Media Literacy: Be Aware of Your Biases

A friend of mine recently announced he was leaving Facebook because the site had become too political. Now he is not the only person complaining about this issue, but I had to laugh when I saw his final post. This is the same man who, for the past eight years, regularly posted angry tirades against “Barry Obama.”

Was my friend being hypocritical? Perhaps. But more likely, he simply was unaware of his own bias. So when he saw (and posted) nasty comments about the previous president, he accepted them and moved on. But when such posts popped up about the current president, he felt angry and outraged. It wasn’t that Facebook had become more political. But now posts were criticizing someone he liked, and each one felt like a personal attack.

Personal biases are hard to detect. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as biased. We think of ourselves as rational, clear-headed people who have studied the facts and made reasonable choices. And even though research shows us over and over that we aren’t that rational, we refuse to believe it. And our own personal history should show us that we’re not that clear headed and rational. But we still refuse to believe it.

I don’t think it’s terribly helpful to try to rid ourselves of bias. A worthy goal, perhaps. But a hard one. But one thing we can do immediately is to admit we have biases and be aware of them when we read, see, or listen to the news.

I try to be open about my biases, and I’m lucky enough to have some friends who are comfortable challenging me when I seem to be too much in my information comfort zone. But I have to monitor my biases consistently. If not, I jump back to “My side tells the truth; your side spouts fake news” theme that doesn’t help anyone.

So you have biases? Guess what? You’re human, just like the rest of us. But refusing to admit you have them? Then dealing with the media is always going to trip you up.

 

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