University faculty host virtual panel on Media Bias

To discuss the importance of understanding media bias and polarization in the digital age and its impact on our everyday lives, #OneMarshallU hosted a virtual panel led by Marshall University journalism professor Dan Hollis and instructional librarian Sabrina Thomas.


The event, titled “Finding Truth in the Post-Fairness Era,” is part of #OneMarshallU’s Challenging Conversations series for this semester, which aims to educate students and staff on controversial issues and create a sense of community. The discussion began at 7 p.m. when moderator Robert Bookwalter, an English professor at MU, discussed the rise of personalized, polarizing information in social media and the “filter bubbles” created by advertisers to validate people’s own beliefs instead of sharing “fair” information.


Dan Hollis explained the history of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcast journalists to report controversial topics while representing all sides of an issue equally, repealed in the 1980s. Hollis discussed the transition to the “post-fairness” era, in which thousands of news outlets and the opportunities and threats to fairness that accompany social media.


Hollis said the rise in social media led to people having the power to choose what information they consume, and it has become challenging to comb quality, objective information from what is shown to people on social media.


Sabrina Thomas said she is passionate about this subject and works with students to teach them how to find credible information. She said all school curriculums should include media literacy.


“Credible information is the cornerstone of my entire profession,” Thomas said. “The rise of misinformation is something that I have to pay very close attention to.”


Thomas said the world is full of “invisible divisions,” ideologies that keep people divided. Much of this is due to the spreading of misinformation on social media and people’s inability to access accurate and quality information.


She said predictive algorithms on the internet push people into “echo chambers” of their own opinions by predicting the information people want to see based on previous searches. She emphasized the importance of “surveillance capitalism,’ the collection of information about internet users that is sold to advertisers and how this has affected what information reaches which people.


Hollis said his greatest concern about how media has evolved is people’s addiction to the accessibility, attention and bias provided by social media. He said it is difficult to give people objective information because they are comfortable with what is presented to them.


“You hear the analogy that people are living in media ‘bubbles’,” Hollis said. “You can see out of a bubble. Bubbles are easily popped. We’re living in bank vaults, and the odds of someone breaking into the vault are stacked.”


The conversation concluded with a discussion of polarization and social media algorithms. The panelists agreed that political polarization is perpetuated by keeping people in their “bank vaults.”


The panelists said holding these websites accountable, encouraging media literacy, and establishing curriculums in schools to help the next generation discern accurate and quality information from inaccurate and biased information is vital to ensure people are not manipulated.

Thomas said more transparency and regulations are necessary, and educating people is the first step.