Michael J. Salamon

Bypassing confirming beliefs

Beliefs individuals hold affect how they process new information. This psychological principle is known as Confirmation Bias or colloquially as My Side Bias. Social media algorithms embrace this tendency. It is how they keep subscribers hooked. If you have an Instagram account and, as an example, follow a particular musical style, more of the same type of music will be placed in your account by the algorithm. Similarly, if you follow a particular news account on X (formerly Twitter) or Threads or even Facebook you will continue to receive the same type of news stories with the same slant as those you have recently watched. In part, this is what makes social media so dangerous. It is a limiting voice that does not allow for any other options unless you deliberately seek out others. And even then, the more time spent on a particular topic the more of that topic will be sent to your feed. It, no doubt is in many ways contributing to the anti-Israelism, anti-Zionism and antisemitism that is increasingly seen worldwide.

It is hard enough to follow a variety of differing opinions without being coaxed into a single direction but that is what is happening in an ever-intensifying manner in our online, hooked in world. It is hard enough to maintain an open mind when not coaxed toward a particular perspective. It is significantly harder to beat Confirmation Bias when there is only limited information getting through.

I was thinking about the impact of biases when I heard about the daring rescue of two hostages in Rafah. There was a sense of elation combined with ongoing deep concern, simple worry for the remaining hostages. The Israeli news stations reported a most positive and sensitive perspective on the action going so far as to point out that the rescuing troops shielded the hostages with their own bodies.

Foreign news outlets reported the action and freeing of the two hostages but focused on the number of individuals allegedly killed in the attack as reported by the Hamas Ministry of Health. Numbers varied by news station, but all seemed to report that many were killed, with no clarification of whether they were Hamas fighters. Questioning the accuracy of this reporting is considered biased against Gazans. I must at this point state for the record that I believe that there are innocents in Gaza and as in all wars, innocents are harmed and killed. And it is a tragedy.

Just the other day I was speaking with an acquaintance who is a journalist for a major American newspaper. He was lamenting the war and subsequent deaths of Gazans and wanted me to side with his view that a ceasefire is necessary immediately. I did not, could not, and explained that Hamas remains a threat to the region and if Israel stops at this point without getting hostages returned and dismantling the military capabilities of Hamas the door opens for other radical terror cults to do what Hamas did on October 7. I then asked him if he was aware of the number of rockets shot into Israel over the last week. He could not answer. He guessed that it was less than 10. He thought none came from Gaza. I should not have been surprised by his response when I told him it was close or even possibly more than 100 and many came from the South. He said that he was not sure that he could believe that number. Let me make it clear that he is not a copy boy at this newspaper. He is a well-known, respected journalist.

Beckett Adams, a contributing opinion writer at The Hill penned a piece entitled “You should question much of what you read about the war in Gaza.” In that article he takes “Former Washington Post Baghdad bureau chief Louisa Loveluck” to task for her extremely biased reporting on the situation in Gaza. The article is clearly worth a read for anyone who wants to get a fuller picture of the biases in reporting that exist and the algorithms that allow people who are locked into confirmatory biased thoughts to never be able to get beyond their prejudice.

War is not just about weapons and death tolls. Every war has a propaganda component. Sophisticated propaganda understands how to create and reinforce biases to promote a war effort. To win the propaganda battle, which is a battle for the psychology of individuals, it is imperative to confront disinformation in a manner that allows accurate information to be shared. It is not sufficient to call out some reporters who do not have honest data. The only way to get facts to the other side is to insert accurate information into the algorithms of the opponent. It is a psychological necessity to get beyond My Side Bias.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."
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