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True or False? It Depends.

[By Nora Jacobs, Hennes Communications]

When we talk to clients about the challenges of communicating about an issue they are facing, we often discuss the phenomenon of “confirmation bias” – the tendency individuals have to believe facts that support their personal points of view while rejecting similarly legitimate facts that run counter to their personal beliefs and biases.  With more and more individuals relying on Facebook or Twitter as their primary news sources, the influence of confirmation bias has grown exponentially, primarily because on these social media sites and others, individuals naturally tend to follow the friends and groups that share their points of view.

Confirmation bias has also provided fertile ground for the rampant growth of fake news.  If you read a story online a friend has shared, you’re quite likely to accept what you’ve read as fact, whether the source is well-established or not.  Items you read from independent sources have a harder time overcoming your skepticism, and items you happen to encounter from sources you believe are biased (those that don’t support your beliefs and points of view), face an uphill struggle to gain your acceptance.

The American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs recently undertook an interesting study of 1,489 American adults to determine the process they use to assess the trustfulness of news sources.  The results, reported in this article from the Columbia Journalism Review, “indicate that people will have reservations about an article when they decidedly know and distrust the source, but not when they just don’t know about the source.”  A sobering finding to consider, especially when your organization is battling fake news posted by obscure online “authorities.”


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