Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret information in such a way as to back up your existing beliefs. We see this all the time online.
As a Socialist, I abhor bigotry. I don’t like to see things being shared on social media designed to get a reaction against a specific group.
A good example of this are memes, which is a picture with text laid over the top. I’ve seen plenty of examples along the lines of a picture of a soldier with text explaining he was spat at in the street by a Muslim. The call to action being “share if you’re disgusted by this.”
Some will share it because it chimes with their already held beliefs that are in some way or wholly ‘anti-Muslim’. It will also be shared by people who simply think that a soldier being spat on in the street is a bad thing.
The problem, of course, is that a meme like that has no evidence attached to it whatsoever. All it takes to do something like that is find a picture of a soldier online. A basic grasp of Photoshop to place made up text over it does the rest.
Whenever someone shares something like this, they are being conned. Groups on the reactionary range, from right wing all the way to fully Fascist, like Britain First, can make up and share these things at will. Sharing it is only helping them get attention online, opening a gateway to even more hate.
Aside from that, of course, is where people will share news stories they have found specifically because they already back up their beliefs, political or otherwise.
In itself, there is nothing wrong with this. Of course not. What would be the point in being on social media if you didn’t want to express your point of view? To express who you are?
But, we must all be cautious, and it starts with each of us as individuals to be self critical in what we share.
Being on the ‘wrong side’ of the Brexit argument
It has been highlighted to me in the last year following the EU referendum. I voted leave from a left wing, internationalist perspective. I think the EU is a bosses club, and is less democratic than our own structures.
I’m certainly not the standard definition of a racist Leave voter. I don’t have any problem with immigration whatsoever, and welcome refugees with open arms. I just don’t think immigration should simply be from within the EU.
I’m also opposed to the EU with their gunships in the Mediterranean forcing refugees fleeing war zones to take ever more dangerous routes to escape. There are many bodies being pulled from those waters where the responsibility lies in Brussels.
Being a left winger most of my friends where very strongly in favour of a Remain vote. Perfectly understandable given the vicious racism and lies of the majority of the official Leave campaign.
Facebook becomes an ‘echo chamber’ for each of us. It notes all the things you ‘like’ and ‘share’, and cultivates your newsfeed accordingly. As such, it makes you believe everyone is thinking the same as you. Everything else, no matter how real, is filtered out.
This meant that for once I got to step back and see what a broadly liberal/left wing group of people are sharing on social media. It becomes clear that confirmation bias is certainly not restricted to the right.
On the issue of Brexit, various stories have been jumped on to confirm that the referendum result has been disastrous.
Immediately following the vote the markets slumped. Remain voters cried “see, I knew this was going to happen. We are going to have a recession because of Brexit!”
Within a couple of months it became clear that the markets had recovered significantly, and the forecasts improved as well. In response to this I saw the same people say “well of course the markets are fine, Brexit hasn’t actually happened yet!”
In other words, they have decided that Brexit will definitely be bad. A shit-tinted glasses view is applied when reading any story about our political and economic future. Black and white, never grey.
Of course, the most ardent Leave voters are exactly the same. Of course they are. Still doesn’t make it right though.
Amber Rudd’s ‘Hate Incident’
I’m writing this blog because of a news story that has appeared time and again on my social media feeds in the last few days. The story concerns Tory home secretary Amber Rudd, and the headline is:
I don’t like Amber Rudd or the Tories, but this story has been shared so many times because of the implications of the headline, which are misleading.
When you read the article it makes very clear that a complaint was made by an individual to the police following a speech by Amber Rudd discussing immigration. The individual complained saying they considered it to be ‘hate speech’.
The police investigated and decided this complaint was without merit, and so dropped the case. However, they are required to record all complaints, even if they don’t go anywhere. As such, this complaint got recorded as a ‘hate incident’.
So, in the end, this story is simply that one person complained to the police about a speech by a politician, and they decided not to take it any further.
It’s clear to me though that it was shared extensively mostly because people simply saw the headline, and made up their own story to suit their point of view.
I also think Amber Rudd is a shit house, don’t get me wrong, but this is a non story. Whether you come from the left, right, or centre, when sharing on Social media we all have a duty to check what we are posting.
If you are posting a news story, actually read the damn thing first so you know what it’s about rather than just because you like what you think it seems to be saying.
As for memes, etc, if they are purporting to be sharing ‘facts’, best check they are real. There are plenty of great jokes memes out there that sum up a position on a news story really well. I’m not against them, just be careful.
I’ve been caught out by it before, and I’m sure I will be again, but I will do my best to be careful with what I share online. There’s enough bullshit out there as it is, without dumping another bucketful on top of the pile.