REAL OR FAKE? Why critical thinking is so critical.
There’s fact and there’s fiction. And sometimes there’s a bit of both.
With the constant influx of blogs, anecdotal evidence, sponsored content, political spin, clickbait, old stories packaged as new and peer-reviewed articles, being able to distinguish between actual news and propaganda is kind of a big deal. Well, it is if you care about reliable sources.
As recent headlines have shown, the difference between what’s true and what’s not isn’t always easy to spot. While misinformation is not anything new, it now travels farther, faster. With social media, a news story has greater reach and power than the days of email alone.
The fact is, not all misinformation being shared online is complete fiction. Sources such as snopes.com have been exposing whole and partial untruths since the mid 1990s. Their focus is on debunking fabricated viral messages, distortions containing bits of truth and everything in between.
Thinking critically isn’t just an issue for students. It affects all of us from the moment we reach for our ipad, smartphone or other news delivery device, to when we power down for the day. You can’t control all the news that is out there but you can control how your students evaluate it. Recent studies have shown that most high school and college students are unaware that not all links are created equally. That’s a real problem.
“Most college students are unable to distinguish real from fake information when evaluating online sources.”
— Recent study from Stanford History Education Group
As a marketer, it’s good to remember that the internet and social media age we live in is still a relatively new development in the whole scheme of things. You can start by taking a critical look at how you are marketing to students. Because if you’re not walking the talk when it comes to critical thinking, how can you expect your students to do the same?
There’s an opportunity to turn the negativity of fake news into a chance to step up and become the university that teaches students to think critically. And that starts with you.
KEEP IT REAL
Who are you actually talking to? Your audience continues to change and your marketing approach should, too. To stay real and relevant you need to make sure that the right people are fully engaged with what you are saying.
That means keeping your research and insights about your prospective students current and accurate. It’s easy to go with what you know year after year, however, serving up the same ideas may no longer make the same impact it once did.
Take time out to take a step back. Think about the message you intended to send and how it is actually coming across to your prospective and current students.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
As an institution that helps prepare critically thinking world citizens, you need to take a critical look at how you communicate, starting with how your university treats news.
Are you clear and consistent about the claims you make in your advertising?
- Can it be sourced? As you know, not all links are created equally so it’s a good idea to think before you add that link.
- Is it current? Repackaging old news as new is easy for students to see through.
- Are you conveying the right meaning? Be sure the words you are using are accurate and the meaning is clear.
Are you offering thought leadership to the media?
- You have experts on campus. Make sure their voices are heard.
- Consider bringing in fresh points of view and critical thinking advocates to garner unpaid media to boost your institutions profile as a school that teaches and practices the art of thinking critically.
Are you leveraging the importance of critical thinking in your admissions marketing?
- Never assume that all colleges teach critical thinking.
- If critical thinking is a strength, use it to your advantage.
- If you want to stand out it’s time to take a stand as a trustworthy place for students to come and learn about themselves and the world.
SET THE STANDARD
By definition, authentic describes something that is not false, genuine and real. Its origins are supported by unquestionable evidence and verified to be true. Something that is authentic also represents one’s true nature or beliefs. If your messages, promises, outcomes and job outlooks convey authenticity, you’re off to a good start.
The good news is that authenticity is tough to fake. Keep your marketing real and relevant and your students will see and feel the difference.
Stay strong and hold true to these standards as a university and the news you deliver and the communications you create will not only feel real, they will be.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Many of today’s students are not in the habit of questioning a news source. However, once aware they become very good at knowing what to look for.
As marketers, we may have gotten out of the habit of questioning our sources and messages. But the more we practice critical thinking the more it will become a natural part of the process.
Now is the time to invest in programs and resources that serve as guardians for civic literacy. The more you adapt courses, programs, processes, environments, and initiatives to meet the needs of this next cohort of students the more you will stay relevant to students.