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Don't Get Trapped In The Bubble

I realize this is a gaming site and the overwhelming majority of topics center on that, but occasionally it's good to look at the outside world. There's a lot going on there that needs our attention.

Politics is one of my pet causes. I do not aim to force you into a certain party or ideology, only that you are aware of what's happening in our country. The actions of our politicians filter down and affect us in every possible way, whether we want them to or not. The least we can do is be prepared.

The best way to be prepared for the consequences of politics is to know what consequences to prepare for. It's simple logic. Following political news is an absolutely critical step in being informed. If you're informed, you can be ready for whatever good/bad stuff the politicians throw at us.

Editor's Note: In the spirit of fairness, I have decided to add politically offensive images to this blog. Apologies if there are more anti-conservative pictures. It's surprisingly hard to find good images making fun of liberals.

(image credit)

However, a lot of people go about finding news in the wrong way. They screw it up, plain and simple. It's appalling just how many people don't even realize that they are consuming news incorrectly. If you want to be informed, you have to always remember this principle:

Never completely trust any source of news.

That sounds harsh. It is.

It's also true. Every newspaper, every magazine, every website, and every single television station that covers the news has some degree of bias. That's just the way it is. The news is reported by people, and people are imperfect. Therefore, the news is imperfect. As much as journalists try to filter their own biases, sometimes they slip through. It happens often. Sometimes it's subtle, other times it's as blatant as calling the other party the living reincarnation of evil.

Pictured above: Subtlety.

It's important to remember that no source of news is immune to bias. Not CNN, not Fox News, not The Daily Show, not Alternet, not RedState, no one. The Associated Press is the closest thing to unbiased news we have, and even it isn't perfect. If there is a perfectly balanced news source, I have not seen it.

The scary part is that a great deal of people don't seem to realize that they listen to and watch biased news. People only ever notice bias against their political beliefs. When it confirms their previously held ideas, it's balanced. This is called confirmation bias. It's a phenomenon in which you look for ideas which support your beliefs and ignore anything which contradicts them. It happens to everyone, myself included.

This brings us to a point in which you may need a little background of the history of the news. In the past, newspapers tried to report the news in an unbiased manner so as to attract readers of all political affiliations. Democrats' money is just as good as Republicans', and a news organization is a business. Everything they do is not geared toward serving the public good. It's toward making money. Remember that.

However, the last few years have brought back a different sort of news source: the partisan paper. Instead of trying to attract the largest possible audience, a lot of news sources have instead tried to attract specific political groups. News on the internet is especially guilty of this. RedState has a conservative slant. The Daily Kos is liberal. Reason writes for libertarians.

Think of it in terms of video games. CNN tries to appeal to everyone. It's like Call of Duty. Websites like The Daily Kos only aim for a specific group. They're like niche Japanese RPGs. They don't need to please everyone, just their target audience.

So what's the problem? If some people want to get their news with from others who share their point of view, what's wrong with that?

Nothing, if you remember that the news you're reading is biased.

A chart supposedly demonstrating MSNBC's on-air references to both parties. Source.

The problem comes when that's the only news you ever read. Imagine that you're liberal. You vote Democratic, like Obama, and are for gay marriage. As a liberal person, you tend to seek out news that favors liberal points of view. You start reading The Daily Kos and Alternet, two strongly liberal websites. You listen to NPR in the car, an occasionally liberal radio station.

After a while, all you hear is news from a liberal point of view. After a while, all you hear is that conservatives are evil simpletons who hate women and poor people. After a while, you start believing that. It has to be true because every news source you listen to says so. You become trapped in a bubble of ideas that support your own beliefs confirm what you already think. It's a vicious cycle powered by confirmation bias.

For the record, the opposite is true with conservatism. It's just as easy to get trapped in a never-ending circle between RedState, Fox News, and The Blaze. I hate this phrase with a passion because it is a cliché, but both sides are guilty of the confirmation-bias cycle. Just look at that nifty chart below.

A chart supposedly demonstrating Fox New's on-air references to both parties. Source.

That's the danger of following the news. It is so, so easy to lose track of what's biased and what's not and to just write off the other side as crazy. In order to stay informed, you have to fight that urge and avoid being trapped in a bubble of bad news. Stopping misinformation is as easy as reading news that favors other points of view. You don't have to agree with them, just to understand what they think and why.

Reading biased news sources is OK. If it wasn't, we wouldn't have anything to read. The important part is to always keep in mind that everyone has an agenda. You have to put news within the proper context. For example, look at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. They're two superb newspapers which are exemplars of professionalism and quality news... so long as you understand that the Times tends to be liberal and the Journal conservative. They're both great newspapers, but each one has its own slant.

I had trouble finding "conservative" pictures, but this one more than made up for it.

If you're still with me, thanks. I know this went on longer than expected and got preachy. I'm sorry. It's an important topic to me. I fear misinformed voters far more than informed people who believe different things than I do. Really, as long as you stick to the principle of not trusting any news completely, you'll be fine. I really mean that. Everyone is biased. Even me. Especially me.

What do you think? Do you follow the news? If so, which news organizations do you prefer? Why? Bonus points if you can guess my political views.