Finding Truth in the Alternative Facts Age
We are all guilty of only reading news and having conversations that confirm our political beliefs. All of us fall victim to confirmation bias, and echo chambers are where a lot of us choose to stay — being comfortable in our little box. Furthermore, the rampant spread of fake news is contributing to misinformation as well. However, this is getting us nowhere closer to the truth and making progress on the political and social issues of our society.
But, there’s got to be something else going on here as well. How was Donald Trump able to tell more than 2,400 false or misleading claims in his first 400 days of office without his supporters batting an eye? Furthermore, why does it mean nothing when fact checkers, journalists, opposing politicians, and the general public call him out on his lies? The answer might be a combination of several different dangerous, yet inconspicuous concepts.
Confirmation bias is extremely hazardous, and we are all guilty of it. How many times have you clicked the share button because you’ve agreed with someone’s statement, or that they backed up a belief of yours? While sharing the occasional motivational quote or empowering photo isn’t dangerous itself, if we extend this to affirm actual truth without checking our sources, we may be doing great harm to the notion of truth.
Confirmation bias is when we are presented with an objective fact or piece of information and tend to pick and choose the parts that confirm or back up our existing beliefs — choosing to ignore the rest. When we consume information this way, taking things out of context, it is a significant reason that controversial issues cannot be agreed upon. Even when two sides are presented with the same exact information, confirmation bias only creates polarization while further instilling biased beliefs.
For example, we all have the same information and news on the Trump administration. However, we are divided on if we think he is doing great or poorly. This is because of the way we choose to search and consume information. No one wants to find out that they have been wrong about something, and will interpret new information as coinciding with their already existing beliefs. It is because of confirmation bias that we have echo chambers, why Trump can just say a factual statement is fake news and supporters will eat it up, and why alternative facts are threatening news and journalistic integrity today.
The Information Age and Alternative Facts
“If it bleeds, it leads” is a telling adage of how news has become. This statement means, if it is shocking, emotional, etc., people will react to it. In many instances, we are living in an age where sensationalism takes precedence over actual fact. Or, at the very least, taking facts so far out of context that they can be spun to support the exact opposite of what they meant to purport.
Many modern statements and arguments made in the news and social media are full of propaganda techniques — that is, they use lies, misinformation, and inflammatory language to achieve an objective related to a political agenda. This misinformation’s political agenda is to polarize people, dilute the truth, and make it hard to agree on things that should be common knowledge.
Politicians and individuals can now deny scientifically backed issues such as climate change, evolution, and vaccines by skewing facts in favor of their argument. Confirmation bias and polarization will have people blindly agreeing with one side, and not even entertaining the validity of the other — ultimately never coming to a concrete conclusion.
Social Media Doesn’t Help
Social media, a large way people consume their news, is only helping to create this toxic information environment. Due to the algorithms of social media, what they deem popular and push as trending is the most shared and commented upon post, tweet, etc. Guess what posts get shared and commented on the most? Those that make a false claim, usually taking a political side on an issue and blowing it out of proportion. This sparks enormous debates by making one side of an argument into its worst form, enraging some while others defend it. The conversations on social media contain a large number of views, comments, etc., and spread like wildfire.
Long after the debate in the comments section comes to an inconclusive end, no one remembers the discussion, just the fact or claim asserted in the social media post. Confirmation bias and information wars are dangerous because as the public disagrees, legislation still gets passed.
Although steps are being taken to stop social media’s facilitation of fake news, more measures might have to be taken as well. So, how can we reform this misinformation and alternative facts age and come to some sort of agreement to keep us from arguing amongst ourselves while rights continue to become impeded for everyone? It may be hard, but it can be done.
Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Age
In our post-truth era, it will take an honest look at ourselves to get away from echo chambers, and some time to weed out fake news. Ways we can eliminate unethical journalism and false narratives are to overcome our own confirmation biases as well as promote information literacy. It will be difficult, but for us to move forward, we must get out of our comfort zone, or we will never get to the bottom of any issue. We will only continue to be polarized and argue amongst ourselves, never coming to a conclusion on social and political issues. It will take some discipline and training, but overcoming confirmation bias can be done.
The next step in reversing a post-truth era is to change the way we consume information, and encourage others to do the same. It will fall upon us to teach the younger generations how to fully understand the implications of voting and how they come to that conclusion. If we are to reject alternative facts and fake news, we must critically evaluate the sources in which we get our information, and the validity and implications of the information we receive — even if it doesn’t fit with our preconceived notions.
Additionally, reading information from several different, yet vetted sources will help the problem of echo chambers. Information literacy is vital for everyone. However, our younger generations will need to be equipped with the tools to cut through the noise and ultimately be able to determine every facet of a politician. With time, we will be able to vote out politicians who operate through misinformation and fake news. A strong emphasis on information literacy to make the truth the norm is critical in digging out of our post-truth hole.
This post-truth mess we’ve gotten into has been a perfect storm — paving the way for the current administration to connive its way into dividing the country, creating injustices on both sides while we fight amongst ourselves.
It is going to take many people making a conscious effort to set their ego aside and reevaluate their existing beliefs while firmly assessing where they get their information to make the right decisions to get these politicians out of office. Our politicians are making monumental decisions in their best interest while we are preoccupied and polarized. Knowing how to find truth in this day and age is essential for protecting the rights of everyone.
About the Author
Sam Bowman is a writer who enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time, he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.