How to Detect Bias on the Internet
The internet is a great resource. A vast array of information, products and opinions are at your fingertips. However, not everything on the internet is true, worthwhile or correct. Here are five things to keep an eye out for on the internet, examples and questions to ask yourself to avoid being victim to those things.
Bias - Bias is defined as â€œprejudice in favour or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.â€ Bias pops up all over the place. Bias can be quite subtle, a single phrase that shows favour, or it can be blatantly obvious. The subtle bias is the most dangerous, as it gives the illusion of being neutral. Personally, I am biased to the Left. Conservatives complain about the Liberal bias of media while Liberals complain about the Conservative bias of other media.
Example: Conservapedia - One good thing about Conservapedia is that itâ€™s bias is obvious and blatant. They actively advertise the fact that they have a far right bias. A terrific example of this is on their page for Barack Obama. This article is full of hidden and not-so-hidden insults against the President-Elect, things that have little or no factual basis are given the same amount of attention as things that do. Moreover, reading the Barack Obama article, you would have a hard time telling that he will be the next President, since they hardly mention the fact that he won the election.
Ask yourself: Does this website have a political reason do say what they do?
Crazy people - With the internet, anyone, anyone at all can create and maintain a website. A certain amount of people in the world are simply crazy, and a certain percentage of the crazy people in the world will create websites. Some can be fairly innocuous, but others can be downright offensive. The worst of these are the convincing ones that want your money.
Example: The Time Cube - The Time Cube is a great example of a fairly harmless, but offensive crazy person. Time Cube is a strange, borderline non-sensical idea about time, the world and everything. I cannot even begin to explain what the person is trying to say. Incidentally, if I had put Conservapedia as an example here, that would be a perfect example of bias.
Ask yourself: Do the claims of this site make any sense? Does it resort to logical fallacies to make itâ€™s point?
Blatant liars - People lie. In person, we lie. On the internet, we lie a lot. It is so easy to lie on the internet. â€œI am a ninety pound blonde woman with double D breasts.â€ It would be really hard for any reader to disprove that until we actually met.
Example: Craigslist - A great place to find people who lie is the Craigslist personals site. Almost everyone lies a little in a personal ad. They are a little heavier, a little shorter and a lot less â€˜down to earthâ€™ than they claim to be.
Ask yourself: Does this person have any reason to lie? Does anything they say not really add up?
Ulterior motives - This is like bias, but for reasons other than personal opinion. Some websites are paid to exhibit certain biases.
Example: Gamespot - For example, take the website Gamespot. A while ago, they were being supported with ad revenue from the company Electronic Arts. Electronic Arts makes video games and Gamespot reviews video games. This is something called â€˜conflict of interestâ€™. When a game published by EA called â€˜Kane and Lynchâ€™ got less than stellar reviews, Gamespot allegedly fired the person who reviewed it. In light of this, it would probably be less likely for a reviewer to give an honest review of a game if the company that made that game supported Gamespot.
Ask yourself: Where does the money for this site come from?
People of differing tastes - There is also the simple matter of taste. While not as blatantly deceptive as some of the items on this list, differing opinions can lead to their own set of problems. Fortunately, with the internet, it is very easy to find a different perspective on almost any problem. Even if nine out of ten people agree, it doesnâ€™t mean that you wonâ€™t side with the other one person.
Example: Rotten Tomatoes - Personally, I thought the movie â€˜Spiderman IIâ€™ was one of the worst films I have ever seen. Yet, according to 215 of 230 film critics on rottentomatoes.com, it was a great film.
Ask yourself: What kind of taste does the website creator have? Have I agreed with them in the past? If my favourite movie is on a film critics worst-ever list, I probably wonâ€™t agree with most of their reviews.
In general, always ask the following: who is this person and why should I believe them?