Critical thinking in the age of social media: a reading list

  • Posted on: 9 June 2020
  • By: Michelle Brightwell

Hello. My name is Michelle, and if you know me at all, you know that media, digital, and information literacy is passion of mine. I would love to teach the world how to critically consume the media they choose, and to recognize bias and unfairness in what they consume. If just a small percentage of people who use social media would take the time to vet that tweet before it’s re-tweeted, or think twice before sharing a scathing image or meme on Facebook that vilifies someone they don’t agree with, we could fight back against the spread of misinformation. This is the epitome of “love your neighbor”. It is not helpful to spread conspiracy theories or random text-posts just because it’s “interesting to think about” or “food for thought”. You are not showing love to your friends and followers by spreading misleading or unverified information just because it fits the story you want to be told.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a list of books you can check out from our library


A reading list

Weaponized Lies (also Titled A Field Guide to Lies) by Daniel J. Levitin

The three sections of this book break down how to dissect what you encounter on the internet and in your social media feed to determine what’s real, what’s dubious, and what’s just lies. He also shows how corporate and government reports, statistics, and news stories can mislead and breaks down the ways they’re used. It’s a short book, in easily digestible sections.


The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin.

Daniel Levitin is an acclaimed cognitive psychologist, and in The Organized Mind, he uses science to show us how to overcome the overwhelming amounts of information we encounter daily. He presents recent advances in brain science as he reveals the key to how leaders in the information age excel, and how any reader can use their methods to regain a sense of mastery over the way we organize our homes, workplaces, and lives. This is a longer book than “Weaponized Lies”, but is worth the time to better recognize how we can combat the information overload and exhaustion we face.

LikeWar: the weaponization of social media by PW Singer and Emerson Brooking.

If you liked Homeland or Amazon’s Jack Ryan series, then this book might be the social media book for you. Singer and Brookings, two defense experts, break down the ways states and other groups are using social media to wage information wars on countries, and recruiting new members to extremist groups, and how we use it against ourselves and each other.

Information Wars: how we lost the global battle against disinformation and what we can do about it by Richard Stengel.

Disinformation is as old as humanity. When Satan told Eve nothing would happen if she bit the apple, that was disinformation. But the rise of social media has made disinformation even more pervasive and pernicious in our current era. In a disturbing turn of events, governments are increasingly using disinformation to create their own false narratives, and democracies are proving not to be very good at fighting it. The final chapters are full of information if you don’t have the time or bandwidth to digest the whole book.

How to do nothing: Resisting the attention economy by Jenny Odell

From the Jacket: A galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention--and our personal information--that redefines what we think of as productivity, reconnects us with the environment, and reveals all that we've been too distracted to see about ourselves and our world. Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity ... doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell, who sees our attention as the most precious--and overdrawn--resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine our role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress. Far from a simple anti-technology screed or back-to-nature meditation, How to Do Nothing is an action plan for thinking outside of the narratives of efficiency and techno-determinism. Provocative, timely, and utterly persuasive, this book is a four-course meal in the age of Soylent.

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price

A short read in which the author details why it’s so hard to put our phones down. It’s an easily digestible book outlining how all of our apps have been developed to exploit weaknesses in cognition, designed to be addictive, and how time spent on social media damages our ability focus, to think critically and deeply,        and form new memories. It doesn’t advocate a Spartan approach, but a balanced approach to using your phone, and has actionable steps to help you work through breaking up with your phone.

Fantasyland: How America went haywire by Kurt Andersen

In late 2017, I read an article in The Atlantic by Kurt Andersen, distilling his then-new book, Fantasyland. While reading, it was as if fireworks were going off in my mind, because it was clear to me that today’s American exceptionalism can be tied directly back to the founding of our country, and the circumstances in which those fated protestants created their own place where they weren’t novel. Suddenly, their anti-establishment group became the establishment, and from then on, America held the idea that we were different than anyone else, and can believe whatever we want. From that article and book: “What’s problematic is going overboard—letting the subjective entirely override the objective; thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings are just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control.”