If you stay on top of trends related to journalism and the state of the news media industry in general, there is a good chance you have seen or heard the term “infodemic” mentioned in relation to the news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Infodemic is a buzzword meant to describe an avalanche of information that spreads even more rapidly than SARS-CoV-2; while this avalanche includes factual and accurate information, it has an unfortunate effect of amplifying inaccurate reports as well as propaganda.
An interesting aspect of the infodemic is that the term did not originate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The term dates back to the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Hong Kong, which became a regional epidemic in some parts of Asia. It is only fitting that the COVID-19 pandemic reinvigorated the use of this term.
As can be imagined, the infodemic introduces a series of problems inherent to what is known as media bias, and which is inherent. This analysis will give you an idea about why media bias can get in the way of becoming informed about certain topics. Bias is not always tied to ideology; in many cases, it serves a commercial purpose, but it can also distort the perception of news media by individuals who are not aware of it.
Understanding media bias is the first step towards becoming an educated news consumer. To this effect, here are three steps you can take to recognize bias and filter out its deleterious effects.
Question Your Own News Media Habits
Most of us fall into the various traps of the infodemic without even realizing our own proclivity for confirmation bias. To a certain extent, this universal trait is what executives of major social networks such as Facebook exploit to make millions in advertising revenue.
The best way to handle confirmation bias is to acknowledge its limitations. If you stubbornly believe that Santa Claus was responsible for the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, you will likely read fake news updates that confirm what you already believe in when they come across your Facebook news feed. Moreover, you will be tempted to share such news stories with members within your social media circles.
Research News Media Organizations
Media bias is not always concealed; in many cases, it is telegraphed to audiences even though we don’t often get the message. In the United States, for example, it is not unusual for cable television networks to wear their bias on their sleeves. Fox News makes no qualms about appealing to certain audiences, and the same can be said about CNN or MSNBC. A good way of checking news organization bias is to review its Wikipedia page and focus on the sections about political leanings, ownership structure, and style of reporting.
Balance Skepticism With an Open Mind
Being reasonably skeptical involves checking out what fact-checking organizations have to say about news reports that seem incorrect, inaccurate, or downright fake. Having an open mind means reviewing what various news sources have to report on certain matters. Striking a balance between these two approaches to news media requires you to abandon confirmation bias and accept that some media organizations have agendas that may not always align with your personal interests.