This week CNN Tech posted an opinion article by Gregory Ferenstein entitled How Web Journalism Can Make People Seem Hateful. In the article, Ferenstein posits that online news outlets, particularly ones representing polarizing political viewpoints, often leap on the opportunity to misinterpret out-of-context quotes, a facial expression caught on camera, edited video clips, and other scant evidence if such evidence advances their agenda – and the vehicle of the web allows those misinterpretations to spread with amazing speed because so many people accept and share these divisive stories.
This human tendency to perceive things in a way that favors our worldview is known as motivated cognition and can impact everything from politics to relationships to which team we perceive committed the most fouls in last night’s game (the other team, of course). The explosion of news outlets that tailor stories to reinforce a particular worldview make it all too easy for netizens to “[seal] themselves inside an echo chamber of their own beliefs.”
Ferenstein suggests that one reason this situation continues to worsen is that bloggers are “unencumbered by the integrity of balance” expected in “traditional journalistic neutrality.” He has a point. But on the other hand, biased journalism has been around for centuries in print, on the radio, on television, and elsewhere. The locus of responsibility continues to rest with readers/viewers/listeners.
So ask yourself – do you take the time to read divergent points of view? Do you seek news stories and other articles with opinions that challenge your own? Or do you segregate yourself in an “echo chamber of your own beliefs”? Both (and more than two) perspectives are just a few clicks away. Listen to their stories. Question their conclusions. Find and examine their evidence. Then decide how (or if) you choose to let their stories shape your worldview. If you have questions as you engage in this process, feel free to stop by the library.