Media Literacy Education, Confirmation Bias and Filter Bubbles

[ Reading time: 8 to 10 minutes ]


The outbreak of COVID-19 provides us with another sobering reminder of how easy it is to spread conspiracy theories and unconfirmed reports. Why is it, though, that we seldom question the credibility of information when it supports our prejudices and beliefs? Well, several studies suggest that some of the reasons behind this behaviour is actually rooted in psychology, technology and the general lack of media literacy education.


The spread of disinformation and fake news may seem like a never-ending battle. And it is true that some people go to great lengths to deliberately blur the line between fact and fiction. However, these challenges can be managed if you think more critically about the information you consume. They can also be addressed if our general education and training systems introduce media literacy as a standard item in the curricula and training programmes.


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An interesting thing about media literacy education is its direct connection with confirmation bias and online filter bubbles. Most online users are completely unaware of these ‘invisible enemies’. So, it makes sense why they also unaware of how much they get manipulated by them. Viewed through a different lens, confirmation bias and filter bubbles can be thought of as psychological and technological challenges in the fight against disinformation and fake news.


After reading the rest of this article you will:

  • develop a deeper understanding of confirmation bias;
  • develop a deeper understanding of online filter bubbles;
  • realise the importance of media literacy education in curricula; and
  • discover practical solutions that can boost your media literacy.


(1) Media literacy education: The psychological challenge of confirmation bias


Confirmation bias is a deep-rooted challenge for all humanity. It influences how we perceive things, how we learn, and ultimately how we behave on a day-to-day basis. But what is it exactly? Put simply, it is the tendency to favourably search for and interpret information that already supports your current views and beliefs. Global studies indicate that even when people are presented with information that contradicts their views or beliefs, then it is typically given less weight or people are reluctant to change their mind, despite such evidence being compelling. It is therefore a psychological challenge. However, it is one that can be better managed.


Individual solutions. Develop a deeper awareness of your own (cultural) conditioning and a deeper understanding of what makes you tick. Play devil’s advocate with yourself and try to prove yourself wrong! Think about how you would argue the opposite of what you believe. You can also fact-check information and check sources. If you continuously practice these things, then you can better manage your own biases and prejudices. At the end of the day, it is important to maintain a curious mindset and to at least be open to changing your views and beliefs.


(2) Media literacy education: The technological challenge of online filter bubbles


Since the introduction of the internet, powerful search engines and social media platforms, confirmation bias has essentially made the jump into the digital world. Our cognitive biases and prejudices are constantly being exploited by corporations (among others) in order to generate profits and maximise user engagement online. Social media platforms and search engines use carefully designed algorithms to filter your information and influence the messages that you receive. This could be filtered content in your newsfeed or specific political information in your search results, for example. Algorithms achieve this by monitoring your online behaviour and using your personal data (i.e. your age, gender, location, political preferences, sexual orientation, etc.).


The problem with algorithms is that it keeps these online users trapped in a ‘filter bubble’. This metaphorical bubble symbolises the limited information that users are exposed to. It is a bubble that ultimately serves to reinforce your existing beliefs and attitudes about the world, thus closing you off to new experiences and ideas. Studies also indicate that this reinforcement is worse online compared to traditional media. This aspect of media literacy is a technological challenge, and it contributes towards the spread of disinformation and fake news. This challenge, however, can also be managed in our individual capacity.


Individual solutions. Make an effort to expose yourself to alternative viewpoints. ‘Like’ and ‘follow’ diverse (but still credible) online sources. If you want to understand all sides to an issue, then you have to expose yourself to all sides. Following alternative content will definitely help in this regard. You can also (occasionally) clear your browsing history and cookies. These things also feed the recommender systems that filter your content. Lastly, you can practice active listening when you are engaging with someone that has an opposing viewpoint. Sometimes, when you disagree with someone, you hear them and don’t always listen to them.

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(3) Media literacy education and its unfortunate absence in school curricula


Media literacy is the ability to think critically about the information you receive through various media channels, including social media platforms. It equips you with the means to differentiate fact from fiction. European studies have confirmed that teaching media literacy is effective at stopping the spread of disinformation and fake news. However, it is much more that. Media literacy should also form an essential part of a democratic society.


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Founder & Co-Creator,

GiLE Foundation

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The opinions expressed in this article/publication are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of GiLE or its members.

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