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Weaponized Lies

Critical Thinking in the Information Age

By Daniel J. Levitin
10-minute read
Audio available
Weaponized Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age by Daniel J. Levitin

Weaponized Lies (2016) is a user’s manual for today’s news media. It teaches you various skills that will help you to analyze the vast amount of information you encounter when skimming the internet or watching the news. Take time to learn what’s real and what’s fake, so you won’t get duped.

  • Any consumer of news media
  • Media studies and journalism students
  • Conspiracy theory aficionados

Daniel J. Levitin is a cognitive psychologist with degrees from Stanford University and the University of Oregon. He is currently a professor of behavioral neuroscience, music and psychology at McGill University. His other books include the number one best seller This Is Your Brain On Music and The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.

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Weaponized Lies

Critical Thinking in the Information Age

By Daniel J. Levitin
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Weaponized Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age by Daniel J. Levitin
Synopsis

Weaponized Lies (2016) is a user’s manual for today’s news media. It teaches you various skills that will help you to analyze the vast amount of information you encounter when skimming the internet or watching the news. Take time to learn what’s real and what’s fake, so you won’t get duped.

Key idea 1 of 6

Separating fact from fiction is no easy task.

We have access to more information than ever before. But it’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish between fact and fiction. This is the plight of those living in the information age.

Firstly, the source of much of this information – the internet – isn’t regulated. People can write anything they want and in this environment, it's easy to mask falsities as facts.

However, few of us have the time to fact-check everything we read online, and though we’re happy citation links exist, we rarely click them. Authors know they won’t be challenged, so the links often don’t really back up what’s said in the text.

The worst culprits tend to have a common tell: if an article proclaims its honesty, something's up.

Just take martinlutherking.org. Initially, it appears to be a site devoted to the life of the civil rights leader. But the veil is thin. It’s actually a fount of neo-Nazi propaganda that manipulates facts and uses out-of-context quotations to further its agenda.

One way to avoid deliberately dug pitfalls like this is to only look at respected publications, but it’s still good practice to stay alert.

Institutions like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal have long been respected sources of information as they verify their reports with trustworthy sources. However, these publications aren’t immune to making mistakes.

Consider how Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Jonathan Capehart was bamboozled in 2011. He wrote an article about a nonexistent congressman and his district based on a lead from a fake twitter account.

This happens because journalists are not infallible. They may cover subjects about which they know little or may need to analyze statistics and graphs beyond their capabilities. This means that if the source material is biased, the journalist may not realize it, thereby allowing the bias to slip into their own reporting too.

The lesson? We shouldn’t just take what we read on trust, no matter what the source.

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