There is a wealth of research from across the social sciences that seeks to understand your predisposition to believe certain things, and how you process information. Much of this scholarship comes from communication studies, political science, psychology, and sociology. Within psychology, research falls into the general areas of cognitive biases, motivated reasoning, and decision making.
Compiled here is a partial list of phenomena that help to explain personal bias and our susceptibility to fake news. Some introductory sources are provided. The interested researcher is advised to conduct additional searches on these keywords.
There are media watchdog groups who aim to police the news media and check bias. Keep in mind that these groups may operate from their own political bias. For example:
A step beyond bias, propaganda actively seeks to influence through the use of deception. Scholarship (and objective news reporting) is created with virtuous ideals for truth. There is a difference between presenting a point of view and deliberately using psychological techniques to shape opinion.
The following indicators are from Prof. Eileen Gambrill (as presented in Bodi, S. (1995). Scholarship or propaganda: How can librarians help undergraduates tell the difference? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 21(1), 21–25. U-M Library access)
|Indicators of Scholarship||Indicators of Propaganda|
|Describes limits of data;||Excessive claims of certainty (We have "the way, the view");|
|Presents accurate descriptions of alternative views;||Personal attacks/ridicule;|
|Presents data that do not favor preferred views as well as data that supports these;||Emotional appeals;|
|Encourages, e.g., debate/discussion/criticism;||Distortions of data unfavorable to preferred views;|
|Settles disputes by use of generally accepted criteria for evaluating data;||Suppresses contradictory views;|
|Looks for counter-examples;||Suppresses contradictory facts;|
|Uses language in agreed-on ways;||Appeals to popular prejudices;|
|Updates information;||Relies on suggestions (e.g., negative innuendo);|
|Admits own ignorance;||Devalues thought/critical appraisal;|
|Attempts to discuss general laws/principles;||Transforms words to suit aims;|
|Finds own field/area of investigation difficult and full of holes; and||Magnifies or minimizes problems/suggested remedies; and|
|Relies on critical thinking skills.||Presents information/views out of context.|
Critical thinking must be applied not only to evaluation of sources but to the search for sources.
Search engines, like Google, use relevancy ranking algorithms to determine which sources you see at the top of your list. These algorithms are proprietary and not available to see; they are also impacted by what they know about you (e.g., location and browsing history). Paid advertisements for content are highly visible at the top of your results list and may also have an effect on your search and browsing behavior.
Social media platforms, like Facebook, have been criticized for creating filter bubbles and presenting content that reinforces your existing point of view.
Some sources that discuss theses issues: