Updated: Oct 25, 2020
I had an analog childhood, and a digital early adulthood. Now I’m watching my children grow up in the era of digital media. They ask me to share with them what it was liking growing up in “the olden days,” as they call it.
So I tell them about how I woke up on Saturday mornings when cartoons were scheduled to air in America, and tell the kids I didn’t have a choice in what to watch; I had to choose between whatever shows were playing that morning on the three channels I had. I definitely couldn’t pick whatever I wanted on demand like my kids can with Netflix, or scroll through YouTube Kids to discover new shows. My kids are fascinated by this lack of choice.
We’re approaching the upcoming elections, and are being flooded with political messaging. In the digital era where we are tethered to our cell phones, what does the ability to have so much information in our hands have on how we consume the news?
Today we can choose what to watch and when to watch it. Even our favorite news sources are just a click away on demand. This may result in us choosing only content that fits with our worldview, so we may be getting stuck in echo chambers.
It may also result in extreme political opinions getting amplified on social media. Social media on one hand has helped democratize ideas. On the other hand, social media works by rewarding extreme views over moderate viewswith more likes, shares and comments.
This may lead to the amplification of extreme partisan views and sometimes facts that are not even accurate. Research shows that fake news often outperforms the truth. For example, one study found that fake news was 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than accurate news.
Social media may serve to shrink our world views rather than expand our world views—if we only consume like-minded voices.
Look at how social media algorithms, or formulas, work to keep you engaged on the platform based on your likes and dislikes. Social media is created to give you more of the content you want, and not to necessarily help you explore opposing opinions. If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma, it offers an interesting take on how social media impacts everything from mental health to democracy.
When it comes to traditional media, 84% of say that the news media is vital for democracy to provide accurate information and hold those in power accountable, according to a survey of 20,000 Americans by the Gallup and Knight Foundation. The same survey found that half of all Americans think the media is very biased.
So what do you do to check your unconscious bias and bias in the content you’re consuming? Here are some ideas for thinking critically about what you’re consuming.
Challenge your views. Do you make an active effort to read articles featuring views that oppose your own? Stay open and curious about viewpoints that differ from your own. Try reading something you disagree with at least once a week from a credible source—rather than a source that hasn’t been fact checked or is sensationalist. (Studies suggest that could only serve to further reinforce your point of view.)
Follow the experts. Research subject matter experts on the topics you care about and follow them online to get curated content. Dig deeper into their articles rather than only reading the headlines. (Some studies suggest a majority of people may read only the headlines.)
Verify the information. Look to see when an article was last updated to make sure it is still current, or if it was fact checked.
Pay attention to all sides before you decide. Read about all viewpoints before you take a stand. An example would be to watch both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention to more fully educate yourself about the narrative from each side.
Being more aware of biases, both of our own and those of the content creators, can help us to think more critically about the messages we’re consuming, and how they shape our world view.
Article originally published in Forbes.