Recently the CDA Press ran an informative five part series on social media. The writer asked if we should be concerned that we are viewing inaccurate information if not outright lies on social media? He states “We humans, as verified by research on cognitive bias, stay with what we believe and trust; with what makes us comfortable.” Obviously we should be concerned for accuracy in what we read and “share” with others. Cognitive bias is not a new concept. Basically it is the practice of reading and “liking” in social media terms those statements with which we agree. Why is this cognitive bias combined with an apparent lack of concern for accuracy so prevalent today?
Social media as in Facebook and others appears to dominate much of our writing and reading. It allows any of us to write our opinion, post it and see comments and likes. This instant gratification creates a sense of being right, even if we know we wrote or shared what may be unsubstantiated, or peer reviewed. When a person I don’t know gives my post a “like,” it reinforces my belief that I am correct. If I write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper even if published, I may have no idea how it was viewed. Larger cities often had two newspapers, a morning and evening addition, and possibly a more community one focused on local news, everything from city government activities to a society page. What happened to this traditional print media? Was it unable to compete or did we abandon it by deciding we can obtain the information we “want” on social media posts and blogs? We may even have the audacity to call it news.
Traditional media underestimated the potential impact of Facebook, Twitter, etc. All media organizations are businesses focused on their bottom line. Print media sells advertising to its subscribers. Social media is selling its subscribers to its advertisers. The algorithms used by social media gathers all the information we voluntarily provide along with our preferences in what we view. If a person reads an online advertisement for shoes, suddenly their social media page is flooded with shoe sales. When a person comments, positive or negative, on a political type post, two reactions result. One you actually promote the post you viewed even if you commented that it was wrong, lies etc. Second you have set yourself up to receive many similar posts. Corporations may occasionally have a social conscience, an algorithm has none.
What about the print and traditional electronic media? Are their days numbered? I hope not as we all should hope. Journalists need a combination of education, job training and a professional code of ethics. There are some reporters who are quality journalists. If we can not distinguish between knowledgeable, informed members of the press, shame on us. If the members of the press treat as equal people without know how or the integrity expected of a journalist, shame on them. The constant and loud claim the media has a liberal bias is absolutely false. If those claiming it have not researched media’s alleged bias, repeating what is incorrect does not make it true but results in it going unchallenged. When the media in an effort to demonstrate it is not biased resorts to sacrificing accuracy, it may be normalizing what is abnormal. We can never expect any person or publication to be completely objective. Building reader or viewer trust as opposed to maintaining objectivity should be the direction we pursue.
We all are capable of distinguishing or should be of truth from lies. The days of grocery store purchased encyclopedia volumes are gone. We now can access knowledge at our fingertips but perhaps it has made us lazy. Google anything, don’t waste time in the library, reading a newspaper or an encyclopedia, the first thing that pops up online is good, so we run with it. Checking and confirming our own opinions does not seem necessary. Someone got the info to the top of a google search, so it must be right. Wrong, let’s individually start thinking again. If we know the facts then we can argue logically over solutions. Some of us blame Facebook and social media generally for the lack of truth. It’s time we realize that what we read or post online is our choice. Remember the algorithm doesn’t care. It’s in the business of sales. Perhaps we must recognize the problem is us not them.