Identifying Bias in Yourself and Others

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

We all have our our biases. If you read that sentance and thought “not I!” then you’re just fooling yourself. We all have things we believe to be true or to be better than other things, it’s just a fact of life. At best we can resist those biases when we talk to each other and attempt to see things objectively, but that’s quite a challenge.

I’m not going to get into how to view things objectively, but I did want to share a quick way to tell if you, or someone else, is biased one way or another.

Scenario: You are a Twitter user, and there are 2 negative news stories that come out on the same day. These companies are rivals in your favorite industry. You see both headlines appear one after the other in your timeline. You retweet the story about Company A right away. “Typical Company A,” you include in your tweet. You retweet the story about Company B as well, but your comment on that is “Does anyone have more info on this? Is this legit?”

In that scenario, you likely have a bias in favor of Company B. You shared both negative stories, but you accepted the story about Company A without any consideration; it confirmed your opinion of them, so it required no research on your part. The story about Company B was negative and could be true, but you really want to get some additional information before actually acknowledging it’s true.

I see this all the time from people when it comes to technology, to politics, and to anything else you can think of. It’s why some people link to a negative story about Google because it confirms their world view and then spend a week “trying to get to the bottom” of a negative news story about Apple. Apple gets “Yes, X is bad, but let’s look into why that’s the case,” while the Google story gets “Of course Google did this.” It’s why some people spend all their time calling out every single typo or mistake in one news outlet only to shrug off bullshit coming from their news source of choice.

I’m not saying I’m perfect at being objective myself. I tend to like Apple stuff and am a little more suspect of Google and I tend to believe liberal political positions are more reasonable than conservative positions, but hopefully you know that about me by now. I do my damndest to make sure my preferences are based on reality and not junk, but I’m imperfect here. All I can do is try to be better.

All you can do is figure out your own bias and then identify the bias in other people. The answer to neither of these is “I/they don’t have bias.” If that’s you’re answer to either question then you’re doing it wrong. Use that info to judge information as fairly as possible. You’re not going to be perfect, but knowing that you are looking at all information through an at least partially biased lens is the first step towards looking at the world in a more levelheaded way.