Friday, July 15, 2016

Twelve Ways You Are Being Manipulated by the News and on Social Media

Image by Graham Walton.
Do you accept false information in the news and on social media? The answer is yes! We all do, whether we like to believe so or not. 

Twelve Signs o
Biased Information 
to Consider

1. Obvious Cuts or Omissions—You should always check to see why the creator of a video or article chose to leave something out. I will be the first to admit that this is the sign of bias that I find the easiest to miss. But if we work together to not share and point out misleading information when we see it, we can surely better support the integrity and well-being of our country as a whole. Tweet this.

Image by Amy West
2. Omission of Differing Perspectives—If an article or video leaves out the other party’s perspective, always see what that other side is saying. Yes, even if you don’t think you will agree with them. Maybe you’ll be right. Maybe you’ll be wrong. But at least you’ll be informed and capable of forming a stronger statement for your arguments in the future. Tweet this.

3. Unknown Author Identity—Make sure to learn a little about the author of any article before you believe or share it. Simply viewing a few other posts or doing a quick Google search might give you a better idea about who someone is and what they believe in. It might also spare you the embarrassment of sharing an article that you agree with, only to find out later that you supported some radical or unrelated organization or individual that might damage your credibility or mislead others. Tweet this.

4. Extremely Short Posts—Complicated issues can rarely be accurately summed up in a snappy one liner with a single photograph or meme. When someone shares a post like this, they might receive praise from those who already agree about the issue being referenced. However, keep in mind that the post might also make it 10 times easier for those who do not agree to rebuke the incomplete claim. 

Even worse, those same people might also become irritated by the perceived “weaknesses” of the post and take a public stance on the issue. This could make it much more difficult for anyone to change their minds on that particular issue later. Tweet this.

5. Uses of Statistics—Statistics are a constant source of deception and misunderstanding. Not only should you check the original source of all statistics, but you should also double check with other original sources that cover similar subject matter to see if they reached the same conclusion too. For example, I always want to eat at Chili’s! So of course, I know that I’ll be more likely to get you to go to Chili’s with me if I suggest, “Would you like to eat at Chili’s?” than if I left it up to chance by just asking, “Where would you like to eat?” 
Image by Mike Mozart.

The same sort of basic suggestibility can occur in surveys too, both when questions are asked and when someone interprets the results. For example, do you think more survey participants might say they are in favor of gay rights if the person who asks them the question is wearing a rainbow colored shirt? Alternately, would fewer participants say that they are against gay rights if the survey is given in a church? 

These examples may seem a little silly, but basic manipulations of data like this occur all the time. As another example, please consider this survey question: “Where do you stand on abortion? (a) pro-life, (b) pro-life except in cases of rape, (c) pro-choice so long as it is early in the pregnancy, (d) pro-choice.” Using the results of this question, would it really be ethical for a researcher to write the headline, “Survey says small percent of voters are pro-life” and simply ignore the fact that many others were also pro-life except in the situation of rape? On the other hand, would it be fair for the researcher to write, “Survey says small percentage of voters are pro-choice” and ignore the other voters who were also pro-choice so long as it is early into the pregnancy? 

This could really be a standalone topic, but I hope that these examples get you pointed in the right direction. People tend to gravitate toward statistics because they provide such quick, concrete answers. However, these "answers" are not always true. Tweet this.

6. Someone Seems Outright Evil—
Image by Gage Skidmore.

Political issues are complex. Any time an individual or entity is portrayed like a diabolical mastermind in a comic book, take a step back and pay particular attention. Again, you may not agree with someone’s perspective, but it is unlikely that the person is seeking to destroy the world as it may originally seem to be the case. Then again, maybe there are evil masterminds out there, in which case you should probably learn everything about them anyway! Tweet this.

7. Others Already Liked It—Just because others have already liked a post or article does not necessarily mean that the post is impartial or accurate. Tweet this.

8. It Just Happened—

Image by Cory Barnes.
The sooner an article comes out after an event, the more likely it is that someone might have made a reporting mistake. Journalists are human, after all. You will also want to pay close attention quick-release posts because they may explode on social media and continue to spread around long after additional supporting or opposing evidence has emerged. Tweet this.

9. Emotion—If something really gets you excited or upset, remember to take 24 hours before you make up you mind or post anything about that particular topic. This will help prevent you from saying something you might regret later and might also help you form a stronger argument. Try to consider what emotions your posts will cause others to feel too. There is such a thing as "too angry" or "too scared!" Tweet this.

10. Sarcasm—Yes, you may "get" a joke, but if you share it on social media, are others sure to "get" it too? Try to avoid further confusion due to simple miscommunication. You might be surprised by how often this happens. Tweet this.

11. Forced Opinions—It is a journalist's job to tell you what happened as plainly and completely as possible. It is usually not a journalist’s job to tell you how to feel about everything via inserted opinions. This generally holds true for independent amateur journalists and all other individuals on social media too. For example, verbs of attribution in written articles should almost always be straightforward such as "said," "stated," or "explained," instead of "snarled," "scoffed," or "lied." The latter of these example verbs all clearly force the writer's opinion on the readers. Readers are not fools; they should always be allowed to reach an opinion on their own. Tweet this.

12. Pictures and Videos—
Image by Gage Skidmore.
 Words are not the only way to 
manipulate someone. For example, be cautious if a photo shows the person in question pounding a fist or looks generally so ill-timed and revolting that any mug shot would have been better! You can likely assume that the attached article carries a certain agenda with it. Likewise, watch out for videos that pair certain candidates with frightening “black and white” graphics or sinister music. Tweet this.

Final Thoughts: Maybe you have not been paying attention to these signs of biased information, or maybe you have even been posting articles that share some of the signs above (this can be really tough to admit, even just to yourself). 

No worries either way!

Today, right this minute, is a perfect time to turn a new leaf to better fulfill your role as a representative of your local community, your political perspective, and your country.

Politicians should only rarely

Image by Zach Dischner.
change their political viewpoints (and only then with good reason); this is how we know that they will stand by their word if elected to office. However, individuals such as you and I should always challenge ourselves to view both sides of every argument and feel comfortable changing our views from time to time because issues do change and new evidence does come along.

I hope you found this article to be enlightening! Please share with a friend and post any additional ways to watch out for biased information in the comments section below. :)

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