Critical Ignoring and Deliberate Ignorance

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.


Deliberate ignorance refers to the conscious choice to ignore information even when the costs of obtaining it are negligible (Hertwig & Engel, 2016). People deliberately ignore information for various reasons—for instance, to avoid anticipated negative emotions, to ensure fairness, or to maximize suspense and surprise. Deliberate ignorance can also be a tool for boosting information management, especially online (Kozyreva et al., 2020). Critical ignoring (Wineburg, 2021) is a type of deliberate ignorance that entails selectively filtering and blocking out information in order to control one’s information environment and reduce one’s exposure to false and low-quality information. This competence complements conventional critical-thinking and information-literacy skills, such as finding reliable information online, by specifying how to avoid information that is misleading, distractive, and potentially harmful. It is only by ignoring the torrent of low-quality information that people can focus on applying critical search skills to the remaining now-manageable pool of potentially relevant information. As do all types of deliberate ignorance, critical ignoring requires cognitive and motivational resources (e.g., impulse control) and, somewhat ironically, knowledge: In order to know what to ignore, a person must first understand and detect the warning signs of low trustworthiness.


The digital world’s attention economy, the presence of malicious actors, and the ubiquity of alluring but false or misleading information present users with cognitive, emotional, and motivational challenges. Mastering these challenges will require new competencies. An indispensable component of navigating online information and preserving one’s autonomy on the Internet is the ability to ignore large amounts of information. Critical-ignoring strategies, as part of a curriculum in information management, should therefore be included in school curricula. Traditionally, the search for knowledge has involved paying close attention to information—finding it and considering it from multiple angles. Reading a text from beginning to end to critically evaluate it is a sensible approach to vetted school texts approved by competent overseers. On the unvetted Internet, however, this approach often ends up being a colossal waste of time and energy. In an era in which attention is the new currency, the admonition to “pay careful attention” is precisely what attention merchants and malicious agents exploit. It is time to revisit and expand the concept of critical thinking, often seen as the bedrock of an informed citizenry. As long as students are led to believe that critical thinking requires above all the effortful processing of text, they will continue to fall prey to informational traps and manipulated signals of epistemic quality. At the same time that students learn critical thinking, they should learn the core competence of thoughtfully and strategically allocating their attentional resources online. This will often entail selecting a few valuable pieces of information and deliberately ignoring others (Hertwig & Engel, 2016). This insight, although crucial in the digital age, is not new. As William James (1904) observed, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook” (p. 369).


An important educational paradigm.

Folksonomies: information attention attention economy information consumption deliberate ignorance

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 Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens
Periodicals>Journal Article:  Kozyreva, Wineburg, Hertwig (November 8, 2022), Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Retrieved on 2022-11-19
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: attention focus distraction


    05 JAN 2023

     Fighting Digital Distraction

    Digital Literacy means having the power to resist the attention economy, taking our focus back, and producing rather than consuming.