Inside Sources: Talking about confirmation bias and social-media manipulation

Apr 10, 2021, 8:33 AM | Updated: 8:36 am
confirmation bias...
FILE - This March 29, 2018 file photo, shows the logo for social media giant Facebook at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Facebook said Monday Jan. 6, 2020 that it is banning “deepfake” videos, the false but realistic clips created with artificial intelligence and sophisticated tools, as it steps up efforts to fight online manipulation. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — You see what you look for and not what you don’t: confirmation bias.

Counselor Jenny Howe joined ‘Inside Sources’ host Boyd Matheson, former opinion editor at Deseret News, to teach listeners about confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor and recall information in a way that confirms or supports your prior beliefs or values.

Confirmation bias

“Nobody is exempt from [confirmation bias]. Everybody has a brain that is wired to look for things that predict and also protect them from perceived threat, that’s a confirmation bias,” Howe said. “We see things that stick with our beliefs, our values or our internal thought processes.  We disregard the other things. We don’t even know we do this. Our brains are wired to look to for the things that make our beliefs true.”

As an example of confirmation bias, Howe used a person buying a cherry red sports car.

“You’re driving home from the car lot. Pretty soon on the drive home you start to notice a lot of cherry red sports cars. . . . These cars are just popping up everywhere. You start to notice it when it was something that your brain hadn’t even looked for prior to you buying that car,” she said. 

Social media manipulation

A social media algorithm is defined as a set of rules used to rank, filter and organize the content for users within a certain social media platform. Its major role is to show users the content according to their preferences and previous activities on social media.

“In terms of our social media, and especially with our young people who are developing in critical ages, we allow that confirmation bias to become a comparison bias — a rejection of being challenged. How  do we address that?” Boyd asked.

“The biggest thing that we can do is help our kids and ourselves — let’s be honest — understand that these algorithms are created to confer what we naturally want to believe and to create these comparisons,” Howe said. “If we think that what we’re seeing on social media feeds is the reality of the situation, then we’re going to fall into that comparative trap and that sense of rejection.”

Know it to control it

“If we don’t understand how these algorithms are created, and we have no education in that area, then we don’t really know how we’re being manipulated,” Howe said. 

“[Algorithms] were created to manipulate us and use that to their advantage. People need to understand that social media can be a wonderful thing. . . . I think it provides so much connection and solidarity for people, but I think it’s important to understand that they’re using our biggest weapon — our brains — against us. We have to be willing to be intentional about challenge our viewpoints in order to solve this problem,” she said.

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson, who is also the opinion editor of the Deseret News, can be heard weekdays from 11:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.

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Inside Sources: Talking about confirmation bias and social-media manipulation