How do you sort through fake news and media bias? With a little old fashioned critical thinking! Here’s a short course on evaluating an argument, complete with a handy printable.
Writers and journalists are human, and humans have opinions. If the world were perfect, we’d have opinion pieces clearly marked in the opinion section, and straightforward, factual news printed everywhere else.
But the world ain’t perfect, and even the most trusted news sources lean one way or another. Add the scourge of fake news and our propensity to seek headlines on social media and you’ve got quite the recipe for ideological disaster:
An instantaneous, immediate gratification frenzy passed off as intellectual discourse.
You know what’s scary? Sixty percent of Facebook users never click a link before commenting or sharing on social media.
Sixty percent, people. Two thirds.
The problem? The creators of those charts and images have their own bias. And frankly, if we need a third party to tell us what’s real, what’s fake, and what’s biased, we have a larger problem than media veracity.
I beat the critical thinking drum frequently. It is a vital, highly lacking skill in general society. All it takes is a little time, effort, and critical thought to evaluate the impartiality and validity of a source and its argument. (If you’re working with students, I’ve created a handy printable to help sort and organize information).
First, identify the argument
- If the article is an opinion piece (located in an opinion section, publication, or labeled as such in the title), you’ll probably find it in the first few paragraphs.
- If the article is presented as straight news, you’ll have to find the argument based on what is implied. Look for
- Tone: the author’s attitude toward his subject
- Language: is the word choice positive or negative?
- Details: are they presented in an encouraging or discouraging light?
- Commentary: is the discussion biting, neutral, or supportive?
Then, consider the audience and the source
- To whom is the author writing? How do I know?
- In what publication does the piece appear? What do I know about this publication?
- Consider how long it has been in print, its reputation from both sides, etc.
Next, find the argument’s supporting details
- What information is included? Are there
- Anecdotes (brief stories)?
- Expert opinion
Then, question those supporting details
- Do I agree? Why?
- Do I disagree? Why?
And evaluate them
Look for rhetorical devices and fallacies. They will help you develop your own additional supports or identify flaws in the argument. Find examples of
How do they build up or take away from the argument?
Finally, get a second opinion.
- What other sources have covered the issue?
- Are there different versions of the same situation? How do they differ? How are they the same?
And make your final assessment.
- What is your opinion on the issue?
- How would you improve the argument?
- Is the source authentic?
- Is the source biased?
The process seems daunting at first, but the more you practice evaluating an argument, the more habitual it becomes. We may not live in a perfect world, but we do have pretty decent brains. Let’s use what God gave us and learn to read, think, and make decisions for ourselves, not according to what everybody else says, but according to what we discover on our own.