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Jan 19

Critical thinking and social media

Following one of the most tumultuous election cycles in recent memory, many social media outlets are being criticized for helping spread misinformation and fake news stories.

This reminded me of an article by Bertrand Duperrin on critical thinking and social media…

There is no action without intention so there is no article without intention… In his article, Bertrand Duperrin draws our attention to the necessity of activating our critical thinking skills and verifying both the content and intention of what is published on the internet and social media. Unfortunately, when on ‘autopilot’ mode the brain doesn’t spontaneously question, but judges…

What if questioning were actually an art to practise in order to activate situational awareness and prevent us from holding onto our assumptions and convictions?
Unless we cover our eyes with our hands and put our toes in our ears to neither hear nor see, not an easy thing to do I agree, our brain will take in EVERYTHING that comes from our sight and hearing and makes huge piles of it all.

Unconsciously and unbeknown to itself, the brain archives, classifies, prioritises and isolates what is important and tends to ignore the rest. It then proceeds to make associations with its perceptions of the past, strengthening its frame of reference that makes sense of the World, all in order to decide: do I like or do I dislike?

If the information provided on internet agrees with the brain, through its own mental representations and concepts, it will reinforce its beliefs and convictions. If, on the contrary, the information is upsetting or activates its fears, the brain will call upon its resources to fight the information, demolish it, dilute its impact, reject it and react. Whether the brain stores the information or fights it makes no difference: the brain endures the process. It’s a done deal.

Two instinctive reactions are therefore possible: either let the information in because it is convenient, or reject it because it bothers me.

What B. Duperrin highlights in his article is the necessity to adopt another posture, that of the SENTINEL. Equipped with the celebrated “critical thinking skills”, the sentinel uses its intelligence and discernment; it analyses and questions: “Who goes there? Friend or foe?” It seeks to validate the other’s intention and scans their items of luggage, one by one, to then either let the other enter our mind or deny them access to the precious territory. In both cases, the sentinel is fully aware of what is going on.

Why deprive ourselves of the questioning process that will prevent us from falling into the traps laid down by our very own convictions? Why read and believe everything, absolutely everything… all the time, at the risk of polluting our choices and decisions? How can we block the internet’s influence on our decisions? There is no doubt that what comes from internet is at least “TRUE” for the person who has written it and that it is aligned with THAT person’s intentions. But is that the case for us as well? Who goes there!?

Internet and social media don’t talk to us from any superior or inferior position: they are right next to us. In the midst of it all, B. Duperrin invites us to consider critical thinking as being a highly important skill for present times.

The brain wasn’t given to us to think but only to ACT. To make all these choices, the brain collects everything within range and doesn’t want to forget anything… It referees with the obsession of making the “right choices”. In any case, the emerging result will be the fruit of a mental projection of the possible consequences at a specific moment in time, with all the information and experiences at that moment.

In these conditions, how can we increase the sentinel’s skills when faced with all the information that proliferates on the internet? With social media as well as life in general, how can we practise more frequently the art and science of questioning in order to consciously shed light on our present and adopt an efficient posture when faced with an unknown, uncertain, irrational and complex future… without being polluted by what we let in and store?

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