We live in an age where we need to strengthen our critical thinking skills. I’m not talking about critical thinking in terms of hard skills, but those related to the expansive use of social media.
Currently it is estimated there are 4.2 billion social media users throughout the world, equivalent to 53.6% of the world’s population. Seventy-four percent of American adults now use social media. Pew Research has indicated that in the US alone 84% of people between the ages of 18-29 use social media. Those between 30-49 years of age are not far behind at 81%. The numbers fall a bit as we get older with 73% of the users are between 50-64 and those 65 and above are at 45%.
Are we becoming social media addicts? It may appear so as the latest 2021 social media statistics show that in the US people spend and average of 2.5 hours per day on social networks and messaging.
Corporate brands use social media to build brand loyalty and influence buyers. When it comes to social media marketing 73% of marketers believe that social media marketing has been “somewhat effective” or ‘very effective.”
In 2018 customers using social media to research products rose to the level of 54%. And 98.8% of users now access social media via a mobile device with people spending an average of 4 hours and 10 minutes on those devices daily.
The average user has accounts on 8.4 different social platforms with almost 100% of those using all of the major platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Tick Tok, and Pinterest,
It is hard to keep up with the surging trends in social media because there are substantial increases in it’s adoption year over year with significant daily increases in usage.
With the high usage of social media begs the question are we using it to our advantage or are we taking too much for granted. This leads to the nub of this post which is about using our critical thinking skills when it comes to employing the various forms of social media. Here are five cautionary points to consider. (Notes 1, 2)
1. Don’t take things at face value.
The other way of looking at this is ‘don’t be gullible.’ This is an influencing strategy often used by individuals and companies. The strategy is to fool people into thinking that what is being said is factual. It is similar to ‘false news.’ It is a dishonest and unethical approach to convincing people that the product or service does no harm and is trustworthy.
An example of gullibility occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s when Purdue Pharma, maker of the notorious OxyContin, convinced gullible doctors to prescribe unneeded opioids that led to hundreds of thousands of addictions. (see article by Maria Szalavitz in the Scientific American).
This strategy, unfortunately, is often used in the internet marketing world and promoted through social media.
2. Think for yourself – don’t follow the herd.
There is a long standing myth that lemmings follow the heard and jump over cliffs. This is a good metaphor for someone who follows people into a bad situation rather than think critically about their situation and act in alignment with their best judgement.
Often this is how negative and false stories on social media go viral. If the story is shared enough, people start believing them to be true and soon protests arise. What is happening here is that people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors based on emotional grounds rather than on a rational basis. Often in herd mentality people make decisions different than they would have if they made them individually. They are swept up within the crowd and stop thinking for themselves.
The interesting thing about social media is that it is sparked by someone, then grabbed by others and soon what I call “digital mentality” takes hold and people start believing what others tell them rather than thinking for themselves.
3. Understand history.
There is a laziness about social media buffs for not checking the background or history of the social media story. The story may be based on the writer’s opinion or life experience rather than on what may or may not be historically factual. Once again social media readers are caught in the ‘gullibility trap.’
In order to fully understand the story (unless it is just opinion or personal example) one needs to seek evidence, check out assumptions and reasoning and trace out the implications of what is being said and done. Socrates did this best 2500 years ago by what is now referred to as the “Socratic Questioning” method.
The importance questioning a social media piece is critical to understanding it’s historical context and assures us that there is adequate evidence or a rational basis to warrant our belief in the story.
The salient point here is don’t be lazy and do a bit of critical thinking by questioning the history of the post. (Note 4)
4. Put things in context.
Remember people often promote stuff from their perspective, and therefore it is important to understand ‘where they may be coming from.” Sometimes we are quick to give a thumbs up on a Facebook post because it agrees with our own point of view, without really checking our own thinking on the matter. Without critically looking at the comment from our own perspective or from the perspective of the writer or talker. It is the easy way out.
So how do we put comments in context? Well when you are viewing something on You Tube for instance you can watch their body language, such as their facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures and whether they are congruent with what they are saying.
When it comes to the written word often people write on social media in a shorthand style by saying as few words as possible without any context on the matter. To understand this just review what is said on Twitter, Facebook and Tic Toc. Some people purposely quote a sentence out of context. Often political statements are presented in this way. Here we again need to use our critical thinking skills by questioning the statement and completing an internet search to access the whole statement before jumping to our conclusion.
5. Listen attentively – both for what is being said and what is not being said.
This is often a subtle approach to hide the meaning behind what is being written or said. Our ability to read behind the verbiage is another critical thinking skill. On the surface it looks like something we can agree to but when we begin to question the statement we begin to see it as a mask for something else.
Sometimes these masked statements are quite transparent, while others are really opaque. It is the latter where we need to be especially on our guard and ask some simple questions: Is the statement really credible? Is the voice behind the statement trustworthy? What are other people saying about the individual in an unbiased way and without character assassination?
Social media is on the rise and will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. This post recognizes that social media is here to stay but in order for us to use it wisely we need to be critical thinkers. As critical thinkers we need to ensure our posts reflect the right history and background. be honest and transparent with the reader or listener, act ethically in visual and written form, and put our content in context.
As always folks, keep safe, stay well and continue becoming the best version of yourself.
Note 1: 140+ Social Media Statistics that Matter to Marketers in 2021 (hootsuite.com)
Note 2: 10 Social Media Statistics You Need to Know in 2021 [Infographic] (oberlo.com)
Note 3: Maria Szalavitz, The Scientific American
Note 4: A Brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking