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Evaluating Online Information: Bias & Disinformation

Bias and Disinformation Are Not the Same Thing

There is a difference between information that was created by a person who has a particular bias, and information that was created to deceive. Everyone has bias. In fact, humans have developed bias in order to survive.  Because everyone has bias, it is impossible to find information that was created by an unbiased person.

Since all information is created by biased people, we cannot reject information simply because it is biased. If we did, we wouldn’t believe anything, and we must be able to believe at least some things in order to conduct our daily lives. What we can do is take into account the biases of the person who created the information, and determine whether that person’s bias is leading them to present us with an incomplete picture of the information they're presenting. We can also take into account our own biases when we encounter information with which we might reactively disagree.  A recent article in The Atlantic, discusses how people react when they discover information they don't want to accept:

People see evidence that disagrees with them as weaker, because ultimately, they’re asking themselves fundamentally different questions when evaluating that evidence, depending on whether they want to believe what it suggests or not, according to psychologist Tom Gilovich. “For desired conclusions,” he writes, “it is as if we ask ourselves ‘Can I believe this?’, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’” People come to some information seeking permission to believe, and to other information looking for escape routes.

Since there's nothing we can do to make the world less biased, what we can do is learn how to deal with bias. The more you know about how bias operates, the better you'll be able to manage biases when consuming information.  Read more about different kinds of bias below and how to de-bias your own information seeking habits.

Bias & Disinformation Deep Dive

12 Cognitive Biases Explained

Confirmation Bias

"Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true."

Read more about confirmation bias in this article from Pyschology Today.

Cognitive Bias

According to the Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, cognitive bias is a " systematic error in judgment and decision-making common to all human beings which can be due to cognitive limitations, motivational factors, and/or adaptations to natural environments."

Read more about how humans developed cognitive biases in order to survive here.


While we certainly can’t eliminate all our biases, we CAN take steps toward de-biasing our consumption of news and online information. The following are suggestions of steps you might take to begin to de-bias your online reading practice. Please note that de-biasing is a relatively new area of study and ideas shared below are examples drawn from some of this early work. 

Get to know yourself and your stances on relevant topics. Before we can begin exploring alternative viewpoints we have to know where we stand personally on topics. The following tools and resources can assist in this type of self-reflection: 

Before you read the news, take a moment and commit to yourself that you will be open to considering alternative ideas as you read. Seriously. Take a moment. Come up with a phrase like, “I commit to reading with an open mind. I commit to considering viewpoints different from my own.” Then say that phrase silently each time before you read. This time of ‘pre-commitment’ strategy encourages controlled and conscious thinking and can diminish the effects of the automatic thinking that occurs because of innate and learned biases (Boden, 2018; Beaulac & Kenyon, 2018).

Beaulac, G., & Kenyon, T. (2018). The scope of debiasing in the classroom. Topoi, 37(1), 93-102. 

Boden, E. Debiasing and fake news. Keeping Up With Blog Series. Association of College & Research Libraries.