Assessing the Partiality of Online Content

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How do we know that the information we are receiving through the newspaper, television, computer, or smartphone is telling us the most important things we need to know? In another tutorial article by Bryan Short, we covered how to check whether the facts presented to you are true or not [1]. It is important to make sure to check that the facts presented in an article are true, and in addition, it is also important to make sure that the information you choose to consume is worthy of consuming in the first place. In this tutorial, we will go through the steps you should take to assess the information sources you use to make sense of the world.

Listing out your information sources

What are your information sources? Do you read the newspaper? What websites do you visit to consume information regularly?
List out all of the resources you use to consume information regularly on a worksheet similar to the one below:

You can use this template to get started, or customize your own!

Checking for Financial Partiality

Now that we are aware of the sources of information that make up the input of information in our lives, we can assess whether or not these sources are impartial or not. Oxford defines impartiality as “Equal treatment of all rivals or disputants; fairness.” [2].

The first step in checking whether or not a source is acknowledging whether or not the information source is financially independent, or is subservient to the shareholders of another organization. This article by WebpageFX [3] shows the incredible consolidation of information producing companies held by only six parent, or holding, companies. Here is a small sample of the subsidiaries of each of the ‘Big 6’ in media:

A sample of the holdings of each of the ‘Big 6’ Media companies from WebpageFX

Thankfully, not every information source in existence is owned by one of these six companies. As a result, you should check the financial dependency of each news source to see if a holding company, and the interests of their shareholders have an effect on the kind of information content they produce.

A good starting point to uncover the financial dependencies that an information source may have is to check its Wikipedia page. In the information box on the right hand side of its entry, look for a row listing ‘Parent Company’ or ‘Owned by’ to find out if another organization has financial influence over the news source you are exploring.

Checking for Partiality in Content

After checking for the financial interests that may lie behind an information source, it is time to check for the existence of political or non-public interest in the content produced by an information source. Here are two tools to help you check the media bias of information sources in print and on the web.

Media Bias Fact Check is an independent organization that states their mission as “dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices”. You can search traditional information sources such as your local newspaper or television studio.

Are You Fake News is created by a Zachary Estela from Seattle, Washington, and is a tool to discover media bias in online information sources. This tool uses unsupervised learning to analyze news articles from the URL you input to determine bias, trustworthiness, and character.

Heuristic Analysis for Partiality in Content

Here are some heuristic analysis questions you can ask yourself to determine, and justify, if a information source is partial or impartial:

1.) Check the news story with other information sources. Does the information source present all perspectives of a story? Do other information sources reveal additional details that this one did not?
2.) What interests does the publisher of this story hold? Is this publisher financially dependent on another organization?
3.) Check what other people are saying about the publisher. Are they politically neutral? Do they have a political bias?
4.) Does the article use loaded words to make an appeal to emotion?
5.) Does the headline of the story intended to provoke an emotional response, rather than delivering the information in a neutral tone of voice? Beware of sensationalized headlines!

Checking the Facts: Fact-Checking Websites

In an increasingly Postmodern [4][5] world, truth seems to be characterized as an elusive subject. Information obtained from any source should be verified with reputable sources of facts, such as fact-checking websites.
Several popular sources of fact-checking information are found on these websites:

Discuss

The Digital Tattoo Project encourages critical discussion on topics surrounding digital citizenship and online identity. Please feel free to post your thought in the comments section below! There are no correct answers and every person will view these topics from a different perspective. Be sure to complete the previous sections before answering the questions.

  1. What are some of the strategies that you use to make sure the news you read or watch is not biased?
  2. What news source do you trust and why?
  3. What is the political economy of the sources of information you use?
  4. How do you verify the facts presented to you in a news story?
  5. What strategies do you employ to ask if information sources may be presenting information in ways are suggesting certain conclusions?
  6. Have you ever clicked on a news story because of its headline? What part of the headline made you want to read more?

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