Monday, August 01, 2016

Critical thinking or just hitting 'like'?

I was unfriended recently because, I'm pretty sure, I wrote a comment on a  friend's Facebook timeline that respectfully challenged the source of a political story. I was very careful not to be inflammatory or tromp heavily on that person's cherished convictions.

My reason for even commenting was because I thought the post/link, about election fraud, sounded a little too much like propaganda rather than being factually based. When I investigated the organization that issued the 'study,' and read comments, and followed links, it began to look like one either backed by the Trump people or the Bernie people to discredit Hillary and the Democratic National Committee. While it purported to be a non-partisan organization run by a group of non-partisan lawyers, journalists, analysts, etc., there were no names attached to it at all on their website, and the DNC and Hillary appeared to be the only ones investigated and targeted -- nothing at all about the Republican election and voter registration fraud that has been widely publicized in the last decade or so.

My comment pretty much said that. I questioned the assertion that it was a 'non-partisan' organization.

Clearly it was not welcome. And equally clearly, I was no longer welcome in that person's life.

I thought about it all day and why it upset me, other than losing a friendship that while not a close one was a pleasant one with someone I thought highly of.

And I figured it out: it is the lack of evidence of any critical thinking -- and it doesn't just extend to this particular post and 'study,' but to all such social media posts that claim a candidate or organization did/said/stole/lied in some very authoritative and absolutist language with very little supporting evidence cited when you actually read the story. Often the 'study' is reported by a site that is widely known to have a left or right or special interest bias.

I'd venture to say that many -- if not most -- Facebook users hit "Like" or "Share" based on the incendiary headline without even READING the whole article!

How many actually research it and look for sources, reputable sources, with a truly non-partisan point of view, sources which actually strive to present both sides of the story instead of wildly slanting whatever thin strands of 'evidence' might be there? Anyone? Even a little bit?

Well, I do. I was raised to think, to ask questions (conversations around our dinner table were often quite lively). As a journalist, I was trained to provide both points of view in a story, or else label the story as editorial, not as news. As an English major, I was expected to learn critical literary analysis. As a liberal arts major, I was required to sample different philosophies and disciplines, and taught how to examine them and draw my own conclusions based on evidence provided.

Is that even taught in our schools anymore?  Are we giving our children data and expecting nothing more out of them than to regurgitate it on tests? Do we have discussions about politics or religion or social issues within our groups of family and friends without rancorous judgment and angry disagreement? Does anyone remember how to disagree respectfully?

I think not, at least based on what I am reading and seeing on social media and in the news and newspapers.

And yes, I do watch the news, I do read newspapers and blogs and magazines. I have heard many of those who post on Facebook claim that they 'never' watch the news -- too biased -- but rely instead on Facebook groups to get the 'real' story.

Hello? 

These groups are not unbiased. They present a particular point of view. If you don't balance it out by also reading groups who present a different viewpoint, you are not getting 'the real story.'

No one likes having a dearly held belief challenged, political or religious or social. But if you respond by refusing to consider any other evidence, if you continue to wear blinders and steadfastly forge ahead without considering what else may be waiting just outside your narrow tunnel vision, you risk losing much, much more.

 I'm sorry that I lost a friend over politics. I'm sorry that this person didn't value our relationship enough to just block my posts but keep me as a friend -- as I have done over the last two elections with some of my friends and relatives.

But I am not sorry for speaking up -- although I pretty much have decided that for this election, I am simply going to vote my convictions rather than ballyhoo them on Facebook, hard as it may be. You may hold me accountable to that.

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