In my last post, I wrote about the importance of reading books. As Timothy Snyder and Nora Krug put it in On Tyranny, we read books for a myriad of reasons, and one of the most important is to provide us with the frameworks we need to cut through the noise and soundbites to provide us with the words to explain and explore concepts. Reading, on its own, though won’t necessarily eliminate the threats of disinformation. Reading must work in conjunction with other tools to battle disinformation and to cut through the clutter. For me, the most important tool that we must use in conjunction with reading is Snyder and Krug’s eleventh lesson, investigation.
Instead of taking things at face value, we must investigate them. We have to “figure things out for” ourselves, and we cannot look at everything we see, particularly on the internet, as truth because “some of what is on the internet is there to harm” us and to steer us in the wrong direction, presenting us with disinformation. We must, ultimately, “[t]ake responsibility for what [we] communicate with others.” With lesson eleven, Snyder and Krug cover a lot of ground laying out the importance of questioning and researching on our own when presented with information. Part of this exploration calls upon readers to consider what it is like to do “actual journalism,” and I’d add research.
Investigating ideas for ourselves is not easy and quick. It’s hard and takes time. Formulating those ideas into writing or other forms of communication takes even longer. As Snyder and Krug put it, “But while anyone can repost an article, researching and writing is hard work.” Taking the time to actually dig into a claim, to seek out the factual information, instead of just reading a quick click-bait headline or firing off a comment, is important. Like reading, when we take the time to actually look for information, to investigate, we must think about what we find. We must confront it.
This, essentially, is critical thinking. In my rhetoric and composition courses, I teach students to think and investigate information. That is the goal of rhetoric and composition classes, along with multiple other courses in higher education. I teach students to ask questions, to research their question, and to construct a paper or project that communicates what they find to an audience. This, in essence, is the scientific method. The student’s question is the hypothesis. The research is the experiment and data collection. The project is the report. Students think for themselves by learning to investigate. They actively engage, as they do with reading, with the information they discover then then they must relay that information to others.
Again, this is not as easy as it sounds. Once one starts to do it, again and again and again, it becomes easier. But at the outset, it’s difficult. It’s like any other tool, one must learn to use it and that learning comes through practice. Snyder and Krug call upon their reader to try to do this. They write, “So try for yourself to write a proper article, involving work in the real world: traveling, interviewing, maintaining relationships with sources, researching in written records, verifying everything, writing and revising drafts, all of a tight and unforgiving schedule.” This is what journalism, and I’d add essay writing in college, entails. This is what my blog entails.
I started my blog about seven years ago, and I have basically posted, two-days a week for fifty-two weeks, ever since then. At this point, I have close to 700 blog posts. If you look at my earlier blog posts to the most recent ones, you’ll see changes. You’ll see progress in my writing, my range of topics, and much more. You’ll see, basically, the work that has gone into making the blog what it is and the ways that I investigate information and ideas for myself. That investigation includes reading and crediting others. It involves speaking and crediting others. It involves being open to what I find and how that information may challenge my own positions. It involves work.
I don’t consider what I do “journalism,” but I see what I do as a blogger and academic in a similar manner. I investigate and learn. I’m not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and people will disagree with me. However, my work does adhere to a specific level of ethics that rely on investigation, not on mere recitation. My work calls upon me to engage with information and interrogate it, to examine it thoroughly, and to communicate what I find to myself and others. My work serves, in many ways, as an exploration of myself just as much as it does as a means to communicate information to my audience.
Snyder and Krug focus on the dissemination and sharing of disinformation, and they point out the ways that the internet has led to a proliferation of false information due, partly, to the ease of its dissemination across the globe. However, as they note, “If we are serious about seeking the facts, we can each make a small revolution in the way the internet works. If you are verifying information for yourself, you will not send fake news to others.” This is the bare minimum of what we can do. It doesn’t take long to verify whether or not the information in a post or even in an article is legitimate or not. Basic internet searches on Google or elsewhere can usually lead us to whether or not information is factual or not.
A recent example is the 10 year-old girl who was raped in Ohio and had to go to Indiana for an abortion. Initially, many presented the girl’s experiences as a lie, as a ploy by some to argue for the nation-wide legalization of abortion. However, it quickly came out that the young girl’s story was true. This is where investigation and especially journalism become important. We know that the girl was raped and that she went to Indiana for an abortion. Another example would be the January 6 insurrection. Following the insurrection, most, on both sides of the political aisle, saw it for what it was. However, as time progressed, Republicans downplayed the insurrection, trying to stonewall any investigation into the events. However, the January 6 committee and journalists have investigated it thoroughly, and continue to do so, providing the factual information. These things occurred due to investigation, due to relying on the facts. They occurred due to critical thinking, the research and investigation of information to come to a conclusion. This is what we all must do, investigate information for ourselves so that we do not fall prey to disinformation or fascist propaganda.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.