The internet is vast playground where every opinion is aired, fiction can masquerade as fact, and the answers to your most bizarre questions can be just a google search away. This abundance of cheap information and ideas is overwhelmingly positive even as there are latent problems.
One problem is that the internet can encourage and reinforce bias — like confirmation bias. According to wikipedia, confirmation bias is “a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions and to avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs.”
Thanks to Google, we can instantly seek out support for the most bizarre idea imaginable. If our initial search fails to turn up the results we want, we don’t give it a second thought, rather we just try out a different query and search again.
Armed with this power to search, it usually doesn’t take long to find someone or something that confirms our bias. If you happen to be a blogger or have a website, you can then reinforce your own bias by by writing on the subject and linking to the support you found!
To wit, one of the first things I did in writing this article was search for “confirmation bias” internet, which led me to a cached page and then a quote from a WaPo article titled The Year of Living Gloomily. The quote snappily nails my overarching point:
I’m sure some of these stories are true, or true enough to satisfy an editor somewhere, but there’s something else going on here: It’s what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” That’s the human tendency to seek out only facts that fit what we already know to be true while downplaying or ignoring contradictory evidence. As Mark Twain is said to have quipped, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
People have always been prone to confirmation bias, but the Internet amplifies the phenomenon since we need not look far to confirm our particular bias. It’s always a click away.
By making the search for confirmation so easy — a mere “click away” — the internet rapidly exacerbates bias.
It happens just like that.
2 replies on “Confirmation Bias and the Internet”
I agree that the abundance of information the Internet and the quick search can perpetuate stereotypes and biases. I think the biggest problem is that people don’t know how to “filter” all of this information. They think, ‘If it’s listed on the top of a google search then it must be right’ and what they are looking for must be right. The problem is that google isn’t filtering anything, only trying to provide the information you are looking for…whether your bias is correct or not. Someone should develop a “filter” engine.
[…] Because today, I am drowned in information. Over a decade ago, I wondered about the problem of “confirmation bias” — that Google offered a way to confirm whatever strange idea I had. Today, I need not wonder. […]