Critical thinking and fake news

critical thinking

A recent report suggests that young people are increasingly relying on social media platforms rather than traditional news channels to keep up to date with the news. This is a worrying trend. How do we know that what we read is accurate or even true? A 2018 MIT study found that lies spread more quickly than the truth on social media. A conspiracy theory is only a few clicks away. One of President Trump’s legacies is the phrase ‘fake news’, two words now widely deployed in public discourse as a shorthand means of dismissing inconvenient facts – to argue at times that black is white. Its ubiquity suggests that even the idea of objective truth is under threat. As an element of digital literacy, we need to ensure that children have the skills to deal with information that they encounter online – to be able to make sensible judgements about what is probably true and what is likely to be misleading or even false. More generally, we need to develop children’s critical thinking skills, giving them what Steven Pinker refers to as “the intellectual tools of sound reasoning”.

What the report suggests

The report, from the media regulator Ofcom, is called News consumption in the UK 2021/22. It suggests that Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are the top three news sources among 12–15s. Here are some of its main findings:

  • Instagram is now the most popular news source among teenagers, used by 29% of young people in 2022
  • 28% used TikTok and YouTube
  • The number of young people watching BBC One and BBC Two for news has declined to 24%, compared to nearly half (45%) just years ago

Teenagers today are increasingly unlikely to pick up a newspaper or tune into TV News, instead preferring to keep up-to-date by scrolling through their social feeds. And while youngsters find news on social media to be less reliable, they rate these services more highly for serving up a range of opinions on the day’s topical stories.

Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s Group Director for Strategy and Research, quoted on Ofcom’s website

The survey also asked participants about trust and accuracy. It found that family, radio and TV are perceived as the most truthful news sources, while social media and friends are perceived to be the least truthful. Almost four-fifths (79%) of 12–15s said the news they heard from family was either ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ accurate, compared to 72% for radio, and 65% for TV. Fewer believe news stories on social media (30%) or from friends (37%) are accurate.

Life-Based Learning and critical thinking

Life-Based Learning (LBL) seeks to embed what children and young people learn in real-world issues. Its nine life themes directly address the challenges that they — that all of us — face. In these times when facts are increasingly contested, when lies are easily disseminated, and when some people even talk of a ‘post-truth’ age, one of those challenges is to the very concept of objective truth.

In our blog Why teaching critical thinking is critically important we wrote:

Young people are growing up in an age of deceit, lying, misinformation and disinformation. Social media feeds on our algorithmically determined preferences and prejudices, generating sensationalist soundbites and clickbait headlines, devoid of context or even of meaning. Lies are peddled as fact; ludicrous assertions are left unchallenged, bouncing around the individual user’s very own echo chamber. Yet many people increasingly consume their news and other information via social media or other poorly regulated media outlets that show a similar aversion to evidence, fact checking and sound, dispassionate reasoning.

from the blog Why teaching critical thinking is critically important

We have blogged about the importance of history as a way of developing thinking skills. The national curriculum for history talks of encouraging children and young people “to ask perceptive questions, think critically, weigh evidence, sift arguments, and develop perspective and judgement.” There is similar language in the citizenship programme of study: “weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments … developing skills to research and interrogate evidence, debate and evaluate viewpoints, present reasoned arguments and take informed action.”

A frequent criticism of the current approach to education is that it stifles creativity and critical thinking ­– that, despite the laudable aims outlined in the previous paragraph – the description ‘knowledge-rich’ is merely code for an exam-obsessed Gradgrindian approach that privileges the mindless regurgitation of facts.

Life-Based Learning, in contrast, is an approach to children’s education and development that is all about promoting creativity and cognitive health – helping children to learn effectively and think clearly, inspiring a love of learning, and developing enquiry skills and a learning mindset that will benefit them throughout their lives.

LBL promotes a more integrated approach to learning that moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects, with the ensuing risk that much of importance is lost in the interstices between one subject and the next.

The LBL approach encourages children to critically examine information they come across, asking questions such as:

  • Who has produced this information? Where has it come from?
  • Does it fit with information I have from other sources?
  • Is it trying to trigger an emotional reaction?

LBL champions a spirit of curiosity and open-mindedness. We have highlighted, for example, The Joy of Not Knowing (JONK), an approach to learning developed by Marcelo Staricoff. “Engaging children’s natural sense of curiosity and desire to find things out, allowing them to try out possible solutions and search for answers in classrooms that are ‘communities of enquiry’, offers an intriguing and exciting approach to accelerating children’s learning.”

Read More About Critical Thinking

Image at the head of this article by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay.

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