Critical Thinking: An Essential Skill to Have in the Age of Disinformation

klublu/Shutterstock- https://hewlett.org/qa-kelly-born-getting-beyond-disinformation/

Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

The Cambridge Dictionary defines critical thinking as “the process of thinking carefully about a subject or idea, without allowing feelings or opinions to affect you.” In other words, it is the idea of being critical or skeptical of any information one receives until it is properly vetted and found to be credible. This is a skill that has become increasingly more essential to have in today’s world of misinformation, fake news and so-called “alternative facts.” Indeed one of the greatest weapons of Stalinist Russia was their campaign of disinformation. “The English word disinformation is a loan translation of the Russian dezinformatsiya, derived from the title of a KGB black propaganda department. Joseph Stalin coined the term, giving it a French-sounding name to claim it had a Western origin.” The Russian government had an entire department dedicated to the spread of false information; a department that still exists today in some form. You can read more information on Russia’s modern disinformation program in the New York Times article entitled A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories. It is now common knowledge that the Russian government has intentionally interjected false information into US social media platforms in order to disrupt our political process. Here is an extensive Senate report detailing the findings of a long term investigation of Russian involvement in spreading misinformation. There is also a concerted effort to combat such disinformation.

Due to this intentional spread of false information It is ever more important that educators teach their students critical thinking skills. Our society is becoming increasingly more reliant on digital media for information and it is essential that we can tell the difference between that which is true and that which is false. Whether people are reading news articles, scanning websites or watching Youtube videos to get their information it is absolutely critical in our times that we understand how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable information. Below I have provided some lesson plans teachers can use to help their students hone their critical thinking skills.

Developing Students’ Critical Thinking Skills Through Whole-Class Dialogue
Critical Thinking Lesson Plan
Creativity/Problem Solving/Critical Thinking Lesson Plans and Resources
Critical Thinking Skills Teacher Resources
Critical Thinking Resources for High School Teachers
A Teacher’s Guide to Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking in Social Studies
Critical Thinking and the Social Studies

7 Comments

  1. Response to “Critical Thinking:An Essential Skill to Have in the Age of Disinformation” by David Childs.
    The first think that struck me about the article was the verbiage of the critical thinking definition that stated “without allowing feelings or opinions to effect you”. In every definition of critical thinking I’ve read or heard I have never seen one including this line, an essential line in my opinion. Often times people don’t even realize that they’re biased one way or the other when reading articles or studying texts. However, if you focus on your reactions and their roots, you can eliminate your bias while you study and improve your critical thinking skills.

    The other big thing that struck me was the reference to Russia and the disinformation campaign by Stalin. Whether intentional or not, the American media and American politics has begun to resemble this campaign. In today’s world, especially with a technology pus, information is readily available, but at a price: information is often biased and can contain false information. America has become more about using information to support your agenda rather than using true, valid information to develop a stance. It will be interesting to see how online information and media sources change to fit the needs of society, and whether they will develop a solid fact checking process.

    • Critical Thinking: An Essential Skill to Have in the Age of Disinformation
      The age of disinformation is just confusing for everyone. I think this is a big reason why the United States struggles with two major issues: the COVID19 pandemic and climate change. There is so much information on the internet about what the facts are. Common sense would tell us that there are only one set of facts- however, those facts are based on socioeconomic and geographical location. On the issue of climate change, even well educated citizens still aren’t sure about whether climate change is real (even though dozens of other countries are openly taking action, educating their citizens, and imploring both the US and China to acknowledge it properly). Misinformation reaches many well-meaning people and creates a cord of distrust in science, which is problematic for everyone.

  2. The definition of critical thinking given in this article was the first thing that caught my attention; I am guilty of often times letting my emotions get affected by something I read on the internet, even though sometimes I am completely aware that some of these sites are not the best sources for credible information. However, as Dr. Childs states in the article “Our society is becoming increasingly more reliant on digital media for information and it is essential that we can tell the difference between that which is true and that which is false”. With this is mind, I think one way we can be more aware of the information we believe is to begin questioning what we read and if possible, determine if the information comes from a credible source (i.e. peer reviewed papers, credible new sources, etc.). Although, with the mention of Russia and their misinformation campaign, I wouldn’t doubt the U.S is using the same methods, whether deliberate or not. This in turn made me think whether or not I should also be questioning the information from sources that in the past have been proved to be credible.
    Social media can be a “doubled-edge sword” and unless the information we are reading can be supported by facts I think is a good idea to assume that whatever we read it is just an opinion.

  3. When I hear the word critical thinking, I instantly think I’m at school in a language arts class. Often times people don’t even realize that they’re biased on way or the other when reading articles or studying text. However, if you focus on your reactions and their roots, you can eliminate you bias while you study and improve your critical thinking skills. I liked how Russia was referenced many times throughout the article. I think it is important to add a little insight to other countries and what they do with critical thinking in reference to what we do in our country.

  4. Critical Thinking is a skill that the nation as whole severely lacks. I hate to admit it but I caught myself falling for these bits of false information. I found it critical to find and analyze the roots of articles and stories in order prevent myself from falling for propaganda materials. I am really glad that you mentioned the source for most of these disinformation. I say “most” as it would be impossible to blame every piece of false media on Russia. I wonder what the number is for the amount of people who fell “victim” to the age of disinformation.

  5. It’s surprising to have it confirmed to the point of calling it “common knowledge” that Russian actors have spread misinformation through the United States. It was something I had not been completely informed on, and had prior thought of as something of a conspiracy. I was aware that things were frequently posted on the Internet that are false, but I was skeptical that it was a particular source with a specific, disruptive goal doing so. I want to improve my critical thinking when it comes to reading through information and news posted online. I think it’s easy to fall for the authoritative tone that most online journalism and mimicking websites take on. Without taking the time to analyze what you’re being told and check it for accuracy, it’s easy to be led along mindlessly or falsely led into outrage. I will definitely be looking more into the Russian disinformation issue, thank you for providing these informative external resources on the topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*