Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens


Low-quality and misleading information online can hijack people’s attention, often by evoking curiosity, outrage, or anger. Resisting certain types of information and actors online requires people to adopt new mental habits that help them avoid being tempted by attention-grabbing and potentially harmful content. We argue that digital information literacy must include the competence of critical ignoring—choosing what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities. We review three types of cognitive strategies for implementing critical ignoring: self-nudging, in which one ignores temptations by removing them from one’s digital environments; lateral reading, in which one vets information by leaving the source and verifying its credibility elsewhere online; and the do-not-feed-the-trolls heuristic, which advises one to not reward malicious actors with attention. We argue that these strategies implementing critical ignoring should be part of school curricula on digital information literacy. Teaching the competence of critical ignoring requires a paradigm shift in educators’ thinking, from a sole focus on the power and promise of paying close attention to an additional emphasis on the power of ignoring. Encouraging students and other online users to embrace critical ignoring can empower them to shield themselves from the excesses, traps, and information disorders of today’s attention economy.”

Anastasia Kozyreva, et al. “Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens.”
Current Directions in Psychological Science 0 10.1177/09637214221121570-

After some reflection, this is obviously true. Just as obviously, it lends itself to the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people with low ability to critically ignore, do the exact opposite, where they focus on “attention-grabbing and potentially harmful content” and choose to critically ignore content that would help with changing one’s worldview to something that is more adaptive.

Once you start thinking about it, and looking for these kinds of behaviors, it becomes a new lens to which to look at a lot of the features of our society. The preoccupation with sports, for instance, is focusing on attention grabbing content with little value. It’s true of conspiracy theories, fundamentalism and the beliefs of fanatics everywhere. Moreover, if we look to our own behavior, there are many areas where we do this ourselves. Is a preoccupation with storytelling in “cinema” really different than a preoccupation with sport? What, then, is of real value?

The inescapable conclusion is that vast majority of our activity and attention is spent on things we should be critically ignoring. The hard question: what should we be paying attention to?

4 thoughts on “Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens

  1. I drink too much, full stop. Those stretches in which I more successfully temper that tendency almost always involve the first cognitive strategy mentioned in the source article: remove the temptation. Don’t have booze on hand; avoid places that offer it. (Please do not ask me how long these successful stretches last.)

    I consume too much low-quality/-value information, full stop. Those stretches when I more siccess–NOW WAIT A MOMENT. Are you saying I shouldn’t pack a smartphone, and skin it from its holster every 38 seconds throughout the day?? That’s so much harder than drawing down the alcohol consumption! And as you know, I’m a librarian; I spend time thinking about information literacy and how to teach it; I do grok and condone what Brutus advises about fast and slow information. But *practice* that myself, in an ongoing and disciplined manner? {titters at his hypocrisy}

    Goddamned dopamine.

    1. I think we are still learning how to manage it. I think social media will go through the same kind of boom/bust cycles of cities, where there will be concentration downtown, then outward expansion, a following wave of decline and renewal. Like cities, we’ll have to deal with the problems of our historical moment, which for us, is simply trying to come to terms and figure out how we want to live with this new technology. A couple of generations down the line, it’ll be like television – where some people will still be like we are now, but most people will use it in moderation.

      Although, that said, I see this: “In the 2013–17 period, the U.S. civilian noninstitutional population ages 15 and older spent an average of 2 hours 46 minutes per day watching TV.”[1] Still seems like a lot of time. Although, I know people tend to have both TV/music and use social media at the same time. If you figure we spend 6 hours sleeping, 11% spent with TV and social media still seems like a lot. We’ll get there though.


  2. While not a new phenomenon, the surfeit of new distraction and disinformation technologies has demanded adoption of a practiced information ecology (a/k/a media diet) to weed out destructive and misleading forms and agents. Used to be one would choose a preferred 6 pm news anchor from among ABC, CBS, and NBC. Now, options have been blown wide open. I’d recommend as a start distinguishing between fast and slow information, such as the (nearly worthless) daily news cycle compared to what gets sorted and synthesized into quarterly publications or actual books. That chucks Wikipedia (famous for revision battles) and most video-based and online news and information sources. I wrote about this years ago under the title “God’s Eye View” and again later under the title “Information Avoidance.” I note further that media theorist Neil Postman suggested teaching semantics as a way of evaluating the context and subcontext of various types of messaging.

    1. Go back further, looking at newspapers and yellow journalism, and I’d guess the environment was similar. Also, a lot of the Revolutionary War was driven by pamphlets, such as Thomas Paine. So, not really new. Also, I’m inclined to believe that these largely ephemeral are important to thinking, since they are responding to issues in the popular consciousness at any particular moment, whereas books are more geared to explaining longer trends. Even the books of the modern era could probably be condensed down to a few pages of ideas. Most books are the length they are, not because the content demands it, but because the market does. Probably interesting ground to think on.

      I’ll make a note to check out your commentary in God’s Eye View and Information Avoidance.

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