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I Read the News, Therefore I Am (Prejudiced)

How exposure to news can promote intolerance

When the news is not the news

Recent research shows that exposure to news predicts anti-Muslim prejudice. Why? Well for one thing the media does not seemingly capture the fact that most Islamic organisations promote religious tolerance and peace.

Consider that the primary goal of seeking out the news would be presumed to be to gain an understanding of what is going on in the world. The news certainly makes the world appear a scary place (and of course it is), but it might not be as bad as the media makes out. Bad news travels fast, and ultimately sells papers (or ad clicks).

I recently asked some (older) people close to me why they read the newspaper that they read. Amongst other reasons, such as competitions, they told me that the newspaper has, ‘the best stories’. Stories indeed.

Source: Image from Pexels, used with permission

The news is not necessarily the news. Remember that. Dobelli, discussing the so-called ‘news illusion’, explains that: ‘News is to the mind what sugar is to the body: appetising, easy to digest – and highly addictive in the long run’ (p. 301). Sounds about right.

Research demonstrates that people tend to interpret the news in ways which correspond to their existing beliefs, hence making it a nightmare to argue with someone about current affairs. Their version of the truth is not the same as yours. Stalemate.

Spinning a web of lies

The Internet has been said to foster the spread of bad ideas, and it plays an increasingly more prominent role in our daily lives.

One recent report demonstrates the prominence of social media as an outlet for news, with Facebook being the most important for finding, reading, watching, and sharing news; social media was found to be much more important for women, who were found to be less likely to go directly to a news website, and for young people too.

People do not want to pay for the news, but seemingly do not want to sort through different sources to determine if a resource is accurate or not either. Thankfully, many fact-checking groups are doing the work for us, and their input into our lives may be set to grow. The likes of Facebook will of course chime in, but we need to develop the tools to make decisions for ourselves – not rely on others. This demands critical thinking.

The World Economic Forum lists massive digital misinformation in online social media as one of the biggest threats to society, and rightly so.

Much of what we encounter in the guise of 'news' is anything but.

Enter cyberpsychology

Cyber-what? Cyberpsychology is an emerging sub-discipline, with institutions in UK now offering dedicated degrees. The British Psychological Society is also considering the creation of a new section, to rest alongside more established sub-disciplines such as social psychology.

Source: Image from Pexels, used with permission

Contributions from a wave of recent books demonstrate the obvious benefits of future research from cyberpsychology in better understanding misinformation. For instance, hyperlinks have been shown to distract.

People nowadays of course prefer to have information presented to them in a shorter timeframe, likely impacting on the willingness to fact-check sources.

This sort of thing must be better understood so that citizens are best-equipped to venture online with confidence, to recognise when they are being duped.

For now, there is no shortage of pointers.

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