Breaking News
More () »

Paul's Extra Point: Truth is in the eye of the beholder

Social media has changed the way we consume news. It’s also changing the way we perceive the world around us. Are you guilty of this common cognitive bias?

Take a look at this image. What do you see? A beautiful young woman turning to the side? Or an ugly old witch in profile? 

There's no right or wrong answer. This classic optical illusion is all about perspective. You'll find whatever it is you're looking for.

When you listened to Michael Cohen's testimony to the Congressional Oversight Committee, what did you hear? A convicted felon reconciling a guilty conscience, trying to atone for his sins? Or a pathological liar, taking advantage of media attention to spin a web in an attempt to spare himself some prison time?

When you watched Donald Trump's press conference following a scuttled summit in Hanoi, did you think the president "won" by refusing to make a deal with a dictator? Or did he "lose" because he left Vietnam without signing anything that ensures denuclearization in North Korea?

You'll find whatever it is you're looking for.

Some might argue: Truth ain't what it used to be. But that's not right; truth is still truth- it has never been black and white. Truth has always been a shade of gray- the lines are just a little blurrier in the digital age.

These days, we consume most of our news through social media at our leisure and at our discretion. 

It's no longer "appointment viewing." Sure, some people still pick up a morning paper or sit down to watch the late local news, but we have much more access to information than we used to. 

Not only can we choose when we get it. but we can choose where we get news from. And that last part is important.

What's the first thing you do when you see something in your feed you don't like? Do you unfollow? Mute? Block? We actively (and subconsciously) surround ourselves with viewpoints similar to our own. This is a cognitive bias called the "false consensus effect." 

We tend to overestimate the extent to which other people share our opinions and beliefs. This is exacerbated by social media sites, which allow us to curate our own version of the truth; then their algorithms show us more of what we like. 

We fortify our world views by following people and brands that fit our perspective and shunning the rest.

This lack of plasticity in the way we perceive our peers makes enemies out of people who don't think exactly the same way we do… Even if we have a lot in common! Every little thing becomes an "Us vs. Them" scenario.

It feels like somehow simultaneously we are more connected to one another than ever and yet more divided. But none of this is new. This is the way the world has always been. 

As Simon and Garfunkel put it in their 1969 hit "The Boxer": "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." Today, I challenge you to listen to the "other side." Maybe you'll find something you weren't looking for.