In a previous post, we wrote about critical thinking dispositions, which are the tendencies that contribute greatly to the act of thinking critically in our everyday lives. Since a huge chunk of our everyday lives is spent on social media, and since many people are, for the lack of a better word, rude in their online interactions, we thought it would be useful to convert that previous post into a far easier to digest list in the hope of getting the message through more efficiently.
It’s true that the anonymity of a screen might give the feeling of safety in speaking our minds, but should we invoke the right of free speech and directness in trying to find subterfuge, or should we take some time, employ critical thinking attitudes and help progress the conversation? We think the latter.
- Don’t be angry – it’s impossible to have a civilised conversation whilst shouting. Try to speak your mind in a respectful manner. Being aggressive to others will likely trigger their fight-or-flight response and doesn’t really foster a civilised conversation.
- Don’t make personal attacks about other people or about their loved ones. Telling someone “yo mama so stupid, she got hit by a parked car” not only doesn’t really set the context right but is itself a logical fallacy, the ad-hominem fallacy. Stick to the facts.
- Admit the possibility that you may be wrong – have you got credible sources? Can you build argument maps starting from primary sources of info and drawing qualified conclusions? If not, then there is a slight chance you’re not right.
- Admit the possibility that you don’t know everything – show willingness to revise your views in light of new information. Also, even if you do know more than others, don’t be condescending, that’s really annoying.
- Be aware of the massive ongoing manipulation – there have been several proven and many more suspected campaigns taken by private companies or even governments to manipulate opinion online. There are troll factories, bots or even human operators that can induce public support or dislike for certain causes, falsely increase the number of likes or reshares for certain posts and many subtler strategies that play with our natural reactions like stereotypes, confirmation bias or affinity bias. The best known such operator is Russia’s Internet Research Agency (also here, here and here), but US-based operations have also been identified. So, take new info or forwards with a grain of salt and don’t switch off your critical thinking filter.
- Be aware of societal division – whether it’s Trump vs Biden in the US, Tory vs Labour in the UK or leftist vs rightist in general, there’s a natural tendency to take sides and think whatever the other side is saying is wrong. Be open minded and admit that some parts of what the others are saying make sense.
- Be fair – even if the conclusion contradicts your beliefs. Remember that a good justification doesn’t lose its value even when you don’t like the messenger.
- Be aware of low-context environments – social media is a low-context environment, wherein you know verry little about other people’s culture, background or ways of transmitting emotions. Not everything that seems hurtful was written with that purpose and the tone can’t always be inferred from a post.
- Remember others are human beings – they’ve got feelings even if you hate their guts. Nothing worthwhile can come from attempts at dehumanising people and recent twentieth century history shows how much damage that can cause. Avoid saying some people are rats, stinking dogs or the devil.
- Don’t be the PC police – people who always point out that something is not politically correct are very annoying. The most dangerous thing is that this hypocritical attitude can backfire and increase divisions even more. It’s obvious for both someone from a majority as it is for anyone sensible from a minority whether something was said with malicious intent. Also, keep in mind the changing cultural background in which some, especially older people, were raised, since much was alright in the 70s.
Considering how many things aren’t instinctual or don’t come naturally to people, it’s easy to understand why today’s social media can cause so much trauma and depression. Hopefully, this short cheat sheet can improve that.