Slippery Slope to Confirmation Bias

In our reading, we read about time and space. Each is relative between human experiences, and each has a profound ability to influence our perceptions of the world as well. The part about how space affects our lives interested me. Your socioeconomic status, race, gender, etc. all affect who you are, how you act, and what you see the rest of the world as. As a result, it’s pretty much impossible for any of us to see the world as it actually is, free from any external influence on our judgement. But not only do these external factors affect us, but also how we spend our time, and more importantly: where and with whom.

Where and with whom you spend your time are integral factors in shaping who you are and what you believe, and this has always been the case. If you were born in feudal Europe, you would likely practice paganism and support your monarchy. It’s a combination of where you are and what voices you grow up hearing. But today, the Internet allows us to spend time among any voices we want to hear, and this can be dangerous for some.

I’m currently connected to the Internet as I type this, and you as you read. If you use the Internet beyond assigned class work, it’s likely that you will have specific websites that you frequent, too. It’s also likely that one of these is some form of social media–where users can share content directly with users that fit a certain criteria. These sites can include Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, even Google+. The common thread that all these sites share is its ability to find like-minded individuals and share content between specific groups, or view content according to specific filters. Each of these sites also contain means to make a submission more visible, either by “liking” it in some form or re-sharing it yourself. This feature makes viral submissions possible.

However, this system ultimately resembles that of a failed democracy. The posts that reach the top of the feed are typically the most popular, which is fantastic in terms of seeking entertainment, but disastrous when the subject is supposedly informative in nature. Popular infographics can be erroneous and without source. Complex issues are often at risk of being over-simplified just to appeal to a broader audience, in which many are not willing to put in the time or effort to research any further after their beliefs are confirmed. And yet the Internet is seen as the modern newspaper, from which many of us gather all news that’s happening around us. The great difference is that the freedom and vastness of the Internet allows us to choose where we receive information, and with each source comes political and ideological biases, some more or less than others.

This is the culture of misinformation now found on the Internet. Entertaining posts rise while informative but dull slog around the bottom only for those who search for it. Even then, anyone can simply shut out the conflicting voices and surround themselves with similar minds, all to “inform” themselves on issues they’ve already decided on. There is no real discussion here; only constant polarization between your side and theirs. If all you do is surround yourself with a space of agreement, you can only become more extreme in your beliefs.

So especially with an election around the corner, it’s important to be wary of sources and how the places you spend time can easily create biases. If you claim to be informed, it’s your duty to inform yourself on all sides with an open mind.

One Response to Slippery Slope to Confirmation Bias

  1. Prof VZ February 7, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

    This reflection was perhaps more relevant to the “culture” chapter on media 1.0 and 2.0, but it fits here as well, I think, if we consider “space” to be something increasingly abstract in the internet age. We no longer need to traverse space to find folks who might agree with us; they’re right there, any time. Great use of linking here, though I wish you had linked to more info on what social scientists call the “confirmation bias!”

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