Media Psych Studies

A portfolio of work for media psychology research

Approaching Bias on the Web

Determining the authenticity of information on the internet is a task researchers must continually practice. After all in reality, citing something that turns out to be false can break someone’s career. In more leisurely practices, we can browse the web and see that it is infultrated with bias – and that is ok. Bias is defined as “a partiality that prevents objective consideration of an issue or situation.” Everyone is entitled to this and their own preferences. However in a position where objectivity and credible sources are required – such as in debates, journalism, researching, etc. – one has to use the internet with caution. Opinionated claims cannot replace evidence. In trying to comprehend bias on the web, I have to define it from two perspectives; one being from a leisure, general public consumer. The other is from a more professional standpoint. I have come to understand that knowing the difference between useful and useless content is just as important as knowing the purpose and target audience of that content. In addition, paying attention to the presentation of data will allow me to take advantage of the internet’s resources in both settings.

Presentation is key in understanding the nature of how we categorize information. Based on the way things are laid out in front of us, we make categorizing decisions which mentally label things. As if our brain is a storage unit filled with boxes labeled “true” or “probably true’ or “false.”  These forms our biases. The range of these labels can differ from person to person naturally. But I assess that based on how information is presented, we develop a belief. And after some investigation, we may find out that our first impression was wrong. I saw the web address martinlutherking(dot)org and believed that I was going to see a credible site filled with a factual summary of events regarding the life of MLK. Contrarily, I was shocked to see that this page is nothing more than a forum of misinformation fueled with slanderous claims, zero evidence, and moderated by a Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard making it utterly useless in a professional setting where credibility is key.

Notable skeptic Michael Shermer provides those who rely on credibility with an investigative arsenal of questions to employ when browsing the internet. His “baloney detection kit” lists 10 questions researchers need to ask on-the-go when time to source check is limited. One question in particular refreshed my view of the internet as a whole, and that question is – “#10: Are personal beliefs driving the claim?.”  The aforementioned MLK site for example is driven by personal beliefs and employs opinions for facts. It is targeted to white supremists and is intended to spread their beliefs. And from knowing this, we can see that it is of no use in any reliable format.

In leisure mode, there is more than enough mindless material to browse. Social media technologies has given everyone an opportunity to become producers of information. It is almost too easy to allow the personal ideologies of others to consume your own mind, allowing them to nest in the subconscious. Despite the potential for stumbling upon radically biased pages, there is still a place for it. The internet is large enough for those from either the general public and professional perspectives to find what they intended. From a general stance, I particularly enjoy using social media to express my thoughts and actually follow many other personalities online to see what they think as well. But I would not cross this over into a professional world because citing one of these opinions as my sole argument is inappropriate. That is not to say that you cannot use social media as a resource – it certainly is. But even though it might be strongly presented, one should still approach with caution when considering using them as proof of a claim and back it up with actually evidence and research.

The general public I believe does not care enough about where information comes from or how much it was manipulated – and that’s ok sometimes. To think about the possibilities of people in a position of power limiting information to satisfy and clone their own bias is scary to think about. We know it happens but we choose to ignore it because what can we really do about it? On a smaller level, we know that special effects in movies are fake. And we know that the flawless model on that magazine cover was probably “brushed up” to say the least. But it’s proven that the general consumer is indifferent because at the end of the day – they continue to consume. At the same time, they also might not be aware of what being saturated with violence, stereotypes, or unrealistic ideals of beauty can do to the unconscious mind. Biases like these are inevitable. And this is where media psychologists come in – bringing awareness to the influence media can have on the lives of different individuals and cultures.

Sources:

Vocabulary.com (n.d.) Retrieved August 24, 2013 from https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/bias

Stormfront (n.d) Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://web.archive.org/web/20130318024725/http://www.martinlutherking.org/thebeast.html

Shermer, Michael. June 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2013 from http://www.michaelshermer.com/2009/06/baloney-detection-kit/

The OWL at Purdue (n.d.) Retrieved August 20, 2013 from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/03/

The Photoshop Effect [Video File]. Retrieved August 20, 2013 from  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP31r70_QNM&feature=related

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This entry was posted on 08/25/2013 by in PSY 700 and tagged , , , , .
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