Bad News Bias
BY ANUSHA SENAPATI '24
Scientists recently discovered a new COVID-19 variant—Picron. Did you read that and believe it at first sight? COVID-19 has disoriented us in these difficult times, but somehow the situation is worsening, and no, I’m not talking about the number of cases every day. I’m referring to the bad news bias that comes with the contagion. In this context, bad news means the negative fake news the media publishes. News spreads in many ways, and it is important that the news you read is trustworthy. Although sources like The New York Times and The Washington Post seem reliable, they can produce biased reporting, as their reputation allows them to “twist the truth” without question. With bad news biases being widespread, it’s essential to analyze why we fall for such traps and how this creates distrust in the media. As we investigate how misleading information creates apathy, we’ll learn to acknowledge these biases and combat public desensitization.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, most have turned to the internet to receive information, making reliance on news sources more prevalent than ever. However, with this change comes a greater news bias as well. Although news should be objective, decreased human contact in light of the pandemic gave news sources the perfect opportunity to advertise bad news biases. The constant bad news breeds mistrust, leading to apathy towards news and media mediums. In addition, constantly bombarding the public with contradictory information and polarizing opinions only exacerbates their doubt.
According to The New York Times, many U.S. media outlets intentionally publish bad news to receive more attention. Instead of portraying all sides of the story, they disseminate a skewed account throughout various platforms to reap profits. If the media only highlights extreme stories, such as brutal crimes, then the public is both unaware of the positive stories and also are unable to address true issues. When the only issues presented cannot be solved directly, the public is left feeling helpless, as they lack the means to mobilize and invoke significant change. Even if the information isn’t necessarily false, the overly negative perspective precludes positive outlooks. This fosters more distrust when people discover news sources that are pushing out more positive perspectives on the same topic.
However, bad news bias can be mitigated. Through fact checking—critical analysis of news sources (think the CRAAP test)—and watching out for exaggerated or unrealistic claims, we can ensure the news we consume is factual while staying aware of issues around us. The pandemic certainly is a hard time for everyone, but we can make it less stressful by urging people to not fall for the media’s exploitative practices. By addressing bad news bias, we will be one step closer to ensuring a healthy recovery from COVID-19.