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Fighting Fake News with Critical Thinking

Having critical thinking dispositions and abilities, one will not take things for granted but questions, analyzes, evaluates, and synthesizes what he reads and hears before drawing a conclusion Thus, he will able to discern legitimate information from misinformation, lies, and nonsense.

Fake news, defined by HLEG (2018) as “all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit” has emerged as a problem that endangers public life. The propagation of fake news in the form of hate speech, fabricated stories, manipulated content, slander, and clickbait after the 2019 parliamentary and presidential election in Indonesia, for instance, almost disrupted the nation's unity. White (2017) states fake news is “a problem that threatens the very roots of modern democracy.” Infodemic that has been spreading more quickly than the current coronavirus pandemic has been endangering public health all over the world.
Fake news is not new. Propaganda, a type of fake news, for instance, has been around since the era of ancient Greece. Fake news will also keep on appearing because it offers many incentives to its makers. Politicians often generate and endorse fake news as part of disinformation promotions to further their political agendas. According to Allcott and Gentzkow (2017), several commentators have suggested that Donald Trump would not have been elected president were it not for the influence of fake news. Profiteers produce fake news material and spread it widely for advertising profits. According to the Global Disinformation Index, European fake news sites earn around $75m of advertising, majorly placed by Google, a year. Many people also create fake news to drive lots of visitors to a website to make profits in online publishing. Paul Horner, a prolific, Facebook-focused fake-news writer, for instance, makes $10,000 a month from AdSense by creating and promoting fake news on his site.
Although fake news has existed long, its impact has now become more alarming due to its massive and quick spread through social media. This is possible because, according to Digital 2020, almost 4.5 billion people (60% of the world's population) are already online, and more than 3.8 billion are social media users. What is more, social media is the main source of the latest news as 50 % of Internet users access the latest news via social media before ever hearing about it on a news station. Research has revealed that through social media fake news can spread 10 times faster than legitimate news stories.
Why are people susceptible to fake news? The reasons are numerous, like one's difficulty to scrutinize information that floods him through social media; the strain to differentiate misinformation from real news because both often look similar; the difficulty to ignore misinformation that appeals to one's emotion, and humans' need for social affiliation can drive to accept information coming from familiar groups and suspect information coming from different groups. These factors make people vulnerable to fake news.
The root of these reasons, however, is the absence or lack of critical thinking. Although we are bombarded with information, when we think critically, we will be able to examine which is fact and which is merely opinion. Although fake news is created very similar to real news, our critical thinking can help us differentiate them. Critical thinking also enables us to detach our emotions while considering fake news so that we can detect the true intention behind the fake news creation. Cepeda (2018) states that fake news evolves into an epidemic due to the calamitous lack of critical thinking.
Concerning his, therefore, the best way to fight fake news is through education, in which people are empowered to think critically. Fake news, as I have described in a previous article, could be countered by (1) cutting the supply of false information, (2) blocking people's access to view fake news, and (3) fact-checking every information hitting our screen with reputable fact-checking websites. However, these three methods can sometimes be complicated and not very effective. People may find using fast-checker repetitively tedious. As a result, more and more experts suggest these three methods should be viewed as a momentary strategy. Critical thinking cultivation seems to be the best way to protect ourselves from the malicious effect of fake news.
How can critical thinking help one combat fake news? Before answering this, we need a clear understanding of what critical thinking is. The term critical is derived from the Greek word kritikos meaning discerning. Critical thinking, therefore, is a deeper kind of thinking in which one does not take things for granted but questions, analyzes, evaluates, and synthesizes what he reads and hears before drawing a conclusion. These skills make a critical thinker thinks clearly, rationally, and objectively—i.e., without influence from personal feelings, opinions, or biases—and it focuses solely on factual information. 
A critical thinker possesses two fundamental aspects. The first is the dispositions that include: open-mindedness, humility, inquisition, and searcher of truth. Being open-minded, a critical thinker is open to any new concept or experience. He postpones judging anything, including something contradictory or odd to what he knows before understanding it deeply. He is also curious about the world around him so that he keeps on asking the right questions and search the answers. His humility makes him aware that he does not know everything so that, supported by his inquisition, he always searches for the truth. The second aspect is the ability to (a) question and analyze assumptions, claims, arguments, or evidence; (b) evaluate based on evidence; (c) make inference using inductive or deductive reasoning; and (d) make decisions and/or solve problems through reasoning.
Having these dispositions and abilities, when a critical thinker receives fake news, he will first identify it by asking questions like: "What is it about?", "Who created it?", "To whom is it intended?", "Does the creator has the expertise for making it?,  "When and where was it created?", "Is the publisher reliable?, "Does it consists of facts or opinion?", "Is the supporting information valid and reliable", "What for was it created?", "Is the claim supported with enough facts?", "What significant information is omitted?", "Does it use ambiguous words or phrases?", "What point of view is it based on?, "Are there any fallacies in the reasoning?", and so on. Based on the information obtained from the answers to these questions, he can draw a sound conclusion. Having such a conclusion, he will be able to discern legitimate information from manipulation, misinformation, lies, and nonsense.
IREX training program called “Learn to Discern" aiming to equip the participants with the ability to identify misinformation and hate speech and demand better quality information is probably the best proof that critical thinking development is the best way to fight fake news. From October 2015 through March 2016, IREX trained 15,000 people of all ages and professional backgrounds in Ukraine. The evaluation of the project revealed an observed 24% increase in participants' ability to distinguish trustworthy news from false news, a 22% increase in those who cross-check the information in the news they consume, and a 26% increase in participants' confidence in analyzing the news.
Do you agree with this article? We'd like to hear from you. Please write your views in the comments section below.

Author : Parlindungan Pardede (


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