Recognizing Confirmation Bias in Digital Age

Examples of confirmation bias

During the past 4 years working with middle school students in a Social Studies class, I have observed that students are more concerned with content relevance than with credibility, they are more likely to choose information that meets their judgments which are often vague, superficial, and lacking in reasoned justification, and they are more likely to believe information confirming existing beliefs and ideas of themselves, parents, or social groups they belong to. 

Confirmation bias is the “tendency to cherry-pick information that confirms our existing beliefs or ideas.” (Street, 2019). The tendency to confirm existing beliefs, rather than questioning them or seeking new ones became more concerning in the digital age among our students who access all kinds of information through technology. According to ISTE standard 3B, supporting students to evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources by recognizing the influence of confirmation bias becomes urgent. 

First, we must understand how confirmation bias works in our brains. According to Street (2019), human brains prefer to take shortcuts without using mental energy to evaluate evidence, especially since we are now constantly receiving new information and have to make complex choices under pressure in the digital age. Accepting information that confirms our belief is much easier and less metal energy consuming. Therefore, our brains tend to avoid contradicting information. It makes confirmation bias to be fundamental to our brain and reality that we might not even realize it is happening. 

Street (2019) argued that it is impossible to overcome confirmation bias without an awareness of the concept and behavior. Critically thinking is more motivated to happen when we are held accountable by others. “If we are expected to justify our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors to others, we are less likely to be biased towards confirmatory evidence.”

In the article “Enhance Digital Citizenship with this lesson on Confirmation Bias”, the author used the example of how the human brain is similar to computers in that it takes inputs, processes them and then produces outputs to explain brains can be hacked by bias. 

He listed out the steps for teacher to help students to confront confirmation bias by using examples in a lesson plan:

  1. Define Confirmation Bias
  2. Conceptualize Confirmation Bias With an Activity
  3. Connect Confirmation Bias and Digital Citizenship
  4. Develop Strategies to Overcome Confirmation Bias
  5. Put These Strategies into Action

The author also shared strategies for students to improve their reasoning process. 

  • If you have an opinion on a subject, assume that said opinion is wrong.
  • When looking for evidence (inputs), look for evidence that may poke holes in the original point of view.
  • The more inputs (evidence) you have, the more outputs (data, facts) you can produce.
  • Verify that your information is coming from a reliable source.
  • Always be willing to change your mind in the face of more evidence.
Https://Equip.Learning.Com/Digital-Citizenship-Confirmation-Bias.

In conclusion, we must commit to the hard work to recognize and analyze how our biases have shaped us and our society. According to Diddams (2021), while questioning our own beliefs is difficult since biases also create blind spots, the power of unity can support us and our students to be more successful in dealing with biased beliefs in the digital age. 

Reference

Arreola, M. (2020, June 26). Enhance Digital Citizenship With This Lesson on Confirmation Bias. Https://Equip.Learning.Com/Digital-Citizenship-Confirmation-Bias.

Street, F. (2019, August 3). Confirmation Bias And the Power of Disconfirming Evidence. Farnam Street. https://fs.blog/2017/05/confirmation-bias/

Diddams, M. (2021, February 3). The Rationality of Irrationality. https://christianscholars.com/the-rationality-of-irrationality/

Confirmation Bias in Digital Resources

ISTE standard 7a – to inspire and encourage educators and students to use technology for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve their communities. 

Civic engagement and community involvement require young adults to understand diversity, cultural understanding, and global awareness by using technology and digital communication tools to tackle and challenge issues in the community. Digital resources offer different lenses and varieties of perspectives for individuals to select and consume information. How can we help students to develop vastly different understandings of the basic facts of a digital information? How can we confront confirmation bias in digital age?  

Bias is a tendency to believe that some people or ideas are better than others, which often results in treating some people unfairly. According to Nickerson (1998), confirmation bias is the term is typically used in the psychological literature, “connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand”. Nickerson(1998) also explained that when confirmation bias in action, an individual thinks they know something, they are satisfied by an explanation that confirms their belief, without necessarily considering all possible other explanations, and regardless of the veracity of this information. Therefore, confirmation bias is affected by our implicit biases and it can block individuals from the gaining correct information about current events happening around the community and the world.  

Don't let confirmation bias narrow your perspective — News Literacy Project

One example from Caitlin Dewey (2015), a Washington Post journalist, “Facebook user showed a photo of a protest at an Islamic education center in Dearborn, Mich., and he claimed that it was a photo of a pro-ISIS protest. In fact, it was from a peace rally that that Islamic center holds every year, and even though we were able to very clearly document that that’s what it was, that it happened every year, that it had been covered in local paper and things like that, that photo still continued to spread on Facebook with this misinformation that it was a pro-ISIS rally.”  

“Particularly social media, bias enters through the backdoor of design optimization in which the humans who create the algorithms and hidden from view.” (Ruha, 2019, 5-6) It is important to raise internet users’ awareness of their confirmation bias. Key to this is to help them understand their own implicit bias and to question whether information should be trusted or not.  

In the article of “How to Detect Bias in News Media”, it lists strategies to challenge confirmation bias in news media by asking ourselves questions:  

  • Who are the sources? Political perspective of the sources used in a story often tend to serve as megaphones for those in power.  
  • Is there a lack of diversity? Did the media reflect the diversity of the community they sever?  
  • Whose point of view is the news reported? Did the people evolve in the issue have their voice in the media?  
  • Are these double standards? Search for parallel example or similar stories that were reported differently.  
  • Do stereotypes skew coverage? Did the article or news involve in stereotypes and characterize individuals unfairly? 
  • Who are the sources? Political perspective of the sources used in a story often tend to serve as megaphones for those in power.  
  • Is there a lack of diversity? Did the media reflect the diversity of the community they sever?  
  • Whose point of view is the news reported? Did the people evolve in the issue have their voice in the media?  
  • Are these double standards? Search for parallel example or similar stories that were reported differently.  
  • Do stereotypes skew coverage? Did the article or news involve in stereotypes and characterize individuals unfairly? 

Media sources have tremendous power in influencing young people’s belief or perspectives toward their community and individuals in their community. Confirmation bias is especially harmful while individuals are not aware of their implicit bias and lack of reflection to examine the bias in digital sources. Educators should use the reflection questions to help our students establish conscious attitudes and beliefs to challenge bias in the digital age. It is an important step working toward for civic engagement and to address challenges to improve our communities. 

TOP 17 MEDIA BIAS QUOTES | A-Z Quotes

References 

Nickerson, R.S. (1998). Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises. Review of General Psychology, 2, 175 – 220. 

Ruha Benjamin, “Introduction,” Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (Medford, MA: Polity, 2019), 1-32