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Media Literacy and Fact-Checking: Step 3: Check Biases

Identifying Media Bias

All information has a purpose and an intended audience. Ask yourself who the intended audience is and what is the purpose of the information. recommends a series of five questions to ask yourself

  1. Who created this message?
    • Was it created by an individual, a group, an organization, or a company?
  2. Why was the message made?
    •  Is the message's purpose to inform? To entertain? To persuade? (Or some combination?)
    • Who's the message's intended audience?
  3. Who paid (or is paying) for this message?
    • Money motivates a lot of media—who paid to have this message made? 
    • What else have they paid for? What other agendas might they have?
  4. How is the message trying to get your attention?
    • What techniques are being used to grab people's attention? 
    • What techniques are being used to keep people's attention?
  5. Who's represented in the message? And who's missing?
    • Whose points of view and values are represented (or being appealed to)?
    • Whose points of view and values are missing?

Identifying Algorithmic Bias

The news you see might not be the same as the news your neighbor sees. Much of the information we see is delivered by online platforms that are driven by algorithms predicting what we want to see. Broaden your news by intentionally seeking out news that doesn't come to you through a filter. Click on (and read) news from across the spectrum to disrupt the algorithms that shape what is delivered to you.

Tip: Try clicking on news stories from across the spectrum. Not only does it provide you with multiple perspectives on the same issue, it will also confuse the algorithms that drive what information finds you, so that you get more balanced information.

Identifying Your Own Bias

It's important to be aware that we bring our own biases to the information we encounter. Confirmation bias is a well-established tendency to  search for and interpret information in a way that aligns with what we already believe. This bias is so strong that psychologists have found that pain centers of the brain are engaged when we encounter information contrary to our deeply held convictions (Kaplan, Gimbel, & Harris, 2016).

Coupled with algorithmic bias that tends to bring us information that we're predisposed to agree with, it's easy to end up in an echo chamber and let down our guard about fact-checking information that "feels right." That's why it's important to apply fact-checking practices early in the process of encountering new information.

Ask your librarian!