify someone to spruik advice on healthy eating and gardening. Look for professional qualifications and then research their reputation if they are not generally well known already –  some people make up titles and qualifications.

INTERESTS: Does the writer represent particular views that are related to the information or advice they share, e.g. in terms of gender, sexual, racial, political, social and or cultural orientation; Do you want to take advice on animal husbandry from vegans or on the environment from someone with a party political agenda. Seek to confirm information from someone that is not aligned with particular interests and consider whether there are discrepancies or alternative views and interpretations.

LOCATION: Where is the writer based, is the person or organisation based in another country or continent, then depending on what they write about, your local situation may be very different. Consider what is generally applicable information, what is transferable and what is particular.

OWNERSHIP: Who runs the website? Is it a well known and well-reputed organisation that you can expect to be prudent with the information they publish? These can include Universities, government organisations, Hospitals, large well-reputed news organisations. Remember that many popular Bloggers tend to be aligned to commercial interests that they do not necessarily declare because they are under no legal compulsion to do so. Being hugely popular and/or having a perfect Instagram life does not translate into being an expert, being trustworthy or being above commercial incentives;

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COMMERCE: Is there a commercial interest involved, will they sell you something or sign you up for something? Beware and try to double check if possible with a well-reputed source if in doubt.

Bloggers and teenage rebellion

Young people must question not only parents and carers, being the teen’s eternal bugbear, but also question information they come across

YouTube bloggers are becoming central in many young people’s lives, they present information on everything.  When they stick to clothes or the cool places to go, everything is ok. However, they also present information on health, eating and dieting, stress and depression, and mental health to skin care and pet care.

At some point, the critical mind has to step in. Young people must question not only parents and carers but also question the information they come across. Some of the more extreme bloggers warn viewers of conspiracies and that only he or she is the fountain of truth while the rest of us, such as the government and Universities are all in a joint conspiracy. Now, if you’re a teen and can’t pick that this is concerning, then you got something else to worry about, as does the blogger you’re listening to.

Critical thinking – a key to true independence

Following blindly random bloggers on the internet is not generally a good way to assert your independence. Instead, you are just becoming the latest schmuck to not think for yourself. Those five points above, about critical thinking, are the teen’s keys to independence.

Enjoy a clip from ‘Life of Brian’, putting a spin on critical thinking and sheep mentality.

Lise Copeland
Author: Lise Copeland

I like to write about current topics concerning young people, education and mental health. I developed this website to help other parents and it is used by several hundred people every week. I have two kids at University and one in high school. They have attended State, Catholic and Independent schools in three States and Territories as well as overseas, giving me lots of first hand experience of how different schools can contribute. Education: BA(Hons) with Philosophy, Latin and Ancient Greek languages and BA Law (LLB).

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