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

16 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.

  6. Dr.childs- Jenna stone
    When you are critically thinking you approach a though with certain knowledge, facts and you allow other people’s views to take part on how you construct your thoughts. Due to the world we live in today there is not much information out there that doesn’t contain a biased opinion on the topic. So many people are opinionated and emotional towards what they believe and that can over take their way of understanding fully and crucially thinking. It is important to remember that when watching different news channels because normally things can be a perceived differently depending on the person telling the information.

  7. It is so hard to navigate through real and fake information. Knowing that so much fake information and news is out there can make it scary to try and get a good understanding on an event or topic. It is so important to have skills to navigate through false information that has been put out there. This article provided helpful resources to equip ourselves. As a future teacher I want to enable my students to tackle real and fake news in the best way possible. I found the resources Dr. Childs provided to be very helpful.

  8. My concept of critical thinking has changed throughout the years; as a high school student it meant nothing more than reading information a little bit harder than usual and maybe noting some important facts, but in my recent years, critical thinking has become so much more. Just as the article states, it is an idea about being critical and skeptical about information you read. I now think of the deeper questions, why is this being written about? Who is this being written for (the audience)? What is the authors intent? Are there biases? The use of critical thinking, especially in this context is not only helpful, but absolutely necessary.
    Disinformation is something that has corrupted so much more than just things like media platforms, it has made its ways into peoples’ personal lives. You can hear talks of Disinformation anywhere from a coworker at work to your own family around the dinner table. This article really expands the idea of critical thinking and truly shows how it can help weed out Misinformation. I absolutely admire the definition used in the article; it includes a main part that can sometimes get overlooked, especially by myself in my high school days. The idea of looking at something with no biases is essential to discovering misleading or agenda-built information. As a future educator, I have a drive to advance my critical thinking skills to ensure that I am putting out information that is factual and creditable. Although it may be next to impossible to dismantle disinformation, we can use critical thinking as a front-line defense in shutting down its spread.

  9. Critically thinking is increasingly becoming a skill that is decreasing in individuals, due to the accessibility of information. People often assume that the information that is in front of them is 100% valid, without questioning the validity of the statements being made. This easy acceptance of information without a second though can be very detrimental to society. In our day and age, it is too easy for people to put whatever they would like to on the interment, which is why it is more important now than ever for people to critically think about the information that is in front of them.

  10. Critical thinking is becoming significantly more important than ever in recent years. Many sources of information (on the internet especially) are heavily opinionated, even if it isn’t explicitly stated that it is. Because of this, people have to spend more time staying informed on many different issues, often by visiting various different websites and reading many articles on the same topic to get the full story. By only reading one article on an issue, you risk becoming misinformed on that topic, and by sharing that article with others, the misinformation spreads. This is how you see many people on social media stating that COVID-19 “isn’t real” (which is obviously a false statement) – one person reads an article that has inaccurate information, then share it with their friends, and before a day has passed, a significant number of people believe information that is false/misleading. This is why critical thinking is so important whenever you are browsing the internet or social media.

  11. If there is anything at all that I have spent the last few years agonizing over, it is this topic. With the continuing spread of disinformation in every facet of our lives now, I fervently agree that the need for advanced critical thinking skills is the first line of defense in combating false information. There are individuals in society that seek or create information that they believe proves their hypotheses or stances without knowing how to do proper research into a topic. By teaching how to research along with critical thinking skills, most students should be able to identify shoddy or falsified research almost instantaneously. If we can facilitate students who question, then we have done our job.

  12. As soon as I started reading this article, the media and news stations came straight to my head. For this sole purpose of disinformation, I tend to shy away from watching the news. Critical thinking is something so important, yet the media does not even take it into account, because nowadays, unfortunately, the authenticity of the information is not important, but rather just getting the headline out and making money is all that does matter to them.. Therefore, it is important that teachers educate their students on the importance of critical thinking so that we can make a change in the world, for the better.

  13. I couldn’t agree more! Critical thinking is a necessary 21st century skill. It needs to be taught and developed just like any other skill. I would go as far as saying it may be even more important than others. Critical thinking is a skill that can be utilized in every aspect of life. The future will bring problems we can’t even imagine and in order to solve them we will need creative critical thinkers. The links you shared have some great ideas for how to help our students develop critical thinking skills, and I will certainly be using them. Thank you!

  14. I think that being a good critical thinker is a very important skill for all students to have in society today, and also to be taught in the classroom. Critical thinking requires much more thought and higher order thinking skills such as analyzing, applying, synthesizing, and evaluating.I will make sure to teach my future students the skills that I just mentioned in the lessons that I plan for them once I get my own future classroom.I will make it a priority to incorporate higher order thinking skills into my lesson plans.I will definitely make sure that I remember to teach my future students about what critical thinking is, what being a critical thinker requires, how being a critical thinker is beneficial and why we should all be critical thinkers everyday.After all critical thinkers are the best and smartest types of thinkers! 🙂

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