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This week I wrote about how if the gun violence “debate” feels all wrong to you, you’re right. The conversation is crazy-making and goes around in circles, but I think that if we can recognize where it goes wrong, we can do something about it.
I have been trying to put my finger on what feels so upside-down about it, and the concept of “Neutrality Bias” helped it click into place.
Even though I’m a journalist and a writing prof and I have learned about different kinds of bias over the years, I only recently learned the term neutrality bias. It’s super helpful.
The News Media Literacy Project defines neutrality bias as a type of bias in which a news outlet or individual tries so hard to avoid appearing biased that the coverage actually misrepresents the facts.
This is not the same thing as being objective. Objectivity is sifting through evidence and facts and seeking verifiable and reasonable conclusions.
Neutrality, on the other hand, purports to be “balanced” by presenting all views, regardless of their merit, and treating them as equal. This gives space and airtime to non-factual and non-evidence-based ideas.
It dawned on me last week that this is exactly what’s happening with the gun violence debate: fact-free non-solutions are given equal weight as actual evidence-based ideas that are proven to solve the problem. (This might also be why I found myself getting into arguments with strangers on the internet over the past couple weeks feeling super frustrated with their arguments—I’m not the only one, right?!)
Here are some examples of what neutrality bias looks like right now in the U.S. gun violence conversation:
This false neutrality has become so normalized in our public discourse that we sort of accept it. But once we can recognize what’s happening, we don’t have to. We can flag it and hold the journalists, influencers and storytellers that we plug into to a higher standard. And we can hold each other and ourselves to a higher standard, too.
You can see the full post “How we can change the conversation around gun violence” with slides here, and you can also find the slides on our Instagram account @matriarchyreport.
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