It’s no secret misinformation runs rampant through social media. The great thing about living in the current information age? Everybody now has a voice. The worst thing about living in the current information age? Everybody now has a voice. And it feels like nobody knows how to think critically anymore. We now live in the age of memes and snap-chats with the number one goal of making sure content goes viral. The best way to ensure content goes viral is through emotional appeal. Logic and reasoning be damned. If I can make you laugh, or cry, or feel anger, or hope, you are more likely to share my content with others. Research shows there is an association with emotion and the diffusion of information. I discuss the value of emotional appeal in The Three Pillars of Persuasion. Now, I feel the need to explain the dangers in relying only on emotional appeal, especially at the expense of logic.
As the old saying goes, to err is to be human. I think this phrase needs to be updated to reflect today’s society. To err in the use of logic and reasoning is to be a 21st century human using social media.
I have been accused more than once of being too logical and not emotional enough. Perhaps this is why I feel such a strong connection to one of the most revered characters in pop culture history – Spock.
We can learn a lot from Spock. As a matter fact, we need to inject the logic back into our human brains. Stop being so damn emotional about everything we see online. But how to do that? Allow me to explain it to you. First, you need stop being a lazy ass when it comes to determining whether the information sitting in front of you is complete and utter bullshit. Yes, it might take more than 30 seconds of research to arrive at the truth. Second, you must realize that not everyone who has shared content on their timeline has vetted it for accuracy. People are lazy creatures and tend to move toward the path of least resistance. Just assume they clicked the 'share' button without fact-checking because it's easier. Third, understand just because you agree with it doesn’t mean it’s true. Those ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal websites you insist on sharing are only telling you what you already believe. How about challenging yourself for once? And fourth, you need to acknowledge your own participation in the spreading of misinformation and admit to your own use of logical fallacies.
I can’t blame you too much for that last one. Many of you wouldn’t even know how to spot a logical fallacy if it hit you right in the face. You use them because you erroneously believe them to be evidence, when in fact, they are evidence of your lack of reasoning. So here are three logical fallacies for you to avoid using (and to spot in others) before you spread anymore bullshit around the Interwebs. (More to come later. Don’t want to reach information overload here).
1. Hasty Generalization – I see so many people in arguments on social media who believe because it happened to them and/or also someone they know, it must be true for everyone. See this logical fallacy play out in this clip of Ted Crockett, campaign manager for Roy Moore, trying to explain why Muslim’s shouldn’t be allowed to serve in public office.
Crockett uses the examples of him swearing his oath of office as well as the President’s use of the Bible when swearing into office as the reason Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office. He illogically assumes that because he did it and the President did it that everyone must also have to swear on the Bible, when public officials may choose any text to take their oath of office.
And this isn't the only example out there. Facebook is the perfect breeding ground for hasty generalizations. You see one or two examples of something happening an automatically assume that means it's happening everywhere to everybody.
2. Ad hominem – This fallacy is rampant in social media. Many of you are guilty of using this fallacy and some of you have probably used it in an online argument today. When you attack the individual personally rather than stick to the topic of debate, you are engaged in the ad hominem fallacy. And this just happened to me the other day. In response to an article posted online discussing whether people are ready to eat meat created in a lab versus real meat from real animals, I posted my opinion. I stated I personally, would rather eat real meat instead of lab-created meat mainly because the research on the health benefits are inconclusive at this point. One person was swift to say I should eat the lab created meat because of climate change. I responded the research is not enough to convince me the benefits outweigh the risks at this point. He then called me a narcissist. And then he called me a troll. I said so be it. Apparently, I’m a narcissistic troll who likes to eat real meat at the peril of the planet. He couldn’t use logic and reasoning to convince me to agree with him, so he resorted to name-calling. This is an every day occurrence on social media and it must stop.
3. Either-or – This fallacy gives the impression there are only two choices. Just think about all the arguments that exist online between those who label themselves as Democrats versus those who label themselves Republicans. The “you’re either with us or against us” mentality is rampant in both parties. How many of these quotes sound familiar? “If you didn't vote for Hillary, you’re a racist.” “If you didn't vote for Trump, you want the terrorists to win.” “You have to vote Dem or Rep or you’re wasting your vote.”
What makes this fallacy in logic so dangerous is it forces a person into believing there are only two alternatives, when in fact more than two alternatives usually exist. The world does not exist in only black and white; there are many shades of gray. Furthermore, it implies that if you disagree with the one and only answer I'm already looking for, then you are automatically in the wrong and shows a serious lack of critical thinking or creative thinking abilities.
These are just three of the many fallacies that exist. There are many more logical fallacies that can be found all over social media, but these are three of the most recent ones I have seen just in the past couple of days. If you have examples you don’t mind me sharing, please send them along! I’d love to see them.
Jennifer Furlong has 25 years’ experience in the communication field and teaches communication and public speaking courses in the Savannah area. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in Communication from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. She currently resides in Richmond Hill, Ga. with her family of canines, felines, and humans. Let's be social! Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter. Just look for Professor SpeechLady. See you in cyberspace.
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