Argument: Misinformation and Biases Infect Social Media, Both Intentionally and Accidentally
This chapter explains how to identify the main pieces of an argumentative essay: the thesis statement, claims, and evidence.
The Structure of “Misinformation”
All pieces of writing have a purpose.
|✔ A text you send to a friend may say that you’re running late or you ran out of gas.|
|✔ A textbook provides objective and unbiased information, meaning that the authors of the textbook don’t include their opinions; they focus only on facts.|
|✔ A narrative essay shares the author’s personal story with the reader. Writers of narrative essays want you, the reader, to know something about them.|
The article “Misinformation and Biases Affect Social Media, Both Intentionally and Accidentally,” by Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia and Filippo Menczer, is an example of argumentative writing. The word “argument” often suggests that there is a “winner,” who ends up being right and a “loser,” who is proven wrong. An academic argument – the kind that college students like you read – is not a matter of “right” and “wrong.” The authors of an academic argument want to convince you that their position on a topic or their solution to a problem is worth considering. It may not be the only solution, but it is worth considering and is supported by evidence.
To persuade you take their solution seriously, Ciampaglia and Menczer must show you that there is a problem and that their solution is reasonable. Their essay claims that that peoples’ biases spread misinformation on social media; this is the problem. It suggests that using the tools that they created will reduce the spread of misinformation; this is the solution.
Identifying Parts of an Argumentative Essay
The purpose of this exercise is to understand the structure of this essay by identifying its individual parts.
Thesis Statement. The authors’ thesis statement is on page two of their essay. It states:
“Our research has identified three types of bias that make the social media ecosystem vulnerable to both intentional and accidental misinformation.”
The thesis statement provides you, the reader, with important information that tells you what to expect as you read the rest of the article:
|✔ First, the authors have done research on their topic, so they are prepared to support their thesis statement with evidence.|
|✔ Second, the authors have identified three types of bias, so you should expect them to explain each type because bias is an essential piece of their argument. It’s even part of the article’s title.|
|✔ Third, the authors can connect their research on bias directly to the misinformation on social media. This connection is necessary to support the thesis statement. Without this connection, their thesis statement would fall apart.|
Structure. The authors, in fact, explain each type of bias in a separate section of the essay. They begin with “Bias in the Brain,” continue with “Bias in Society,” and end with “Bias in the Machine.” It’s likely that all of these sections will have similar structures, so if you identify the structure of one, you can find that structure repeated in the other two.
Bias in the Brain. This paragraph has three purposes:
(1) It provides background information. This is information you need to understand about how your brain works before you can understand the authors’ argument.
(2) It explains a problem. The problem is the presence of bias, which causes the spread of misinformation on social media.
(3) It offers a solution. The solution is the way the authors propose to address the problem.
Bias in the Brain – Background Information Here is the background information taken directly from essay.
“Cognitive biases originate in the way the brain processes the information that every person encounters every day. The brain can deal with only a finite (limited) amount of information, and too many incoming stimuli (ideas) can cause information overload. That in itself has serious implications (consequences) for the quality of information on social media. We have found that steep competition for users’ limited attention means that some ideas go viral despite their low quality – even when people prefer to share high-quality content.”
Bias in the Brain – Problem. Here is the explanation of the problem taken directly from essay.
“To avoid getting overwhelmed, the brain uses a number of tricks. These methods are usually effective, but may also become biased when applied in the wrong contexts.”
“One cognitive shortcut happens when a person is deciding whether to share a story that appears on their social media feed. People are very affected by the emotional connotations of a headline, even though that’s not a good indicator of an article’s accuracy. Much more important is who wrote the piece.”
Bias in the Brain – Proposed Solution. Here is the authors’ proposed solution taken directly from essay.
Authors Ciampaglia and Menczer repeat this information in the paragraphs called “Bias in Society,” and “Bias in the Machine.”
Using the analysis of “Bias in the Brain” as a guide, try to identify the background information, problem, and proposed solution for “Bias in Society” and “Bias in the Machine.”
Bias in Society
- Background Information: What necessary background information about society do the authors provide that will help you understand their proposed solution?
- Problem: How do the authors show that society creates bias?
- Solution: What solution do the authors propose to address the problem of society-based bias in the spread of misinformation?
Bias in the Machine
- Background Information: What necessary background information about algorithms search engines do the authors provide that will help you understand their proposed solution?
- Problem: How do the authors show that “the machine” (algorithms and search engines) creates bias?
- Solution: What solution do the authors propose to address the problem of machine-based bias in the spread of misinformation?
What do you think?
Please answer the following questions, which ask for your opinion. There are no right or wrong answers.
- Do you think that each paragraph about bias that you analyzed used the same structure or structures that were very similar to each other? Or did each structure seem to be different? Please explain your answer.
- The authors, Ciampaglia and Menczer, want to present information that is clear, trustworthy, and persuasive. If you had to grade them on their presentation of information, what grade would you give them and why?
- In the conclusion of the essay, the authors state that, despite all of their research and the research of others, “there are many questions left to answer.” What questions would you like to ask? (Again, this is your opinion so be creative!)