Understanding Fallacies (Continued)
News Media and Bias
The news media we consume affects us, but we also affect it. Most people think that they perceive truth objectively, as it is. However, we all see things from a point of view and people tend to seek news media that supports their points of view. This can serve to further entrench us in a more narrow way of looking at things while at the same time making us feel more certain that our point of view is objective and neutral. We also learned in Chapter 8 that people have biases (such as the confirmation bias) that make it hard for them to embrace ideas that contradict with their own points of view. This week’s discussion seeks to explore how we can free ourselves from these tendencies.
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Prepare: Read Section 8.3 in the course text on “Media and Mediated Information,” as well as Section 8.1, paying special attention to the section about confirmation bias. Then watch the Critical Thinking on LIVING SMART with Patricia Gras (Links to an external site.) [NSC1] video about the relationship between media and ideology.
Reflect: Think about the ways in which people consume news media that supports their own points of view–everything from the TV news shows they watch to the news articles they are exposed to on social media. Consider what we might do to learn to think more objectively and see things from multiple points of view.
Write: Express your thoughts on the following questions: To what degree and in what ways are people manipulated by the news media that they consume? Make sure to give specific examples. What types of consequences can follow from people having more choices of what media they can consume? Do we control our news media or does it control us? What can people do to break free from media hypnosis and have broader, more objective points of view? In what ways might we strive to overcome confirmation bias? Address anything else that you find relevant and interesting in the chapter and video.
Hint Post: Media and Bias
As you’ve discovered in your readings for this week, we all have biases. We subscribe to certain assumptions about the world and have emotional responses to issues that influence what we do, what we think, what arguments we’ll accept, and even the products we buy and the media we consume–unless we think critically. We need to critically evaluate all sources of information, particularly the news. Don’t assume everything you hear, see, or read is true.
It should be obvious if you’ve paid any attention at all to almost any form of media over the past few years that political beliefs have become a significant source of bias in everything from the news to social media. If you’re not certain of your own political leanings (and maybe even if you are), this quiz (Links to an external site.) (Santhanam, 2016) will help you determine with which political party your beliefs most closely align. The quiz is very basic, but it will give you some direction.
To evaluate the sources where you get your news, the following sites provide evaluations of their political leanings (e.g., on a scale from “Far Left” to “Far Right”–similar to the political party quiz above) and identify sources of outright propaganda and fake news:
1. AllSides (Links to an external site.) — Ratings specifically for online news sources
2. Media Bias Chart 3.1 (Links to an external site.) — Visual representation of the bias of news outlets in relation to each other
3. Media Bias Fact Check (Links to an external site.) — Searchable database of worldwide news outlets
I picked these three, not because I necessarily agree with their assessments (although I do in many cases), but because they explicitly state the methodology used to evaluate media bias. This gives you the opportunity to determine how biased these sites themselves are. Also, I provided 3 sources to allow you to compare the bias attributed to any media outlet. I would encourage you to look up your main source(s) of news to see where it stands and how it reflects your own confirmation bias. I also encourage you to do your own research on your news sources’ bias independently of the sites I’ve provided.
From a critical thinker’s perspective, what is most troubling about the assessments provided by the sites above is not that there is political bias at work–that has always been the case–but the increased number of propaganda, pseudo-science, and conspiracy sources that people are exposed to on a daily basis. With the proliferation of social media and the internet, access to information has increased exponentially, but most people’s processes for evaluating that information has not changed. They allow their cognitive biases to guide their acceptance of information. As critical thinkers, it’s our job to understand our biases and to be on the lookout for their influence, to seek out alternative sources of information that challenge our understanding of the world, and to apply the skills you’re learning in this class to evaluate the veracity of that information.
Consider the extreme case of the Russians using social media to influence the 2016 election (McKew, 2018). Putting aside their motives and the actual impact their actions had, the fact that there was an organized effort by a foreign enemy power to influence the way entire groups of people think by exposing them to false stories through social media is undeniable—MeKew’s (2018) article does a good job of summarizing the evidence. The Russians used our innate cognitive biases and targeted us with stories we were likely to believe because they played into our fears and prejudices (CBS News, 2018). They even created fake social activist groups to put out the information so it would seem more believable. They created stories loosely based in fact for opposing sides of hot button social issues intended to further divide opposing factions knowing that they would be shared over and over again.
Think about your own social media habits or those of your friends. How many times have you read a story and liked or shared it without checking the source or verifying any of the facts? Or if you did look at the source of the article, did you check it out or did you just say to yourself some form of, “That seems like a credible source”? We tend to think that the more something is shared, the more people that “like” the story, particularly when our friends are doing so, the more likely it is to be true. But large numbers of people believing something is true isn’t what makes it true.
When composing your answers to the questions for this discussion, make sure you go into detail to support your answers. It’s not enough to state what you believe. You must also explain why you believe what you do. Think of it as trying to convince the reader that you’re correct. Also, give specific examples to illustrate your points. If you talk about any news stories, commercials, etc., you must give proper APA in-text citations and references.
AllSides.com. (2018). AllSides media bias ratings. AllSides.com. Retrieved from https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-rat… (Links to an external site.)
CBS News. (2018, February 16). Read the social media posts Russians allegedly used to influence 2016 election cycle. CBS News. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/read-social-media-pos… (Links to an external site.)
Media Bias Fact Check. (2018). Media bias fact check: The most comprehensive media bias resource. Retrieved from https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/ (Links to an external site.)
Santhanam, L. (2016, September 8). Where do you fit? The 2016 political party quiz. PBS News Hour: Politics. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/fit-2016-pol… (Links to an external site.)
McKew, M. (2018, February 16). Did Russia affect the 2016 election? It’s now undeniable. Wired: Security. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/did-russia-affect-the-… (Links to an external site.)