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Are Social Media Reactions Discouraging Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking v.s. Emotional reaction

Clicking the Like button is too easy. It makes us wonder if the youth of the world are thinking critically about messages from their peers, or questioning the content behind the headlines when they click a button.

It all began with the “Like” button. It was a novel and simple way to show one’s approval (however loosely defined) of content shared on social media. Over time the idea of liking things has become engrained in our daily lives. We see it in almost every online interaction. Moreover, it has evolved to include many other emotional reactions. Love, anger, and surprise are a few examples of what Facebook uses today. Emojis can now be found everywhere, but what critical thinking goes into clicking a button?

Emojis are – by definition – emotional reactions. The problem is that these actions only ask us to categorize how information makes us feel. This behaviour is very natural. It’s easy and fun to do, but that’s all. In some ways young people are being trained to react and forget.


Whether we like it or not the constant stream of information in our daily lives is here to stay. However, there are ways that we can turn the fast reacting emotions into constructive thoughts and ideas, which can help young people to build on their emotions and explore how they are really feeling about a subject.

We need to start teaching young people  how to evaluate an idea beyond the initial “feeling” that they had. We should ask students to question these emotions and critically think about the information at hand. Sure, it’s harder and takes longer, but it’s necessary in order to understand the greater context of the information and why it’s making them feel that way.

How can we build on the like?

Teaching emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is described as being ‘the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.’

Teaching students to understand their emotions on a deeper level will help them to be more connected to their gut reactions. Knowledge of their emotions and how they feel will give them the patience to dig deeper and confront why they may have ‘liked’ a link, or why they ‘thumbs downed’ that cat video.

Emotional intelligence is an important skill in the online world. Helping to support digital citizenship.

All that said  — the act of “liking” is not going away anytime soon. So, we asked ourselves a simple question. 

How can we leverage this behaviour to encourage a more substantial and critical evaluation of ideas?

Enter Parlay’s guided feedback questions.


Encouraging new behaviour: Cognitive reactions

At Parlay, we included a simple guided feedback question section that encourages students to critically think about what they are reading or viewing online. These questions serve as an opportunity for students to dig deeper into the content that’s up for discussion, as well as give constructive feedback to their peers. When students take part in Parlay RoundTables they must evaluate their peers’ contributions to the conversation. We’ve turned emotional reactions such as, “like” and “anger”, to thought provoking questions that get students thinking beyond whether it was just ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

Here are some examples of Parlay guided feedback questions that help to spark critical thinking:

The simple act of including a few scaffolded questions before the comment section reminds students to really think about why they like or disagree with something someone else said.
The distinction between emotional reactions and cognitive reactions is subtle, but crucial.

A tall order?

Yes, this is a tall order, but as we see it we don’t have a choice. The next generation must grow up with the ability (or the desire) to read beyond the headline. If we do not encourage critical thinking then we are doing a disservice to our society and democracy everywhere.

We’ve done our best at Parlay to make it easy for teachers to raise the bar. It’s important for educators to encourage critical thinking and thoughtful communication. Our hope and our aim is that this behaviour becomes ingrained over time. These skills take time and effort to develop, but they are a necessary counterbalance.

What are your thoughts about critical thinking v.s. emotional reaction?
Do you agree or disagree?
Do you have suggestions for a different approach?
We would love to hear from you!

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