As an increasing percentage of Americans receive their news from social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, scholars are looking at how users think about the information scrolling down their screens. One Stanford University study of students from middle school through college exposed serious critical thinking and information literacy skill deficits at all levels.
Pew Research released poll results showing that two-thirds of Americans said they used social media sites to get news. 18% said they “often” got their news from social media. Facebook and Twitter already have the potential to limit their users’ introduction to other viewpoints through the “echo chamber” effect; the introduction of purposely false or deceptive news stories onto social media’s vast platform has led many to wonder if this has the power to swing elections, influence public opinion, and affect policy.
In today’s Knowledge Economy, critical thinking skills will become paramount for an individual’s success. However, the inability to evaluate information is already cited by professors across the country as a weakness of students today (Credo’s survey of faculty found only 16% who were confident in their students’ ability to evaluate information). As fake news, native advertisements, and misleading websites grow, the implications of this skills grap will expand too.
To date, critical thinking and information literacy programs in higher education have been inconsistent at best. This has to change in order for academia to retain its relevancy in the 21st century. Schools often list critical thinking as a desired outcome, however the implementation of critical thinking and information literacy instruction often varies from department to department, or even course to course. Increasing the consistency with which this instruction is delivered is a critical challenge for higher ed today.
Facebook and Google have announced a few small steps to limit the advertising revenue fake news sites will have access to, but the real work comes with building up the information skills of informed consumers. Critical thinking is an essential tool for the modern world, and it should be taught in a broad, coherent, and effective way.
The 21st century offers unprecedented technological innovation and informational access. Harnessing these opportunities to teach the next generation of digital citizens could mean the difference between a society where ideas are debated to reach solutions, or one where disparate people live in parallel realities of alternative facts.
Want to assess your critical thinking skills? Take our fake news lesson and test!