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Earlier this year, waves of farmer protests erupted in India in response to three new farmer bills. Inclined to research and analyse the bills, what was supposed to be a crisp 2.5-4 page write up started with a 23 page collation of information from well over 40 sources and endless questions. It was in the middle of that project when I wrote this post’s prompt, “acknowledging the comfort zone of opinions.”
"what are your favourite news sources?"
I’ve conducted interviews assessing applicants to take up positions in Model UN conferences. One of my go-to questions has been, “what are your favourite news sources?” Applicants often drew lines between biased and unbiased sources while answering. Mostly, what was categorised as ‘biased’ by one, was categorised as “unbiased” by another.
“Bias is anything that doesn’t agree with me.”– Said no one ever … directly at least.
Why do people have certain views they are committed to?
Why are people not open to changing their beliefs?
Why do people think their views are better than others?
Coming back to my research on the Indian agricultural bills of 2020, many of the sources I encountered presented a one-sided view that the bills are a messiah to Indian agriculture. Not just did they refuse to acknowledge potential difficulties and challenges, but they also made no mention of the farmer protests. I asked, why? Many other sources I encountered painted the bills as a “death warrant” of farmers but did not adequately explain why the bills are a death warrant of farmers. Again, why?
However, this wasn’t the case with every source. Many did explain the logic, statistics, and other references behind their claims. Yet, we cannot ignore the possible consequences of using lesser diverse sources.
People may assume that sources that don’t conform to their opinions are ‘biased’. Humans have a tendency to avoid difficult conversations as they make them uncomfortable. Perhaps this is why there was a polar divide in the answers I received during my MUN interviews. Their definition of bias revolved around their opinions.
Most media outlets won’t be giving fake news as such, but they will resort to half-reporting, misreporting, and interpreting situations through a filter or agenda. To be able to understand a scenario properly, extensive research with constant questioning, thought, and critical analysis is required.
Islamophobic people would easily believe that Islam [apparently] promotes violence by quoting verses from the Quran. However, their interpretation of those verses also stems not from Sahih Tafsir (authentic interpretations) but from someone who either: (a) has a hateful agenda, therefore purposely took it out of context; or (b) also referred to an out-of-context source.
What To Do About Bias?
It would be wrong if I were to say that I was born with a PhD on preventing confirmation bias. Looking back, I can admit that I’ve often began research with a conclusion first. However, while working on the piece on the Indian Agricultural Bills, among other works, I laid out a series of unbiased questions before and through the course of my research questioning both proponents and protesters against the bills.
- Exit your comfort zone- spend proper time and effort researching.
- Challenge your brain- be critical and inquisitive about what you read online.
By being objectively inquisitive, not only are you preventing yourself from holding subconscious biases, but also protecting yourself from mis/underinforming articles.
- Read content produced by those who don’t share your opinion.
- Engage in civil conversations with people who don’t agree with you.
Not only will you better protect yourself from subconscious confirmation bias, but also other forms of bias. Bonus point: if your opinion was free from bias, exposure to content that challenges your views will compel you to research further and know better how to tackle that field. Plus, you further develop intellect.
“If you can put yourself in a frame of mind where you feel more comfortable in admitting that you might be wrong. You can be more unbiased.”[Video Source]
Oftentimes, the most vocal and confident backers of a movement are also the ones who know the least about it. There could be a possible connection between confirmation bias and the Dunning-Kruger effect- according to which, people fail to recognise their lack of knowledge in a subject and therefore think that they know a lot about it.
By being aware of such psychological phenomena, we actively protect ourselves from misleading news and biases.
However, the benefits of this can only be effectively reaped with effort and patience. The latter is required as immediate reactions can be risky. Take a step back, evaluate, research, analyse, then return to the scene. Reading one Instagram post/story does not give you enough qualifications to adequately report on issue(s).