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Confirmation Bias: Is Social Media The Problem?

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We live in the information age and the more time we spend on Facebook, the more information, as well as misinformation, we share. Facebook and other social media algorithms have formed neural networks that determine what information, news, ads, posts, and even shopping suggestions we view based on our interests. This is what is known as a filter bubble, and leads to an echo chamber.

Is Social Media The Problem?

An echo chamber is a homogeneous cluster of info where profiles with like interests, beliefs, and posts congregate. They are characterized by distinct communal structures and dialogue, generally propping up an umbrella of similar thinking and inflammatory discourse. Dissenting opinions or skepticism are either absent or brigaded by groupthink, and evidence of the contrary facts are often dismissed as ‘fake news’ due to not aligning with emotional and deeply-held narratives that self-confirm and confirm each other.

Social media users of any and all political or ideological stripe can fall prey to being caught in the echo chamber. And not just private citizens, either. 48% of news articles by the left and right-leaning U.S. news agencies were shared by congress members along party lines. Liberal senators and representatives, in particular, doubled their posting frequency from 8% to 16% after the inauguration of Donald Trump. The most partisan news sources, including Vox and the Huffington Post on the left and Breitbart and the National Review on the right, are shared by members of congress 22% more often than more neutral sources.

The crisis of fact, tribalism, and polarization we as a nation find ourselves in can be traced back to the human psyche, in an irrational but universal tendency known as confirmation bias.

How Do We Confront Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias has been around forever, but the advent of social media, money in politics, 24/7 news, and many other factors have contributed to the phenomenon and aided it in the viral undermining of respectful political discourse.

Confirmation bias can be defined as the tendency to actively search for evidence that backs up your beliefs while ignoring disconfirming evidence that is inconvenient to your narrative. Two people can watch the same debate and think their guy won. Two people can read the same scientific study and walk away believing their position even more doggedly than before. Study after study has shown confirmation bias to be an Achilles heel to human thought and progress. Conspiracy theorists, flat-earthers, and anti-vaxxers are not the only people who can’t set aside opinions for fact. Go through your own Facebook or Twitter feed objectively and start fact-checking your posts, and you will find some type of confirmation bias going on.

So, the question is, how do we beat confirmation bias? We may never cure ourselves of it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t curb it.

  • Practice mindfulness and emotional intelligence.
  • Give fair-minded consideration of all points of view, even why yours might be wrong.
  • Do your research before sharing anything or writing a rant.
  • Most of all, just be a decent person.

Learn more about confirmation bias with the infographic below, provided by PsychDegrees.com.

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Brian Wallace is the Founder and President of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency , based in Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, hosts the Next Action Podcast, and has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019. Follow Brian Wallace on LinkedIn as well as Twitter.

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