Imagine for a moment that you’re on Facebook, just scrolling through your feed like it’s any other day. Wait, what’s that?! Johnny shared an article from TheButtholeReview.com that says Obama has finally shed his skin, revealed himself as Rakh’nesh, Queen of the Ancients, and now she’s coming for your guns once and for all. Oh no! Now Tracy shared something from LooneyBinTribune.com that claims corporate antagonist Bernie Sanders is going to take your hard-earned tax dollars specifically (every single one of them) and is going to teach them social skills before distributing them to each of those no-good freeloaders in his Beanie Babies collection.
A typical Monday for most of us, but if you’re not able to accurately detect bias in the media, you’ll quickly lose the ability to distinguish fact from fiction. Luckily for you, I’ve devised a foolproof method of determining whether or not an article holds a political bias or not. This simple approach is 100 percent effective, and it can be quickly used by anybody. Here’s how it works.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has an extreme political bias for a moment. This could be a blogger, a journalist, or anyone who creates content for quick, online consumption. Whether they lean right or left, their main goal is to fit the narrative of their target audience in order to garner more views and shares. Confirmation bias is strong online. Very strong.
So, now that we’re standing in the shoes of these people, we need to think like them. How do you catch the attention of like-minded people who are quickly scrolling through a Facebook feed at near warp speed? It all begins with the Featured Image.
The Featured Image
Keep in mind I'm taking most of this from Facebook just for the easy screenshots, but bias can happen on any website at any time. Even this one.
Think about it. The featured image is the first thing people see when coming across a new article. I’ll give a few examples, and it will soon all make sense. For these examples, I’m trying to start with the more obvious offenders. Think of it like training wheels on a bike.
This image was taken from Liberal America’s Facebook page. Obviously, you can tell they cater to a liberal audience from the name in this case. That’s because this blog post is just the beginning of your bias-discovering journey. It’s a long road that never ends.
Anyway, this is an easy one. Trump, the current GOP front-runner as of the time this was written, looks like he’s about to shit his pants. Any liberal who comes across this image on Facebook might stop long enough to check the title and see who posted it.
Let’s look at another one.
This one is from Breitbart, a news and opinion site that identifies as a conservative news source. Here, you can see they’ve posted an article of Hillary Clinton with her hands raised and her face scrunched up in an I’m-about-to-shit-my-pants kind of look. Seeing a trend yet? Conservatives on Facebook would stop scrolling to find out why she’s making that painful face. For the people at Breitbart, this is mission accomplished.
Somebody who is better at math than I am could probably come up with a decent mathematical equation for this. I’ll just devise a quick if/then statement.
If the person in the article’s Featured Image is making a pants-shitting face, then take that person’s political alignment and determine the opposite stance. The answer will be the article’s bias.
Example: Hillary Clinton (Democrat) is making a pants-shitting face. Opposite of Democrat = Republican. Therefore, the Breitbart article exhibits a conservative bias. Get it?
Of Titles and Subtitles
There are some rare cases that may be too difficult to determine the bias of an article by the Featured Image alone. If this happens, you can usually rely on the title to shed some light on the situation at hand.
Let’s pretend the people who posted this article aren’t called Conservative Tribune for a moment. I mean, you can kind of tell by the Featured Image that Ben Carson is put in good lighting and doesn’t look all-that-crazy, while Obama is dark and ominous looking, but maybe you want further proof that they swing Conservative (we’re still pretending not to see the website name, okay?).
Let’s look at the title… “Carson Reveals Plan to Destroy ISIS Once and For All… Obama Thinks He’s Ignorant.” Pretty obvious Obama is throwing shade. Oh wait, that subtitle/blurb thing though: “Right. Because Obama’s plans have worked SO well…” There it is. If I saw that, I’d put a check in the conservative check box on my bias-discovering sheet that I printed out earlier.
Let’s do another example. Again, I’ve been picking really easy examples here. Here’s one that’ll throw you for a loop.
So we start with the Featured Image as always. Hmm, Obama (Democrat) could be taking a shit here, but it’s not exactly clear enough to make a final judgement. We need to go deeper. Title: “While Republicans are Blaming Obama for ISIS Attacking Paris, He was Busy Killing ISIS Leaders”. The title paints republicans as finger-pointers and it paints Obama in a light that suggests he might be in the Middle-East, shirtless, ripping terrorist’s arms off with his bare hands. So Republicans bad, Democrats good = Liberal bias extremely possible.
The Comments Section (LAST RESORT)
Now, I almost never suggest people lurk into the comments section of an article, but there are times when you just can’t pinpoint its political bias enough to be certain. Warning: proceed with extreme caution.
A few notes.
- Anti Obama in almost every comment (remember how Obama is a Democrat? That’s important)
- Playing the “Obama is a Muslim card” – classic Republican misinformation
- Think they’re just random crazies? Note the amount of likes these comments are receiving.
- Lots of quotation marks, random words in capital letters, exclamation points everywhere. This can be confused as “old-person-syndrome” but my research shows that many conservatives do this as well.
- One comment speaks against liberals directly with nearly 40 likes in agreement. I think this is an open-and-shut case.
Final Judgement: Republican bias.
Let’s try another.
A few notes:
- There is a whole lot of empathy being shown in these comments. Empathy for Syrian refugees in this case. Note how refugee isn’t in quotes.
- “right-wing stupidity” is mentioned, as well as GOP Zionism. Direct attacks toward one party, though sometimes warranted, often indicates bias from the other.
- “brown people” is put into quotes in one of the comments, but it’s done sarcastically as an attack against the commenter’s neighbors, whom he calls “limousine Republicans”.
Final Judgement: Liberal Bias
Is Bias Always a Bad Thing?
No. Absolutely not! Everyone has bias. EVERYONE. The important thing is to be able to rein it in when possible, and to be able to take note of it when it occurs in the wild. Without an adequate knowledge of what political bias is and how to recognize it, one might assume Media outlets are always telling the truth.
I read biased articles all the time from both sides. I actually find that reading news through both sides (conservative and liberal) is like looking at two sides of a coin. If you only read news with a liberal bias, or news with only a conservative bias, it’s like cheating, like intentionally buying a two-headed quarter. What about tails?! Tails is important too.
Tails is important too.