Analytical Thinking, Critical Thinking and Systems Thinking Approaches to Misinformation Analysis

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A Wittgensteinian approach to misinformation analysis [1] [2] presents a model inspired by the framework of the early philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. This approach is based on ‘analysis’ or analytical thinking, which could be differentiated from ‘criticism’ or critical thinking. Analysis involves decomposition of information to simpler elements for clarity and better understanding, the opposite of ‘synthesis’ [3]. Critical thinking is more focused on the evaluation of information, interpreting it and making an informed judgment [4]. Analytical and critical approaches complement each other. Misinformation online manifests in different forms, a combination of different approaches to tackle it is required for effective solutions. Cook et al. [5] present a critical thinking approach to deconstruct misinformation. They identify reasoning fallacies, based on argument structure, to refute common misinformation about climate change espoused by denialists. This approach is comprehensive and was successful when applied to 42 claims commonly peddled by denialists.

Fact-checking as a misinformation prevention strategy has limitations [6]. Certain types of misinformation disorder are complex and providing ‘facts’ alone may not change beliefs in adherents, particularly when deeply-held beliefs are involved. Sometimes the opposite effect of strengthening the false belief occurs. Breaking down arguments in to ‘logical atoms’ [1] a form of reductionism will not be effective for complex phenomena like conspiracy theories. Analysing conspiracy theories is best done using a systems approach or systems thinking [7]. The Walters Foundation [8] describes the following “Habits of Systems Thinkers”: 1. Seek to understand the big picture; 2. Observe how elements within the system change over time, generating patterns and trends; 3. Recognize that a system’s structure (elements and interactions) generates behaviour; 4. Identify the circular nature of complex cause-and-effect relationships; 5. Surface and test assumptions; 6. Change perspective to increase understanding; 7. Consider an issue fully and resist the urge to come to a quick conclusion; 8. Consider how mental models affect current reality and the future; 9. Use understanding of system structure to identify possible leverage actions; 10. Find where unintended consequences emerge; 11. Recognize the impact of time delays when exploring cause-and-effect relationships; 12. Check results and change actions if needed: “successive approximation.”

Ammara et al. [7] use a systems approach to analyse misinformation, with an emphasis on identifying roots causes, provide actionable insight and anticipating long-term consequences. They reveal that incorrect labelling of news by fact-checkers could lead to more scepticism of news credibility as a whole. They also discover that a focus on improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) for detection of fake news could also lead to similar technology being used to generate more fake news.


[1] Omoregie, U. Online Misinformation Analysis and Information Quality Theory. SocArXiv,

[2] Omoregie, U. Misinformed about the information age: The existential crisis of online social media. Business Day,

[3] Beaney, M. Analysis. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

[4] The Peak Performance Center. Analytical thinking and critical thinking,

[5] Cook, J, Ellerton, P, Kinkead, D. Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors. Environ. Res. Lett. 2018; 13(2):024018.

[6] Cook, J, Lewandowsky, S and Ecker, UK, et al. 2017. Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence. Plos One 2017; 12:5 e0175799

[7] Ammara, U, Bukari, H and Qadir, J. Analyzing misinformation through the lens of systems thinking. Proceedings of the 2020 Truth and Trust Online (TTO 2020); 55-63.

[8] Waters Foundation. Habits of a systems thinker, 

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