For better or worse, we live in a society where media platforms are creeping into nearly every aspect of life.
This gives us the opportunity to interact with individuals who otherwise we would have no idea existed. We’re exposed to images and ideas that in earlier generations just weren’t accessible.
For all the benefits that our increasingly global society brings us, I believe that there is also a huge risk to the development of critical thought that, given the United States’ current political climate, is desperately needed.
There are no safeguards to ensure that accurate information is being shared on the Internet. For example, let’s examine a tweet posted by some of the more popular accounts on Twitter. @CloydRivers, an account that posts your standard right-wing memes with around 1.16 million followers, recently shared a tweet that said, “Want to close wage gap? Step one: Change your major from feminist dance therapy to electrical engineering. #NationalOffendACollegeStudentDay.”
An August 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce titled “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” found that a 7 percent gender wage gap exists within the field of engineering. Of course, this fact would never be addressed by Mr. Rivers.
An issue arises when you try to research this issue yourself. Typing in “men and women wage gap in engineering” on Google will give you thousands of results saying completely contradictory statements. On one side, you have people saying the wage gap is real and is a result of a blatantly patriarchal system. On the other hand, you have some people who outright deny the wage gap, some even going as far to say that women are actually the ones taking home the bigger paychecks.
A crucial skill to have in our evolving digital age is the ability to weed out what information is legitimate and what information is fabricated, and we obviously cannot depend on popular social media accounts to do so.
An account similar to @CloydRivers is the @MeninistTweet account, an account with 1.19 million followers that advocates for men’s rights. The account makes several questionable claims. For example, this account often claims that female rape accusations are often illegitimate. Another position is that beauty standards affect men just as much as women, if not more.
Again, these claims do not hold up to a critical analysis. The FBI has suggested in their Crime Index report that around 8 percent of all rape claims are actually false, which is a similar false-report rate seen in other crimes. Nearly all research done on body image shows that women are much more critical of themselves than men.
While we are able to relatively easily access reliable sources to make our own conclusions on issues, I believe that a large majority of people do not. My evidence is the millions of people that subscribe to the beliefs of accounts such as @CloydRivers and @MeninistTweet.
One-hundred and forty characters is much easier to mentally digest than a government-funded statistical study. In addition, I believe that these accounts’ ability to monetize their beliefs plays a role in why they are so popular. Both @CloydRivers and @MeninistTweet have t-shirts that you can order to provide them with free advertisement. We become stuck in this vicious cycle where the creators of these accounts are incentivized to share increasingly ridiculous and inaccurate content for the sake of profit.
I fear for the future of critical thinking when I see people who are willing to put more weight onto a meme than they do actual scholarly research, especially with the upcoming presidential elections. Back in September, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump claimed that the unemployment rate in America is 42 percent. This is just silly and shows a complete and utter misunderstanding, or intentional distortion, of statistics.
To get this value, Trump divided the amount of people not working in the United States by the total population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic News Release for September, Trump is accurate in saying that around 40 percent of people were not working in America at that time. What he fails to mention, though, is that when we calculate the unemployment rate, we exclude those that are elderly, retired or disabled, among other things. When we adjust for this fact, the unemployment rate at the time of Trump’s statement was 5.1 percent.
We live in a time where information is readily and easily accessible. Whether it is accurate is another story. I would strongly urge everyone who wants to become more informed to learn how to interpret government-provided research and statistics. While they aren’t the most interesting read, often times these numbers are not given a political spin. You get the research as it is and you cut out the middle-man, a role media often plays .