This story was from a while ago, during the Chick-fil-A dustup, but I saw a prime example of something I feel isn’t handled with enough care by our colleagues in the news media. The story was reporting on how social media can tend to skew your perception of the world. Author Gregory Ferenstein had been watching the Chick-fil-A story unfold on Twitter and noticed this:
Despite an inescapable torrent of opposition from popular tech blogs, Twitter users, and city mayors against Chick-fil-A, the self-avowed anti-gay marriage restaurant enjoyed record-breaking sales yesterday. Had I just gazed the world through my Twitter feed, I would think Chick-fil-A was on the verge of bankruptcy…and also that Ron Paul was president, gay marriage was legal, and President Obama didn’t have a decent chance of losing the election.
All very true. He goes on to speak to the topic of why that was but as he starts enumerating the reasons why Twitter trends tend to not be good predicitive indicators of how things really are or will turn out, he mentioned this:
2. Conservatives Are likely late tech adopters: Liberals are likely more influential on Twitter, in part, because conservatives are late technology adopters. The same psychological tendencies that scare many Republicans away from social change also affect their willingness to try out new communication tools. Social media political trailblazers have almost universally been Democrats: Howard Dean pioneered online fundraising, Obama popularized online coordination, and The Huffington Post (owned by TechCrunch parent company, Aol) was an early adopter of reader-generated blogging. It’s true that some conservatives, such as Congressman Darrell Issa, are e-government pioneers. But, in aggregate, the risk-aversion associated with conservative beliefs bleeds into their technology prowess.
This is a perfect example of how slanted reporting presents and fosters bias, even when (presumably) the reporter doesn’t intend any slight. Note the use of the diction, “that scare many Republicans away from social change also affect their…” Think of the phrase “scared away” as it was used in any other situation in your general life. The connotation is that the thing being “scared away” from something is generally less courageous and possesses less fortitude than expected or desired. It implies that the referenced entity is merely reactive and easily startled into thoughtless flight. Now, compare it to this: “The same psychological tendencies that make many Republicans cautious about social change also affect their…” The overall point being described, here, is retained but the mildly condescending overtone is gone. At the very least, this removes any trace of judgement about those psychological tendencies.
I expect to see bias from political commentators. It’s when reporters do it, and especially reporters alleging to be reporting on other topics (like technology adoption) that I’d like to see a little less leaning in either political direction.