There has been so much talk of ‘fake’ news and ‘alternative facts’ lately, so I thought I would add a little gravity to the blog. We are bombarded with opinions and opinionated information and media ‘spin’ of opinionated information, so I decided to take a look at how I choose information. I try very hard to follow a number of news providers from news organizations known for having research staff. Each obviously has a bent, be it liberal or conservative, that shows up in the headlines and the connotation of the words being used. What can we do to be better consumers of information, especially on social media?
The first step to understanding why we have chosen our sources of information is an understanding of ‘confirmation bias’. Confirmation bias is our tendency to give great weight to information that supports our already held beliefs and to heavily discount
anything that would undermine those beliefs. If we think the world is flat, we are going to rely on all the world is flat information we can find and scoff at the world is round information. So basically, we are feeding ourselves a steady diet of “I knew I was right”, but whether it is ‘right’ requires more thought. A simple web search which stops when we find something supporting our belief is not enough. We need to search out different viewpoints and truly consider whether they have any merit. If information is too good to be true, it most likely is!
A second pitfall is our tendency to believe that everyone else believes as we do (or they are ignorant or stupid, or both). This is called ‘naïve realism’. Everyone comes to their view of the world based on their unique history and experiences. We can’t know all the reasons someone believes the way they do, but we have to accept there are other valid viewpoints.
We believe we could make them see the world the way we do if we could only talk some sense into them. But guess what, that’s what they believe too. Different viewpoints are what make society rich and varied and creative and everything else wonderful, along with frustrating and not so wonderful, so we can’t discount what other people believe just because it doesn’t fit our view of the world.
So, what to do to be a better consumer of information? Question everything. Where did it come from, was the source reliable, does it fit my world view too perfectly? Be a Devil’s Advocate and look at other possible viewpoints. I check snopes and truthorfiction; pretty old school but informative nonetheless. Don’t get sucked in by the click-bait made especially for each us, be skeptical and be as inclusive of other viewpoints as we are of viewpoints like our own.