If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen me rant a bit in my stories the other day. Or as close to rant as I tend to get. I’ve compiled it here as a blog post. It’s on the topic of “do your own research.”
By “do your own research,” I mean exit the realm of social media, source disparate sources—even ones you don’t agree with!—read more than the headlines, and click the links those pages use to see what backs them up.
Yesterday, I was doing research for a day-job article and found a stat that said “38% of x did y.” I clicked the source link, which looked like a nice, respectable NIH article. Except the “source” document didn’t mention 38%, x, OR y.
Here’s an unfortunate truth: People who make internet content sometimes make things up. Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes they didn’t understand what they read and got it wrong. Other times, it’s just an odd mistake or typo. But mistakes happen—more often than you think.
By “do your own research,” I mean talking to other people within and without your social sphere. Within and without your neighborhood, town, city, state, country. Within and without your belief system, race, or culture.
So many times, we think a truth is universally acknowledged, and that truth turns out to be less truth and more the habits of the people around our part of the world.
My best friend is in Ohio and I’m in Virginia. We have the same day job and somewhat similar backgrounds. We share a faith and many beliefs. But we still find things between us that differ because we didn’t grow up in the same house or live in the same town. It’s important to realize your perceptions aren’t always the facts.
The facts are the facts, and it can take work to perceive them.
By “do your own research,” I mean gather the information and draw your own conclusions.
I don’t and never will mean “gather the facts and then decide like me.” You’re not me, and you won’t always come to the same conclusions I do.
Unfortunately, as @kristen.lavalley has pointed out before, a lot of people do mean that when they say “do your own research.” Don’t worry about those people. Your conclusions and decisions are YOURS, and they are valuable. Don’t let other people steal them.
By “do your own research,” I mean constantly. Research and decide today, but be open to new information that might change your conclusions tomorrow.
One of the things that drove me crazy in the first couple of weeks of the pandemic was that so many people were speaking in absolutes and then wondering why government sites and other expert agencies kept tweaking information and instructions.
It’s because that’s how data works. As more comes in, you must reevaluate your conclusions and tweak your course.
That’s true in personal life too.
Finally, by “do your own research,” I 100% mean not letting social media and viral knowledge skew your mind.
Does a viral post provide a potential cue that you might want to look into something? Maybe—it depends on your values, your mind, your preferences, your decisions. It doesn’t depend on the fact that the mob suddenly thinks something is important.
Viral content—and commentaries on them—on Instagram and other platforms are NOT knowledge. They’re someone else’s opinion.Tweet
You should have your own opinion, not carry around the burden of other people’s. If you’re going to have an opinion, do the work to support your own.
Because here’s the deal, social media is agenda driven.
Even if you don’t buy into the platforms having political agendas, the fact is that the platforms have a business agenda. They are here to make money for shareholders. They make content and algorithm decisions to support that goal, and that alone can skew the information you see.
Social media is also driven by the crowd. And the crowd has an agenda. Whatever the overall agenda of the CROWD is, it is NOT your agenda, because you are an individual person and not a mob.
You might agree with the crowd on some things and not others. But it’s often the crowd that decides what is seen and what isn’t on social.
And the results of crowd mentality don’t always make a lot of sense because they’re swirling with emotion, passion, belief, and thousands of people’s disparate input crumpled together without any room for nuance.
When you get all your information from social—or from any ONE source, really—you allow someone else to decide what you know. Perhaps it’s a social media platform. Perhaps it’s a media company. Perhaps it’s the mob.
Your mind, your knowledge, your wisdom—these belong to YOU.
Don’t let them by watered down by platform agendas, media biases, algorithms, and the emotional drivers (and sometimes extremes) of group think.
Find out for yourself.
Do your own research.
Let’s normalize talking and debating things like reasonable people who all have our own minds.