4 min read

Headlines and One-Liners vs Critical Thinking and Analysis

How often do you find yourself truly questioning the information you encounter online, rather than simply accepting it?

Breaking news, viral posts and trending topics all compete for your attention whilst carrying ulterior motives and agendas of their own.

In this article, I will explore why surface-level media consumption can be an issue and why critical thinking and analysis is the solution to avoiding it.

Why Surface Level Media Consumption is a Problem

It’s natural for people to group themselves together with people who think and act like them, but this is amplified in the online environment.

It’s remarkably easy to find a specific cultural niche online, and social media algorithms narrow your perspectives by only serving up news that fits your individual beliefs.

It’s known as the “Internet echo chamber.”

Although you might think you are becoming more informed and broadening your viewpoints by scrolling online, it's not the case.

Social media and the Internet organise us into invisible groups with similar interests and deliver content that resonates with our preferences and viewpoints.

Exposure to a constant stream of confirming information narrows your perspective, reinforces your biases and leads to intellectual complacency.

Without encountering different viewpoints, you may become less inclined to question your own beliefs or engage in critical thinking.

This is a rabbit hole we can spend months even years going down, but I'll stop there for now.

More information on the Internet Echo Chamber can be found here.

Next, I will introduce the topic of media manipulation and how it relates to what you see and consume on the Internet and TV.

Media Manipulation

Media manipulation is a series of related techniques in which the producers of the content create an image, argument or headline that favours their particular interests.

It includes the use of logical fallacies, distraction, manipulation, rhetoric and outright deception.

In the context of this article, I will focus on clickbait.

If you are interested in a more comprehensive explanation of media manipulation techniques you can inform yourself further here.

Clickbait refers to sensationalised or sometimes entirely fabricated headlines in online news articles or content.

It uses your natural curiosity to click on a post or article.

Examples of clickbait include titles like 'How to Become a Millionaire and Retire Before 40' or 'Deadly Coronavirus Variant Discovered: Potential Lockdown Feared?'

In many instances, clickbait aims to generate income; more clicks translate to increased revenue from advertisers or higher chances of you purchasing the promoted products or services.

Clickbait is part of the game of online media, and it wouldn’t be a fair argument if I didn’t state that well-crafted, witty headlines can genuinely resonate with an audience when done with consideration for user intent, value, and significance.

Avoiding Manipulation through Critical Thinking and Analysis

The good nature in us wants to believe everything we are told or presented with is true.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there with their own agendas which don’t have your best interests at heart.

What is Critical Thinking?

Monash University defines it as, “… a kind of thinking in which you question, analyse, interpret evaluate and make a judgement about what you read, hear, say or write.”

To differentiate critical thinking from scepticism, think of critical thinking to be active and scepticism to be passive.

Critical thinkers can be sceptics (and need to be) but sceptics are not necessarily critical thinkers. One does not accept things at face value AND attempts to make an objective evaluation, and the other merely does not accept things at face value.

How to Level Up Your Critical Thinking

This is a summary of a really interesting HBR article I read, the context in the article is around business decisions but the framework can be applied across all aspects of life.

I will leave a link to the article at the end of the section, for those interested.

Three Ways to Level Up Your Critical Thinking:

  1. Question Assumptions
  2. Reason through Logic
  3. Diversify Thought

  1. Question Assumptions

What current beliefs do you hold? What are you assuming that might not be true? Or, what has the creator of the information you are consuming assumed that may be an oversight?

It’s not about questioning everything, we don’t want to be walking around wondering if the sky is really blue or if the economy will implode tomorrow.

One tactic that’s really helpful is to always consider the opposite opinion or perspective. If you are told one thing, why couldn’t the opposite be true?

These sorts of questions help you gain new and important perspectives that help you hone your thinking.

  1. Reason Through Logic

Don’t make the mistake of over-generalising. Be specific and direct in your thinking and avoid drawing a sweeping conclusion based on limited or insufficient evidence.

Logical reasoning is achieved by questioning assumptions and paying close attention to the chain of logic constructed by an argument.

Are the claims being made supported by evidence? Do all the pieces of evidence build on each other to produce a sound conclusion?

  1. Diversify Thought

It’s natural for us to surround ourselves with people who think like us.

If everyone in our circle thinks as we do, we become more rigid in our thinking and less likely to change our beliefs on the basis of new information.

It’s about actively trying to get outside your personal bubble. Spend time with people who don’t do what you do, who have different lines of work and different hobbies.

The role of critical thinking pays off, the most important business and personal victories are achieved through thinking smart.

A link to the full HBR article can be found here.