Are fact checkers immune to confirmation bias?
Survey says no.
On Twitter today fact checker Brooke Binkowski, current managing editor for Truth or Fiction and former managing editor for Snopes, posted a link to the non-profit March of Dimes’ page on “neonatal abstinence syndrome.” Binkowski had wondered on Twitter what neonatal abstinence syndrome meant and answered her own question with the tweet.
She deleted the earlier tweet, as she said she would, but then followed up on her March of Dimes link with another tweet.
But uh, that choice in pictures kinda says a lot
— Brooke Binkowski (@brooklynmarie) February 27, 2019
Was Binkowski accusing the March of Dimes of some type of racism with its choice of photos? It sure looked like it.
But wouldn’t a fact checker do some type of investigation before jumping to that type of conclusion, and potentially wrongly associating the specter of racism with the March of Dimes charity?
Confirmation bias helps make people, including fact checkers, less likely to test conclusions that fit with their view of the world.
We tested the link to the March of Dimes page describing neonatal abstinence syndrome. It pictured a white baby held by a white person.
We looked at another page at the March of Dimes website describing another neonatal medical condition, achondroplasia. It featured the same picture of the white baby held by the white person.
We tested the achondroplasia link on Twitter in response to Binkowski. The link showed the same black baby and accompanying black mother that Binkowski opined “says a lot.”
We figured it was likely that same cute black baby was a standard image the March of Dimes uses to help draw interest to its postings and perhaps help boost its fundraising efforts. Sure enough, a link to the generic MarchofDimes.org page featured the same image.
If the March of Dimes uses the image of a black mother with a black baby as the featured image on all of its linked website content that makes it unlikely that the March of Dimes is sending some sort of racist message that blacks are drug users when that image happens to accompany the neonatal abstinence syndrome page.
Perhaps Binkowski will one day acknowledge the common sense of that conclusion and work to erase any impression she may have created that the March of Dimes is somehow racist for using an image of a black mother and child to help represent itself.
Meanwhile, fact checkers, consider yourselves vulnerable to confirmation bias and start practicing ways to mitigate its effects, such as establishing politically polarized fact-checking teams.
Update March 1, 2019: Fixed redundant occurrence of the word “page” in the third paragraph.