Critical thinking, more important now than ever

Addison Dobbins, Staff Reporter

When my generation thinks of conspiracy theories, we often think of things like the flat earth theory or whether or not there are extraterrestrial beings being held in Area 51. We have this attitude because conspiracy theories are not seen as powerful by Gen Z, but rather as something funny to start off a conversation on TikTok. Our generation has taken conspiracy theories and turned them from taboo secret thoughts to internet memes, Facebook groups, and viral YouTube videos. However, it could be possible that the internet, while in some ways making these theories seem funny and light-hearted, is also causing political theories to become more dangerous than ever.

  Thanks to the internet and its countless social platforms and means of spreading information without fact-checking, the public constantly consumes misleading and sometimes entirely false information. These lies can lead to the creation of extremely dangerous and entirely incorrect theories that are based upon misinformation. An example of these theories would be the infamous QAnon belief that former President Donald J. Trump is waging a secret war against Satan-worshipping elite pedophiles in the United States, and that because he has lost the Presidency to Joe Biden, pedophiles will now run rampant, targeting American children.

Why would we be willing to believe the improbable? There are plenty of reasons, the first being social media’s usual algorithm, working day and night to find things we like and show them to us. This means that if we like posts about these theories, a social media platform is going to search far and wide to show us more about them and connect us with people who feel the same way. An algorithm like this was created to keep like-minded people together in the most innocent way possible, but lately, it has created an almost cult mentality among some groups, whether they follow their favorite bands or political interest groups. 

Another reason people seem so desperate to believe outrageous claims could be because we have been separated from each other for so long. Due to COVID-19, we have been required not to gather in groups, to keep six feet apart and to cover our faces, which could be taking a much greater toll on us than we think. For example, family and friends in our pre-pandemic everyday lives probably had different opinions than we, and when we were in person, we conversed, keeping each other in check. These conversations are no longer happening face to face or, in some cases, happening at all, leaving us with nothing but our phones, social media and their algorithms to keep us company. 

Regardless of the reason, preposterous theories are gaining popularity, and as humans, we want our opinions about them to be heard by as many people as possible. In order to have our voices heard, we create a Twitter post or join a Facebook group in most cases; however, some people choose to spread their messages, even though they could be completely false, in extreme and potentially dangerous ways. These extremists can go as far as to start riots and target those who believe differently than they do, like the domestic terrorists who raided the Capitol Building on Jan. 6. Whether we have one follower or thousands, someone always sees what we say and do online. By failing to question our sources, we give away our right to think freely for ourselves and instead opt to allow the media to make up our minds for us.

In uncertain times like these, it is extremely important to know what we as American people are willing to fight for and to be educated on all sides of what seem to be daily political battles. This includes everything from fact-checking a tweet before retweeting to making sure we understand and agree with all points of a political group before joining. We as a nation possess one of the most powerful tools known to man, and we keep it right in our back pockets, so it is important that we know what we’re doing before we press “Post.” Doing a quick Google search before further spreading information on social media has never been more important.

To learn more about these theories visit The New York Times.