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Choice of media can shape financial decisions

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SDPB
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The interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public affairs show, In the Moment with Lori Walsh.

Biased Media Diet Can Harm Your Financial Health

By Rick Kahler

Part of supporting my clients’ financial well-being requires that I have a good grasp of current world economic, political, and financial events and how they apply to my clients personally and individually. It’s also important for a financial therapist to understand and validate clients’ various viewpoints.

Not only do I spend considerable time following current events, but it matters that the data and news I evaluate be as factual and accurate as possible. Yet balanced news sources are few and far between. For example, if one person only gathers their information from CNN and another person gets all of theirs from FOX News, their world views will be 180 degrees apart.

In part this is because most of us are affected by what is called “confirmation bias.” This is a tendency to focus on information that confirms and underscores what we already believe, and to ignore or discount sources that contradict what we believe. Confirmation bias is made even stronger by the use of algorithms in social media and internet searches. These track our online preferences and offer us more similar information, so the cycle of belief-confirmation-belief-confirmation becomes increasingly narrow.

As I have seen repeatedly throughout my career, behavior like selling out of the stock market or going all-in, solely on one’s political beliefs and biases, is almost always a recipe for financial disaster.

For this reason, I encourage you to evaluate your media diet. Two sources you can use to assess whether your media consumption is balanced and varied are Media Bias/Fact Check and Ad Fontes Media.

You may wonder how biased these two bias-evaluating services are. If you look up your favorite media sources and find them rated extreme right or left with a low probability of being factual, your immediate thought will probably be that the service leans left or right and can’t be believed. That’s actually evidence of your confirmation bias. Not surprisingly, news sources that were poorly rated by either are very critical of them.

Still, I did some fact-checking on both sites. Both have been criticized as being subjective, basing conclusions on small samples, and not using scientific methods. In 2018, the Columbia Journalism Review described Media Bias/Fact Check as an amateur attempt at categorizing media bias and characterized their assessments as “subjective assessments [that] leave room for human biases, or even simple inconsistencies, to creep in.” Yet a study published in Scientific Reports concluded: “While [Media Bias/Fact Check’s] credibility is sometimes questioned, it has been regarded as accurate enough to be used as ground-truth for e.g. media bias classifiers, fake news studies, and automatic fact-checking systems.”

A 2021 article on the Association of College and Research Libraries’ blog argued that the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart is detrimental to media literacy efforts because it “promotes a false equivalency between left and right, lionizes a political ‘center’ as being without bias, and reinforces harmful perceptions about what constitutes ‘news’ in our media ecosystem, and is ignored by anyone that doesn’t already hold a comparable view of the media landscape.”

Since judging bias is inherently somewhat subjective, my conclusion is that both sites have some flaws but are reasonable sources. Assessing the slant of the media you consume matters. Becoming more aware of your confirmation biases can give you a larger context and broader perspective that supports wiser long-term financial behavior. Most of us have seen how extreme biases in any direction can damage relationships. Biases can also get in the way of making reasoned and informed financial decisions and can result in long-term damage to someone’s financial and emotional well-being.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.
Chris is a producer for In the Moment.