Thoughts on forming opinions in 2017

What you are getting into: 863 words, 5mins read 

I have a pet peeve these days: people aren’t good at forming their own opinions. People aren’t good at forming their own opinions all along, because majority of the people are followers1, that’s just how the world works. But it is increasingly infuriating that people are exploiting this in the social media era.

I have 4 points, no more, no less, no big deal, on this topic.

Note: Trivial topics that seems harmless need not apply.

Point #1: Social media is screwing us

When was the last time you didn’t check social media? Like never? So do I. Social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, and so on are part of our lives now. We can’t deny that. It’s pointless to bash social media either. But the crux is how we are using social media, not how much and when we are using it.

Look at the information we consume on social media. We can all agree social media often show only the highlight reel. To the point that our unconscious mind neglects the fact that low points are part and parcel of everyone’s life. Disagree? Go look at your own social media posts, and compare it with your own life, does the percentage of highlights and low points match up between your social media posts and real life? I believe 99% of the answer is ‘NO’, yes maybe the 1% is living the radical honesty life2.

Building on the same point, I see the increasing trend of news reading coming through social media3. Discovery and consumption of news is largely centred around Facebook and Twitter, due to how it’s built upon. It’s based upon the number of shares, liked posts, and retweets. And what these are? These are posts that your network recommends. And what your network recommend have? Bias4.

Something to think about.

Point #2: Growth of the internet level the spread of information

Internet is an amazing invention, no doubt about that. But with every invention, new problems are created. The problem I find with the internet is the enormous amount of information created. It is made extremely difficult to sift out good information. Anyone can have an opinion (myself included) and ‘shout’ it out to the whole world.

What happens if you take an extremely persuasive man with superb writing skills to write many many bogus articles5? The objective of the articles is to deceive and steer the audience into something of their advantage. Ever thought about this when you browse through articles online6?

Always refer to your trusted sources who have reporters/writers with good reputation7.

Point 3: Empirical data as opposed to untested theories and hypothesis

For the uninitiated, empirical data are verifiable and tangible information that can be observed or experienced. Those who have written thesis or read scientific papers will find this familiar. Basically any observable phenomenon must be backed up with empirical data in order to form a theory. This is the scientific method8.

What I find infuriating is the amount of untested theories and hypothesis out there without supporting empirical data to justify. Because of that, plus the gullibility of readers, it is very easy to convince and misinform 9.

Facts and empirical data is king.

Point #4: Critical thinking

One needs to be able to recognise the abundance of information, evaluate it, sort through to find the crux from the mess, analyse its findings, compare it against opposing thoughts, and then finally relating it to the real world. Not taking it at face value despite it coming from a legitimate source.

Ask questions, ask why the author wrote this, is the author a reputable author, what is their intention and objective, why is there a huge polarity in the opposing view, ask yourself have you gotten enough information to form an opinion, etc. The key is the ask questions.

I find it a good rule of thumb to read 3 viewpoints and 3 opposing viewpoints before applying critical thinking and forming an opinion.

Without critical thinking, we’re just letting the society sway us towards their boat, which may or may not be the one we wish to get into.

In conclusion, the objective of this article is to provide my viewpoints of information consumption these days. It is important to employ a certain degree of critical thinking in the inundated info-rich world. These four points I raised serves as a reminder to not get convinced (or connived) by wolves out there.

 

Footnotes

  1. ‘Are You a Sheep or Sheepdog? Part I’, Brett & Kate McKay, Art of Manliness, 2013 (link)
  2. ‘I think you are fat’, by A.J. Jacobs, Esquire, 2007 (link)
  3. ‘Social, Mobile Driving Millennial News Consumption (Infographic)’, Kimberlee Morrison, Adweek, 2016 (link)
  4. ‘List of cognitive biases’, Wikipedia, 2017 (link)
  5. ‘The biggest fake news stories of 2016’, Hannah Ritchie, CNBC, 2016 (link)
  6. ‘The 4 Types of Fake News’, Ashe Schow, Observer, 2017 (link)
  7. ‘The 5 Principles of Ethical Journalism’, Ethical Journalism Network (link)
  8. ‘What is the Scientific Method?’, Science Buddies (link)
  9. ‘Here are all the ‘fake news’ sites to watch out for on Facebook’, Andrew Couts, Dailydot, 2017 (link)

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