Just because two points of view are presented side by side, doesn’t mean they are equal. ⚖️
False balance, false equivalency, or bothsidesism is a bias where two opposing facts/ideas are given the same amount of interest or presented as equally valid, even when the evidence for one side is stronger (1,2,3).
This has been seen, among other places, in climate change, gender, abortion, vaccine, and masking discussions (4,5,6,7,8).
Impartiality in journalism is important for an informed society and enables people to make the best decision for themselves (9,10). But presenting two sides as being equivalent, even when the evidence says they are not, is misleading and certainly doesn’t allow for truly informed decision making (3,9,11,12).
In fact, false balancing can lead the public to (3,5,13,14):
- Doubt the scientific consensus.
- Have difficulty distinguishing truth from falsehood.
- Believe the problem is less serious than it actually is.
- Have a tendency toward the most comforting option.
(See also the doubt mongering tactic – 15)
Media is often accused of having an agenda if they give more weight to a specific angle. For example, the fact that climate change is caused by humans. But that likely has less to do with an agenda and more with the collective knowledge of a community of scientists built throughout the years – AKA the scientific consensus (16).
Thus when presenting both viewpoints there should be an emphasis on the expert consensus (5,13). This has been shown to help correct misperceptions (13,17,18).
Next time you see two points of view presented as being equally valid, ask yourself (2):
- What is the scientific consensus on the topic?
- Are the interviewed experts speaking outside their field of expertise?
- What are other sources saying?