Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Editorial: Confirmation bias

(Editorial Cartoon by Josua Cabrera)

TODAY, the official campaign period for the senatorial and party-list race kicks off. No surprises, though, since the unofficial anyway has been as omnipresent as your burger mascot.

The full-blown showdown starts today, though, and the usual cycle of political rhetoric barrages all communication channels imaginable. This will be another test case on how far sobriety can push back against the tide of fake news, historical revisionism, and press freedom.

The public has since picked up a good number of lessons from the 2016 elections, having seen it as the virtual world’s version of a messy free-for-all. In the period between then and now, different sectors—academe, church, press, civil society groups—took up the challenge in promoting healthier public discourse, arming the populace with media literacy, discussing ways to counter messages that are detrimental to clarity and democracy.

We have seen and were surprised at how even the best among us fell gullible to even the poorest clad of propaganda. As science writer Michael Shermer once said, “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.”

There is a term in the science of human psychology that is nothing but crucial in the age of social media and algorithm—confirmation bias.

Simply put, it is that human tendency to “interpret, favor and recall information” in such a way that it confirms what one already believes in. People tend to nurture even the vaguest of information and bend it to confirm one’s preexisting beliefs.

Online, you click only the things that you like, but the tricky part is that what is visible to you had already been decided upon by artificial intelligence, by algorithm. The infinite space of the Internet has actually consigned you to an eco-chamber of sorts.

Given this scheme, there is no jumbling of political messages in the campaign season. There is only a narrowing, a compartmentalization of audience and rhetoric. The sway game only gets interesting where the bulk of the undecided is hefty.

And then we’re back to traditional media—the good old gatekeepers that were trained to have better eyes on relevance, context, topped with its supposed contract with public trust. Its diversity of coverage may yet help ease the reading public out of some preset notions.


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