‘That sounds about right’: Personal biases and the news

What is a bias? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “an unfair personal opinion that influences your judgement.” Biases are often cast in a negative light, but everyone has them, and they affect the way we see the world every day. We get them from many places — from how our parents think about things, to what our peers think, to negative or positive experiences with people or places that leave impressions that we don’t even realize we have. In every aspect of our lives, our brains interpret information through a subjective lens based on our past experiences and prior knowledge. So how do our biases affect the way that we read our news?

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center, an American think tank, found that the political leanings of news readers significantly impacted which news sources they found to be “trustworthy” or “untrustworthy” based on their perception of that source’s politics. In other words, people like and tend to read news that is designed to cater to their predisposed political leanings — they are biased toward news that fits their worldview. Everyone likes to be told things that they want to hear, even if those things aren’t necessarily accurate. This is a big part of how misinformation spreads — people read a news article that agrees with what they think, and they share it with other people they know who think along the same lines, without always stopping to check if that information has been verified.

If that’s true, how do we make sure our biases aren’t causing us to share misinformation?

Here are three things that you can do before you share a news article to protect against your personal biases being used against you:

  1. Be aware. What personal biases and preconceptions are you bringing? How might those be affecting how you think about what you read?
  2. Think about the perspective. Who is this news article written for? Who is its target audience? What other perspectives could have been represented that were not?
  3. Check the facts. If a statistic seems too good (or bad) to be true, it might not be. Verify your facts, especially any claims that seem like they might be telling a tall tale.

If you take these steps, you should be able to ensure that any news that you share with friends is true, not just attractive. Biases are as human as blinking or breathing — in fact, they are born from our instinctual system of categorization and caution, which has helped keep us alive for thousands of years. But when it comes to misleading media, it is always important to help truth triumph over bias so that your information reflects the real world around you.

Anna McLean is a student currently studying Politics at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Passionate about policy and civic responsibility, she has researched and written on issues of international politics, ethics, and the environment.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.

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