For many, it feels as if today’s political climate is becoming increasingly polarized. Recent cultural events have brought controversial voices to a fever pitch. With the help of social media, information and opinions are shared instantly and constantly across the globe, and not all of this information is accurate. A search across the web or a browse through popular news platforms can leave users feeling overwhelmed with conflicting information, exaggerated claims, and heavily biased points of view. Despite these downsides, instant access to information can be of great advantage to the layperson wanting to stay up-to-date and form their own opinions. There are a few key tactics that will help you to cut through the noise and make sure you are getting good information as you develop your own opinions.
1. Join a Community
One of the disadvantages of instant access in this digital age is that internet algorithms can quickly create an echo chamber of ideas. A crucial part of navigating politically-charged information and forming informed political opinions is taking the time to view trending topics from multiple points of view. One helpful way to do this is to find a community where differing opinions and ideas can be shared and discussed respectfully. You might find this locally, through a group of friends or coworkers. You can also find it online through social media pages. One such page is No Labels on Facebook, which is centered around having civil discussions on political ideas from a centered point of view, rather than from a left- or right-aligned ideology. Wherever you find your best fit, utilize your community to expand your ideas. Find or create a culture that facilitates listening to understand and sharing ideas without attacking. The best way to access information in a more multi-dimensional way is to practice tolerating new information and ideas without becoming overly defensive. The right community can provide that practice.
2. Utilize Primary Sources
Once you’ve found community support, you will want to consider how to ensure the information you are discussing is accurate. One way to assess accuracy is to utilize primary sources whenever possible. A primary source is an original source of the information being discussed. This could include going to the official website of Congress in order to read up on bills being discussed in news sites. Or, if you are reading analysis given on a speech or official address, you can look up video coverage or official transcripts of those speeches so that you get the full context. In the case of research being discussed, there are often sites where you can read the full research article so that you can view the methods being used and the authors’ original conclusions. Many news and opinion articles cite statistics; looking up the methods of the poll or study that was done can give a clearer picture of how those numbers are being interpreted. In general, referencing a primary source is a useful tool to make sure you are getting a complete picture of the topic at hand. It will also allow you to better judge how accurate the secondary sources you are coming across are, and therefore how much they can be trusted to give other accurate information.
3. Check Your Bias
Primary sources can help you to evaluate accuracy, but even technically accurate information comes with bias. Bias is inevitable, but you can mitigate the effects of the biased information you consume by making an effort to regularly access news and opinions across the political spectrum. If you consider yourself to be more conservative, it could be helpful to include some left-leaning news sources into your daily or weekly reading and viewing. If you consider yourself to be more liberal, then including some right-leaning sources into your routine can help. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum on any number of issues, try to avoid getting all of your information from one source or from multiple sources aligned with only one ideology.
4. Articulate Your Point of View
Once you have gotten the hang of navigating information for accuracy and bias, practice articulating your point of view to others. This is another place where your community of respectful idea-sharers can come in handy. Find a few peers willing to engage in a discussion on your topic of interest. Give your thoughts on the subject to the best of your ability, and then welcome feedback. Putting your thoughts into words can help you to better understand what it is you think and why. You may identify holes in your logic or gaps in your knowledge. That can lead you to better questions to consider the next time you come across information on the topic. With practice, you will gain confidence in both forming and explaining an educated point of view on any topic that holds your interest.
Information and misinformation are both incredibly accessible in our modern era. It takes some effort and practice, but with these strategies, you can be sure that you are well informed and getting the best information possible.