I have written this entry to express my views on web bias. It begins with an example of how misinformation is spread in today’s world and looks at the history of such misinformation. What follows is how I plan to conduct research on using web related resources knowing that bias exists.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was once quoted as saying, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but will not rejoice in the death of one, not even my enemy.” This line was tweeted by an individual following the death of Osama Bin Laden because it expressed how she felt about the event. A Facebook friend forwarded it, and an entertainer retweeted ii to his 1.6 million followers. On that day, millions of people found comfort in MLK’s words. Except, Martin Luther King, Jr. never said them, it was a mis-quote heard around the world.
I use the example above to illustrate why it is important to confirm information. Even in its short existence, social media has been responsible for the spreading of misinformation, as exampled by the numerous deaths of Jackie Chan.
Accidental misinformation is nothing new. In 1948, the Chicago Tribune published Dewey Defeats Truman despite Truman’s victory in the election; in 1996, the media focused on Richard Jewell as the Atlanta Olympic bomber, which was determined he was not; and recently arrests in the Boston Marathon were incorrectly reported on the day the event occurred. Purposeful misinformation has also occurred, particularly during the yellow journalism period.
Incorrect information can be passed along for a number of reasons, intentional or not. However, in an academic work, failure to confirm facts and check sources is unacceptable. A good researcher confirms information and checks facts against more than one source and checks the source of the information. This is where having databases like the ones available through the school library are great for research. Peer reviewed journals are the best source of reliable information and being able to access a number of them helps confirm information.
In science, the best way to confirm the validity of a resource is to replicate what is reported. This has led to the confirmation and debunking of many published findings. However, not everyone has the ability to do this. Psychology, in particular, can have difficulty with this as no two people may respond the same way.
Generally, whenever I read something on the internet, the first thing I consider is “Are they trying to sell me something?” It may not be a product, it may be an idea. For example, a site may be an “Advertorial,” constructed to look like an objective e-zine but is meant to sell a product.
The martinlutherking.org site is similar, but they are trying to sell an idea. They present unflattering information, half-truth and misinformation in such a manner as to appear they do not have an agenda, but they are attempting to make you dislike Martin Luther King, Jr. Of course, a site only presenting the positive information on someone could be accused of the same thing.
Sites like Wikipedia are a good resource, but again needs to be tempered by the fact that posters are often anonymous and may have certain interests. Wikipedia has tried to improve its reliability by including references, and pointing out when a reference is lacking. You may notice Wikipedia referenced several times below.
Snopes is a good resource for confirming whether or not information is true. Snopes researches topics that are being presented as facts to determine if they really often. They cite how they have come to the conclusion if the information is factual or not.
Bias in information is not new. There is very little that can be done to ensure all information is correct. Good researchers corroborate facts, check the resources and when possible replicate what others have done.
Dewey Defeats Truman. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewey_Defeats_Truman
Easley, J. (2013, April 17). CNN, the AP, and Fox News Get Boston Marathon Bombing Arrest Story Wrong . Retrieved from Politics USA: http://www.politicususa.com/2013/04/17/cnn-ap-arrest-boston-marathon-bombing-cbsnbc-arrest.html
Emery, D. (2013, August 2). ‘Jackie Chan Dead’ Hoax Spreads via Rogue Facebook App. Retrieved from About.com: http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2013/08/02/jackie-chan-dead-hoax-spreads-via-rogue-facebook-app.htm
Gross, D. (2011, May 4). MLK, Mark Twain quotes go viral — and are wrong. Retrieved from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/05/03/quotes.twain.mlk/index.html
Richard Jewell. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Jewell
Snopes reviews. (n.d.). Retrieved from Site Jabber: http://www.sitejabber.com/reviews/www.snopes.com
The Baloney Detection Kit. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Work of Michael Shermer: http://www.michaelshermer.com/2009/06/baloney-detection-kit/
Thompson, K. (2011, January 16). White Supremacist Site MartinLutherKing.org Marks 12th Anniversary . Retrieved from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keith-thomson/white-supremacist-site-ma_b_809755.html
What is an Advertorial. (n.d.). Retrieved from Advertorial.org: http://www.advertorial.org/what-is-an-advertorial.html
Wikipedia Review. (10, April 29). Retrieved from CNET: http://reviews.cnet.com/general-reference/wikipedia/4505-3642_7-31563879.html
Yellow Journalism. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_journalism