The PR BlogMedia & PsychologyMedia RelationsConfirmation Bias in Media: The Echo Chamber Challenge

Confirmation Bias in Media: The Echo Chamber Challenge

When human psychology meets algorithms and media logic.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Confirmation bias in the media skews the news.

Fuelled by con­firm­a­tion bias and media logic, echo cham­bers expose news audi­ences mainly to rein­for­cing opin­ions, nar­row­ing and dis­tort­ing their worldview. 

These phe­nom­ena hinder crit­ic­al think­ing, pro­mote mis­in­form­a­tion, and con­trib­ute to soci­et­al polar­isa­tion.

Confirmation bias is a con­stant chal­lenge for PR pro­fes­sion­als.

Here we go:

Enter: Confirmation Bias and Media

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Confirmation Bias in the News Media

Cognitive bias in the media presents a sig­ni­fic­ant issue because it can skew the present­a­tion and inter­pret­a­tion of news, lead­ing to a dis­tor­ted under­stand­ing of events and issues among the public. 

Confirmation bias, the tend­ency to con­sume news that con­firms pre-exist­ing atti­tudes and beliefs, can con­trib­ute to the spread of false news on digit­al plat­forms.”
Source: Digital Journalism 1Ling, R. (2020). Confirmation Bias in the Era of Mobile News Consumption: The Social and Psychological Dimensions. Digital Journalism, 8, 596 – … Continue read­ing

When media con­tent is influ­enced by biases — such as con­firm­a­tion bias, sen­sa­tion­al­ism, or media logic — it tends to favour cer­tain nar­rat­ives or per­spect­ives, often at the expense of a bal­anced and com­pre­hens­ive view. 

This select­ive rep­res­ent­a­tion can rein­force pre-exist­ing beliefs among audi­ences, con­trib­ut­ing to the polar­iz­a­tion of pub­lic opin­ion. It also hampers crit­ic­al think­ing, as people are less exposed to diverse view­points and more likely to accept biased inform­a­tion as truth. 

Confirmation bias is a cog­nit­ive bias in which indi­vidu­als tend to focus on inform­a­tion that sup­ports their exist­ing beliefs, while over­look­ing con­tra­dict­ory inform­a­tion.”
Source: Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning 2Barry, P., & Tribe, L. (2009). Confirmation bias. Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​978 – 1‑4419 – 1428-6_2086

Confirmation bias in media report­ing can per­petu­ate ste­reo­types and mis­in­form­a­tion, influ­en­cing pub­lic opin­ion and policy decisions based on incom­plete or skewed information. 

In an era where media plays a cru­cial role in shap­ing soci­et­al dis­course, cog­nit­ive biases under­mine the cred­ib­il­ity and trust­wor­thi­ness of media out­lets. It poses a broad­er chal­lenge to informed decision-mak­ing and demo­crat­ic pro­cesses in society.

Confirmation bias, amp­li­fied by social media algorithms and media logic, segreg­ates online com­munit­ies into isol­ated inform­a­tion bubbles — echo chambers. 

Learn more: Confirmation Bias in Media: The Echo Chamber Challenge

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Echo Chambers on Digital Platforms

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Echo Chambers on Digital Platforms

Echo cham­bers, amp­li­fied by con­firm­a­tion bias and media logic, pose a sig­ni­fic­ant soci­et­al prob­lem. They cre­ate envir­on­ments where indi­vidu­als are exposed primar­ily to opin­ions and inform­a­tion that rein­force their exist­ing beliefs, lead­ing to a nar­row, often dis­tor­ted worldview. 

Echo cham­bers in social media con­trib­ute to the vir­al spread of mis­in­form­a­tion by act­ing as ini­tial band­wag­ons for com­plex con­ta­gions.”
Source: PLoS ONE 3Törnberg, P. (2018). Echo cham­bers and vir­al mis­in­form­a­tion: Modeling fake news as com­plex con­ta­gion. PLoS ONE, 13. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​3​7​1​/​j​o​u​r​n​a​l​.​p​o​n​e​.​0​2​0​3​958

In echo cham­bers, crit­ic­al think­ing and expos­ure to diverse per­spect­ives are lim­ited, which can con­trib­ute to spread­ing mis­in­form­a­tion and entrench­ing extrem­ist views. 4Silfwer, J. (2018, August 6). How To Fight Populism. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​h​o​w​-​t​o​-​f​i​g​h​t​-​p​o​p​u​l​i​sm/

Echo cham­bers are not just spaces where opin­ions are excluded, but also spaces where beliefs are rein­forced, con­trib­ut­ing to mis­in­form­a­tion and col­lab­or­at­ive res­ist­ance.”
Source: Episteme 5Elzinga, B. (2020). Echo Chambers and Audio Signal Processing. Episteme, 19, 373 – 393. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​e​p​i​.​2​0​2​0​.33

Such isol­a­tion can intensi­fy ideo­lo­gic­al polar­isa­tion, dimin­ish­ing the oppor­tun­ity for con­struct­ive dia­logue and under­stand­ing between dif­fer­ent groups. 

Echo cham­bers can under­mine the demo­crat­ic pro­cess by cre­at­ing frag­men­ted pub­lics, each with its own ‘facts’ and inter­pret­a­tions, mak­ing con­sensus and col­lab­or­at­ive prob­lem-solv­ing increas­ingly challenging. 

Echo cham­bers and epi­stem­ic bubbles are dis­tinct social epi­stem­ic phe­nom­ena, and address­ing them requires dis­tinct inter­ven­tions.”
Source: Episteme 6Nguyen, C. (2018). ECHO CHAMBERS AND EPISTEMIC BUBBLES. Episteme, 17, 141 – 161. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​e​p​i​.​2​0​1​8​.32

Learn more: Echo Chambers: Algorithmic Confirmation Bias

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Media Relations: Debiasing Techniques

Debiasing tech­niques against con­firm­a­tion bias could poten­tially pro­mote human wel­fare by redu­cing ideo­lo­gic­al extrem­ism and fos­ter­ing under­stand­ing among diverse groups.”
Source: Perspectives on Psychological Science 7Lilienfeld, S., Ammirati, R., & Landfield, K. (2009). Giving Debiasing Away: Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare? Perspectives on Psychological … Continue read­ing

As a PR pro­fes­sion­al work­ing with the media, employ­ing debi­as­ing tech­niques is cru­cial to ensure bal­anced and accur­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion. Here are sev­en such techniques:

  • Contrary evid­ence. Actively look for inform­a­tion or view­points con­tra­dict­ing your organ­iz­a­tion’s ini­tial beliefs or claims. This approach helps chal­lenge con­firm­a­tion bias, where one tends to favour inform­a­tion con­firm­ing pre-exist­ing beliefs.
  • Perspective-tak­ing. Deliberately adopt per­spect­ives dif­fer­ent from your own. For instance, con­sider how audi­ences with dif­fer­ent back­grounds or beliefs might inter­pret a story or piece of inform­a­tion. This broadens under­stand­ing and reduces bias in communication.
  • Story invest­ig­a­tion: Before pitch­ing a story or cam­paign, fol­low where it ori­gin­ates from, even if it con­tra­dicts your ini­tial hypo­thes­is or desired nar­rat­ive. This com­mit­ment helps main­tain objectiv­ity and credibility.
  • Consider the oppos­ite. When eval­u­at­ing inform­a­tion or mak­ing decisions, con­sciously con­sider the oppos­ite pos­i­tion of your cur­rent stance. This tech­nique helps recog­nise and mit­ig­ate the influ­ence of one’s biases.
  • Diversify sources. Actively seek out and include diverse sources of inform­a­tion and view­points. This prac­tice pre­vents the echo cham­ber effect and intro­duces a range of per­spect­ives, lead­ing to more bal­anced and nuanced communication.
  • Feedback loops. Regularly seek feed­back from PR col­leagues, espe­cially those with dif­fer­ent view­points. Feedback checks against per­son­al biases and ensures a more thor­ough eval­u­ation of information.

Implementing these debi­as­ing tech­niques in your daily PR prac­tice can sig­ni­fic­antly improve the accur­acy and fair­ness of your media rela­tions, fos­ter­ing great­er under­stand­ing and redu­cing con­firm­a­tion bias.

Confirmation Bias in Organisations

Confirmation bias exists every­where, not just in the media. Organisations them­selves could bene­fit from being vigil­ant against biases influ­en­cing vari­ous intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions practices:

  • Ignoring cus­tom­er feed­back. An organ­isa­tion may over­look neg­at­ive cus­tom­er feed­back and focus only on pos­it­ive com­ments, lead­ing to an inflated view of product satisfaction.
  • Selective data ana­lys­is. An organ­isa­tion might cherry-pick data that sup­ports a suc­cess­ful out­come of a mar­ket­ing cam­paign while ignor­ing data that sug­gests otherwise.
  • Echo cham­bers in decision-mak­ing. In board meet­ings or team dis­cus­sions, if indi­vidu­als only listen to opin­ions that mir­ror their own, it can lead to group­think and poor decision-making.
  • Market trends mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion: A busi­ness may inter­pret mar­ket trends in a way that con­firms its exist­ing strategy, even if the evid­ence sug­gests a need for change.
  • Employee per­form­ance reviews: Managers might give more weight to actions and res­ults that con­firm their pre­con­ceived notions about an employ­ee’s per­form­ance, over­look­ing evid­ence to the contrary.
  • Competitor ana­lys­is: A com­pany may inter­pret com­pet­it­ors’ actions in a way that val­id­ates their stra­tegic choices, rather than object­ively assess­ing the market.
  • Financial fore­casts: Financial ana­lysts might prefer eco­nom­ic indic­at­ors that sup­port their fore­casts, ignor­ing sig­nals that could sug­gest a dif­fer­ent fin­an­cial trend.
  • Innovation res­ist­ance: Organizations may reject innov­at­ive ideas or new tech­no­lo­gies because they con­tra­dict the estab­lished ways of doing things.
  • Crisis response: In hand­ling a crisis, a com­pany might focus only on inform­a­tion that sug­gests they man­age the situ­ation well, ignor­ing warn­ing signs or escal­at­ing issues.
  • Hiring biases: During recruit­ment, HR depart­ments may favour can­did­ates who con­firm their beliefs about the ideal employ­ee, poten­tially over­look­ing more qual­i­fied can­did­ates with dif­fer­ent pro­files or backgrounds.

Please sup­port my PR blog by shar­ing it with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: More Media Logic

The media’s the most power­ful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the inno­cent guilty and to make the guilty inno­cent, and that’s power.”
— Malcolm X

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Ling, R. (2020). Confirmation Bias in the Era of Mobile News Consumption: The Social and Psychological Dimensions. Digital Journalism, 8, 596 – 604. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​8​0​/​2​1​6​7​0​8​1​1​.​2​0​2​0​.​1​7​6​6​987
2 Barry, P., & Tribe, L. (2009). Confirmation bias. Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​978 – 1‑4419 – 1428-6_2086
3 Törnberg, P. (2018). Echo cham­bers and vir­al mis­in­form­a­tion: Modeling fake news as com­plex con­ta­gion. PLoS ONE, 13. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​3​7​1​/​j​o​u​r​n​a​l​.​p​o​n​e​.​0​2​0​3​958
4 Silfwer, J. (2018, August 6). How To Fight Populism. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​h​o​w​-​t​o​-​f​i​g​h​t​-​p​o​p​u​l​i​sm/
5 Elzinga, B. (2020). Echo Chambers and Audio Signal Processing. Episteme, 19, 373 – 393. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​e​p​i​.​2​0​2​0​.33
6 Nguyen, C. (2018). ECHO CHAMBERS AND EPISTEMIC BUBBLES. Episteme, 17, 141 – 161. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​e​p​i​.​2​0​1​8​.32
7 Lilienfeld, S., Ammirati, R., & Landfield, K. (2009). Giving Debiasing Away: Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 390 – 398. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​1​1​/​j​.​1​745 – 6924.2009.01144.x
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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