In this age of social media, critical thinking more important than ever

What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is the ability to rationalize and understand the logic behind ideas and their connection.  In high school there are plenty of opportunities to learn how to think critically. Students study topics and then discuss them in small groups, large groups or socratic circles. These activities are meant to make students have a deeper understanding of the subject learned and an opportunity to find connections between topics, thinking about things in new ways and finding continuity in them.

Recent events show there has never been a more crucial time to attain these skills in young people, as our world is increasingly divided, and the onslaught of misinformation is at an all time high. According to the U.S Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, a recent study found 86 percent of fourth grade teachers said they emphasize deductive reasoning, but that figure fell to 39 percent of teachers in eighth grade. At the state level, that study found that only seven states had at least 50 percent of eighth grade teachers reporting the emphasis of deductive reasoning. 

To add to the lack of concentration on deducting skills taught in middle school, there is also the excessive use of social media and constant search for internet provided content may be messing up young students’ thinking skills. No wonder, as social media affects youth in so many psychological ways. 

One way, could just be how easy it is for the internet to seek out some of the opinions and content that just reinforces what you think already, instead of exploring thoughts. Social media has discouraged critical thinking since opinions can be extreme, and they seem to be delivered in concrete ways that do not have room for questioning. 

Especially with the rise of political subjects on social media, finding exactly the content that matches up with pre-existing thoughts can be stagnating. This is in fact a bigger threat to teenagers as their brains are still developing and need to stay open minded. 

Social media users try to stick with opinions and content they agree with. Social media allows access to everyone, as, of course, it should, so there will always be people to disagree with and places to argue, but arguing is not the same as critically thinking, listening and deducing. 

Also harmful to critical thinking are all the social media echo chambers. Echo chambers are exactly what they sound like. An echo chamber is an environment where participants’ beliefs are amplified and reinforced by preexisting beliefs, sometimes in extreme ways, like echoing bad ideas in a small room, with people who completely agree with each other without question. That can be a dangerous room to be in. 

In undergraduate studies at universities, general education requirements include taking a critical thinking class to fulfill core courses. One such course is taught at the University of Northern Iowa by Robert Earle. Professor Earle answered this question.


In your experience teaching philosophy, what are some tips for improving one’s skill to think critically?


  • Watch out for informal fallacies. That is the technical term for common, but faulty, patterns of thinking and speech used for persuasion. Some worth looking up are: straw man, ad hominem, false cause, and the genetic fallacy. Being able to recognize these patterns of thought makes it easier to falling into their traps.
  • Seek training in deductive reasoning. That is the technical term for the study of formal logical patterns of argumentation. I recommend taking a logic class (or critical thinking course with a deductive reasoning unit) early in your college career). Deductive reasoning is helpful in understanding common reasoning structures as well as the crucial concepts of validity and soundness. Logic also has a very interesting history dating back to Aristotle (4th c. B.C.E.).
  • Continue to build media literacy skills. We all take-in media every day (an understatement!). Thus, it is important to be cognizant of those flows of information and to be an active, critical user of media and the internet. When reading a news site for instance, be sure to identify the author and their credentials. If their credentials are weak, what justifies trusting them? Do they have a proven track record? What evidence is provided? Are they biased in any way (politically funded, have an agenda)? Also, in the article, is more space devoted to one side? And give some thought to the purpose (i.e. why did the speaker choose to write and post this?): was it for money, to sell ads or a product? is it an advocacy site? Mere entertainment or does the author stand by the claims they are making?
  • Consider these other notes about media literacy: 1) consult truth-checkers (such as when you see a provocative claim on social media. 2) Wikipedia can be used for basic introductory information, but when getting serious about a topic, find an encyclopedia article written by experts (if your school has the Gale E-Books database, use it!) 3) Seek academic websites when possible, such as Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy or Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Also continue to build critical thinking skills regarding news media. Here are some tips: news organizations are for-profit and thus require ads, popularity, and good relations with sources; so they aren’t entirely objective (they also are in competition with other news sources). When approaching news sources, consider: is the reporting too passive, too active, too selective. News sources may also be biased toward selecting stories that fit their viewers interests. Also, keep in mind the difference between editorializing and reporting (both of which are common within news media)
  • Also continue to build critical thinking skills regarding advertising. Consider the following tips for active engagement with advertising. Remember all advertisers are “interested parties” (they want to sell). But advertisers also want repeat customers. Remember also, most ads aim at emotions, not reason. They know that romance and wealth sell (so do fear and humor). Look out for weasel words (e.g. “save up to 50%”). euphemisms, dysphemisms, emotive words, innuendo, hyperbole, downplayings, and ridicule which are all common in ads. You can look some of these up, or ask your critical thinking teacher to research and share about these.


If you end up at UNI after high school graduation, Professor Earle strongly recommends UNI class PHIL1050: The Art of Critical Thinking and Writing (which satisfies the Written Communication category of the UNIFI general education program). Critical thinking is more important than ever in current times because we have endless access to information, some reliable, some not reliable. Just imagine, with the power of critical thinking, and thinking about subjects in new ways, you may be able o solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

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