Saturday, October 16, 2021

Frank Newman: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe rabbit hole


Some things, you just can't make up. Here's a very earnest story in Stuff about why anyone with a different opinion to you is wrong. 

It comes down to rabbit holes. 

But  I will let the author tell the story himself.  Here it is.


Why do we believe things that aren’t true? And why do we struggle to change our minds, even when shown evidence that we’re wrong.

One answer is a hardwired part of human psychology, which makes us particularly vulnerable to online misinformation and disinformation. It’s called “confirmation bias”.

A basic summary: Confirmation bias means we look for information that supports our beliefs and dismiss information that doesn’t. Over time, this hardens our point of view and makes us less willing to accept or understand other arguments.

Let’s say you believe people driving green cars are worse than blue car drivers. You might see a green car driver cut you off, and interpret that as proof you were correct. But what if a blue car driver cuts you off? You might dismiss it as just a bad driver.

Research tells us no one is immune to confirmation bias. It has no link to intelligence or education: It affects scientists, journalists, plumbers, teachers. If you think it doesn’t apply to you, you are likely falling prey to the blind spot bias.

Studies suggest confirmation bias is tied to our brain chemistry. Finding information we think confirms our views creates a dopamine hit, much like listening to music or eating a nice dinner.

This phenomenon likely had an evolutionary function but has become problematic in the internet era.

Social media algorithms push us towards information we want to see, which inevitably reinforces our biases and makes us feel good. This is the “rabbit hole” — an endless loop that tells us everything we believe is correct, warping our view of the world.

This is evident in groups opposed to the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. For example, if you believe Covid-19 vaccines cause widespread deaths, you might speculate a vaccinated person who died from natural causes actually died from the vaccine — doing so reinforces your belief, which is pleasurable, even if there’s no evidence to support that view. It could run the other way, too. If you accept the vaccines are safe, you might dismiss cases of side effects potentially linked to vaccination, because that too, reinforces your belief.

There are ways for us to break our confirmation biases, but it’s not easy. One method is to continually ask ourselves if we’re trying to build a one-sided case: Are we looking at a wide range of sources, and making sure those sources are reliable, and not just telling us what we already think?

Ultimately, it comes down to making sure we don’t end up in a rabbit hole, and being alert that our brains are prone to biases we’re not always conscious of.

So that clears it up nicely. We now know everyone is at risk of going down a rabbit hole. Stuff journalists may be an exception to the rule, but for the sake of argument, let's assume they are prone to rabbit holes just like every other journalist; and scientists, plumbers, teachers and presumably every other occupation including those without occupations.

Isn't that why Stuff should publish two sides of each rabbit hole? That way, a reader can choose which rabbit hole they go down.

It's why they should ask themselves "are we trying to build a one-sided rabbit hole" well before they type the first word to a story.

And it's why the media should avoid the $55 million snare at the entrance to the rabbit hole. It's sign-posted and not hard to see - "The Public Interest Journalism Fund - please enter".

The other little gem is this. We now know that if we feel we are heading down a rabbit hole, we could instead get the same pleasure from listening to music or eating a nice dinner. 

It's so good having options. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe: Barry Manilow, sausages and chips, or rabbit hole?

Frank Newman, is a political commentator, investment analyst, and a former local body councillor.


Janine said...

Gosh Frank, somebody save us from these people! If a person is affected by a situation, say, they have lost their business through " covid 19",or they can no longer swim or go boating in their favourite spot because, well, some other group has superior rights, or their groceries have gone up mightily in the last few months but their pay packet hasn't that is " fact" and it is "caused" by someone or something. The said people are not seeing something through a different lens they are simply seeing it as it is. Actually, they are seeing it correctly.

Who actually trains these journalists? It is quite concerning really that people are being presented with this nonsense to read. This because most people seem too unwilling or too busy to seek the truth. The journalists seem too lazy to do the research.

We can see this now with the different government policies which are clearly designed to benefit one group of the population whichever way they try and spin it. I believe some of these journalists can see it but choose to keep pushing the government agenda.

DeeM said...

This should be compulsory reading for every MSM journalist, university academic and government minister. It will probably be removed from Stuff's website - deemed mis AND disinformation!
Applying Charlie's words to politics in NZ, the article could just as easily read:-
"Let’s say you believe people who vote National or ACT are profoundly evil whereas those that vote Labour or Greens are to be worshiped and obeyed...with some financial inducement. You might hear a National/ACT voter disagreeing with your point of view, and interpret that as proof they are followers of Satan. But what if a Left/Greens voter disagrees? You might dismiss it as them being just in need of a refresher cultural education course on colonialism and white supremacy...with a free He Puapua workbook on successful completion"

I like this bit though "Finding information we think confirms our views creates a dopamine hit". I think that should read DOPE-amine hit in the case of the MSM because that is all they do.
But this is the best - "This phenomenon likely had an evolutionary function but has become problematic in the internet era." Yes, problematic all right. People holding different opinions really is a big problem and needs to be stamped out, Charlie.

R R B said...

I have another method of dealing with media credibility- who tells lies and manipulates the truth and who is shown to be truthful.
Guess which one I stop taking notice of?
Reputations, good or bad, can last forever.

Anonymous said...

I was having exactly the same thought. Google’s mission is to index all of the world’s knowledge…but YouTube’s algorithms track your preferences and offer you more of the same. Confirmation bias is thus baked in. This same dynamic bites me with reading Amazon books online. With lockdown you can run out of ‘good’ choices and buy some duds. Very soon Amazon is recommending nothing but duds based on your bad choices. Well done Frank for reminding us so eloquently.