Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Confirmation-Bias-Based Community

On this week's On the Media, Brooke Gladstone interviews Farhad Manjoo, author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. They discuss how humans filter out undesirable facts. And they talk about how our new media culture reinforces this tendency.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: You use examples from... decades ago to illustrate selective exposure and selective interpretation, but you contend in your book that these are really manifestations of the current media world of blogs and talk radio and email.

FARHAD MANJOO: Yeah. And in this world, there is the front door, the big newspapers and big network news outlets. The side doors are the blogs, talk radio, cable news, which actually draws a very small audience.

These side doors allow us to kind of amplify these factors of selective exposure and selective interpretation, and they make these factors kind of more important today than they were in the past, because in the past, you couldn't really seek out media that comported with your beliefs because, well, there weren't that many media choices...

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you show how false facts on both the right and the left make their way through partisan echo chambers, but you do suggest that conservatives have a different relationship with their media.

FARHAD MANJOO: Right. People have studied how conservative blogs, for instance, link to each other and how liberal blogs link to each other, and they found that the people on the right generally have a tighter network and are more likely to indulge in only those sources.

And this has been a longstanding pattern where psychologists have noticed that people on the right are more efficient at filtering out things that kind of don't really support their views.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: We all know it's really easy to manipulate audio, video, and especially with Photoshop and digital images. But it was interesting – you said that the biggest effect of the Photoshopification of our society is not that it's easier to fool people but that now they have even more reason not to believe the evidence of their eyes and ears if they don't want to.

FARHAD MANJOO: If you live in a world where everything is possibly fake, where every photo you see could have been Photoshopped, it gives you license to dismiss that photo. This is true not only of photos but of basically all kind of documentary evidence that comes at us these days. We can always assume that there's been some digital foul play there and that it's possibly not a truth.

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