For those raised in the information age, life without the internet is no life at all. It is often a primary focus of a teen’s day (75% of teens are online several times per day) and an important means by which they communicate with the world and take in new information. While information can be found in various sources across the internet, an overwhelming majority of teens and pre-teens tend to gather their information from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
A 2015 report by the Media Insights Project found that the majority of surveyed Millennials (aged 18-34) cited Facebook as their sole or primary source of key news and other information.
Unfortunately, Facebook is not known as a credible source for news. The recent outbreak of “fake news” has hit social media sites particularly hard, as these types of platforms are set up to propagate information at record speed regardless of source or content. In addition, teens are particularly bad at discriminating between real and fake news. According to a recent study out of Stanford, 82% of surveyed middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between ads and real news on a website, highlighting the need to teach students media literacy and proper research skills.
I’ve spent many years referencing Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases whenever I have a hunch that a certain type of thinking is an official bias but I can’t recall the name or details. It’s been an invaluable reference for helping me identify the hidden flaws in my own thinking. Nothing else I’ve come across seems to be both as comprehensive and as succinct.
However, honestly, the Wikipedia page is a bit of a tangled mess. Despite trying to absorb the information of this page many times over the years, very little of it seems to stick. I often scan it and feel like I’m not able to find the bias I’m looking for, and then quickly forget what I’ve learned. I think this has to do with how the page has organically evolved over the years. Today, it groups 175 biases into vague categories (decision-making biases, social biases, memory errors, etc) that don’t really feel mutually exclusive to me, and then lists them alphabetically within categories. There are duplicates a-plenty, and many similar biases with different names, scattered willy-nilly.
I’ve taken some time over the last four weeks (I’m on paternity leave) to try to more deeply absorb and understand this list, and to try to come up with a simpler, clearer organizing structure to hang these biases off of. Reading deeply about various biases has given my brain something to chew on while I bounce little Louie to sleep.