To believe or not believe: Misinformation and biases in the wake of the pandemic

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 7:00 PM EST
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NORTH CENTRAL, W.Va (WDTV) - During the pandemic, there has been a spread of information about COVID-19 with different ideas and beliefs behind every written word, but how to determine truth verses misinformation is the occasional challenge.

“I think everybody makes mistakes, the question is are you consuming a source that’s willing to correct that mistake and admit mistakes,” Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, and associate professor of communication studies at WVU.

She defined misinformation as something that isn’t true or something that hasn’t had enough evidence to be proven true.

When it comes to discovering what information is worth taking in, Cohen said there’s a few red flags to consider like is an author’s name attached? What background information do you know about the website you’re on?

Dr. Cohen says these are red flags that could potentially show signs of misinformation.
Dr. Cohen says these are red flags that could potentially show signs of misinformation.(Veronica Ogbe)

But Dr. Cohen says there’s an even bigger question to ask yourself.

“When you read an article and you do find yourself agreeing with it, ask yourself, ‘Why do I like this article so much?’ It might not change your beliefs outright, but the more aware you can become of your own biases going into things, the more resistant you’re going to be to letting those natural but potentially detrimental cognitive biases clog your judgement,” she said.

It’s called confirmation bias where you’re more likely to put weight into information that aligns with what you believe. Cohen said that doesn’t mean you’re wrong, but it can build a wall that blocks the ability to grow your mind. So the next time you decide to sit in front of a computer or television screen, Cohen said there’s a larger takeaway than what’s presented in front of you.

“The most valuable skill you can learn as an information consumer is to check your own biases,” she said.

Cohen also mentioned that these biases can’t be broken out of completely, but just being cautious as you’re taking in information, asking yourself questions and having conversations with others will at least allow you to accept new information even if you disagree.

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