Confirmation Bias At Work

There’s a line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, The Boxer, that has always seemed perceptive to me: “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”

No kidding!

We can really see that phenomenon in the debates, Facebook posts and memes and twitter wars over the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. It won’t resolve the issue of confirmation bias–“seeing what we want to see and disregarding the rest”–but a recent study of the demonstrations documents the reality behind the spin.

The report was from the U.S. Crisis Monitor, which is a collaboration between the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) and Princeton University’s Bridging Divides Initiative. The project collects and analyzes data on protest movements, using news reports, social media and a variety of other sources.

The report covers data gathered on protests between May 24, the day before police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, and Aug. 22. During that period, the researchers collected more than 10,600 demonstration events across the country, with more than 7,750 of them related to the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests peaked in late May and early June, and while they have leveled off since, activists in many places across the country continue to hold largely peaceful demonstrations every day.

The overwhelming majority of the protests — more than 10,100 — involved peaceful protesters, the researchers found. In only about 5%, or under 570 of the protests, did participants engage in violence.“

The vast majority of demonstration events associated with the BLM movement are non-violent,” the researchers wrote. “In more than 93% of all demonstrations connected to the movement, demonstrators have not engaged in violence or destructive activity.”

What about the protests that became violent? The report found that, when violence occurred,  it either began with what the report labeled “state-sanctioned violence”–described as “violent intervention from local, state or federal authorities,” or was initiated by counterprotesters from extremist groups.

The research also reported that the police or military “disproportionately used force while intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement, relative to other types of demonstrations.” In nearly 10% of BLM protests they studied, the police violently intervened by deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and/or pepper spray, and were seen assaulting protesters with batons and other items.

If 93% of the demonstrations were peaceful, why do so many Americans believe they were violent?

The researchers suggest three likely reasons: selective media coverage (they don’t point fingers, but the identity of those media sources isn’t hard to deduce), “disinformation” campaigns on social media, and viewers’ pre-existing political opinions. In other words, confirmation bias.

And for those who are prejudiced against Black people, we have the new phenomenon of right-wing provocateurs infiltrating the protests, pretending to be “Antifa” or BLM members. According to NPR and other sources, far-right white supremacist extremists are responsible for much of the protest violence. The Boogaloo Boys (I wonder where that name came from) are reportedly working to foment a race war, and a white supremacist channel on a messaging app encouraged its followers to commit violence during George Floyd protests, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

These strategies are aimed at Americans who harbor racial bias along with confirmation bias. Trump supporters hope that enough people believe what they are already primed to believe–and disregard the facts.


  1. I lost a good friend of 50+ years over the past week to confirmation bias. He had sent me a link to this YouTube video “documentary” that goes on for nearly 3 hours about every conspiracy theory advanced to date. While he said he doesn’t necessarily agree with it all, he DID say he likes to “listen to both sides”. And then he asserted that what’s in the video is NO worse than much of what you hear from the likes of Ms Pelosi and Mssrs Schumer, Schiff and others.

    First off, this kind of stuff isn’t part of any “side”. It’s just pure fantasy – it simply has no place in the realm of political discourse. It’s not right nor left. It’s not libertarian nor socialist. It’s just “out there”.

    But what bothered me far more than his watching the whole thing and not dismissing it out of hand was his willingness to suggest that it is equivalent to statements and/or policy positions made by our National Dem leaders.

    THAT is confirmation bias taken to its extreme and it has occurred TENS OF MILLIONS of times in our society. My friend is no dummy – He has a biology degree from a Big Ten school and had a successful career in Big Pharma. I don’t get it. And it makes me very sad.

  2. “If 93% of the demonstrations were peaceful, why do so many Americans believe they were violent?”

    Because the media is showing and reshowing the violent segments of protests; they tell us the majority of protesters were/are peaceful but…”A picture is worth a thousand words.” and burning buildings and heavily armed protesters are news. How long has it been since we have seen news films of those peaceful protests, marches and rallies which began in Washington, D.C. on January 21, 2017 and spread across this country with millions of Americans marching together? Outside agitators have been found to be the source of much of the violence; is Dark Money behind the violence?

  3. Yes, the media was also complicit in giving us Donald Trump. He received millions of dollars worth of free media time during his campaign, and the fools who ate that up are the same ones exhibiting confirmation bias against BLM. As Todd will tell us today, the MSN OF COURSE will play “If it bleeds, it leads”. It’s what sells. It’s what makes the sponsors happy.

    That concept swings both ways, of course. The right-wing media ALSO follows that media axiom. Only now do I see the media taking responsibility for its awful performance of 2016 – and beyond. When a crumbling education system produces a populace ignorant of how its government works and how to think critically, the corporatists who own the media have a much easier task in pandering to the weakest among us.

    I’ve mentioned my ex-FBI “acquaintance” who is all in for the violence, QAnon, etc. Why? Because he is a patriot, he says. The shit he sends out from the right-wing media is revolting and idiotic. And yet… He laps it up. This from a former special agent who was supposed to be an objective investigator.

    We, and others like us on this blog, have a responsibility to not just whine and beat our chests about how we see the world, but to do our best to disseminate the truth and the facts…like the article Sheila posted today.

  4. “A man hears what he wants to hear” is the crux of the biscuit, but

    I have squandered my resistance
    For a pocketful of mumbles
    Such are promises
    All lies and jest

    is certainly relevant to these times as well.

  5. We’re losing this war just like the Germans and Japanese did in W.W. II where the allies had broken both of their intelligence codes. The pro-Democracy intelligence-gathering in the U.S. has been compromised from the beginning, which I have been warning over and over on this blog for over five years. But, I guess, that must not be all that important.

  6. I heard George Will state on a YouTube video that 72% of African American children are raised without a father. I wonder how much of this is due to the racism in our criminal justice system. I wonder how many fathers have been incarcerated or killed by police.

  7. You don’t win a war with history. You have to be ahead of the game.

    “I skate to where the puck is gonna be, not where it has been.”
    ~Wayne Gretzky, NHL great

    But, I should have known better. This is a PROCEDURAL DEMOCRACY, not a SOCIAL DEMOCRACY blog. That’s why African-Americans have stayed away, which was pointed out a few days ago.

  8. Exactly.

    Here’s a link to a an online spreadsheet which documents many of the police abuses during these protests:*mIHYeMnoj9XWUp3Svb_KZA#

    It’s up to nearly 900 different documented examples of police-violence at the protests. There are news stories about this document. Here’s one from Slate:

  9. Our egos aren’t too keen on being told we are wrong. Being wrong is unbearable to the ego because if we are wrong about this “topic,” what else are we wrong about?

    Therefore, we have to confirm our rightness, and luckily for us, there is a media source out there that is targeted for like-minded individuals. We get all the confirmation our egos can handle and are told numerous times that we must have or need a particular product or service.

    So-called “objective news reporting” is non-existent unless done by extremely woke individuals who have no egos, thus not requiring constant reinforcement of their rightness.

    This is why any calls for unity fall flat because the oppressors do not want us united. There was a time when war would unify this country, but not anymore. The oligarchs also do not want unions in the workplace because it unites us behind a cause greater than ourselves.

    Our political class ignores the policies which tend to unite us as members of society because their sponsors don’t want to lose money, and they don’t like us to crossover with others we see as opponents realizing that we have more in common than we do oppose.

    The most remarkable example is the world’s religions. If they all taught about love and unity, there would be no division. Why are there over 1,500 different denominations of the same faith if unity is one of the primary lessons being taught?

  10. The Right Wing Reactionaries almost immediately tried to tie in the BLM demonstrators with the rioters and looters. The destructive rioters, vandals and looters were using the cover of the demonstrators to execute their criminal acts. The Right Wing Reactionaries did their best to create the story of the demonstrators and the lawless elements were one in the same.

    The Trumpeter’s on Face Book spread this disinformation far and wide, that BLM and Antifa were fronts for criminals. All the more reason to “Arm-Up” and display your weaponry to guard your gated communities.

    The Trumpet ever eager to create chaos amplified White Suburban and Rural Fear. Hordes of Blacks, Browns and Militant White Antifa’s were coming to your gated community and Hooterville’s The Trumpet and Pastor Pence will save You.

  11. Here’s what I don’t understand. The Trump campaign seems to have behind it the notion that what he needs to accomplish whatever it is he’s trying to accomplish is to make his loyal following more loyal. An ubber loyal 40%. I’ve seen no evidence that they aren’t motivated to actually vote. Why make them more loyal instead of expanding the base? Is it merely the fact that among his many incompetances is that he can’t be anything but what he’s always been? Does he have some revolutionary strategy to stay out of jail undemocratically? What’s up?

  12. Todd is on to something today, but humanity had to evolve in some fashion, and his current description of how we have come to operate may well be the one social Darwinism selected via trial and error, but aside from such philosophical speculation, we have a real problem in the here and now irrespective of how we got here. We have a fruitcake at the helm of our country in a nuclear world and a shot at his removal in less than two months. His removal (and not procedural niceties as suggested by Marv) should be our main if not sole focus from today to and including November 3. We can worry about “unity” and other such social desserts after we eat our main course of “beans and taters” November 3, the date the rubber meets the road in the real world ( and the one, for better or worse, we now inhabit for our niche in time).

    Some of Trump’s conduct both before and after Woodward’s explosive outings suggests that he doesn’t want to be president anymore, as noted by a WAPO opinion writer just yesterday, and it is not surprising to see a quick poll showing that Biden has jumped from a national lead of nine percent to fifteen percent subsequent to Trump’s admission that he lied in re the virus and his “losers and suckers” tirade against the military both dead and living, suggesting further that, finally, some of his cult and Falwell-less evangelical base may be having second thoughts. Our task? Drive the fifteen percent to twenty or more as we hone in for the political kill, taking no prisoners in the process, and why? Because this election is about more than a Biden or a Trump or a Democrat or a Republican. It’s about what is left of our democracy and our sacred mission to retain and strengthen it since, as I often note, our democracy is the most valuable asset we hold in common and one of the last few things left worth dying for. So to the Bastille!

  13. Why make them more loyal instead of expanding the base? Is it merely the fact that among his many incompetances is that he can’t be anything but what he’s always been? Does he have some revolutionary strategy to stay out of jail undemocratically? What’s up?

    It’s just more and more training to see who is going to be qualified to lead his STORM TROOPERS. Where in the Democratic Party do you expect to find the COUNTERVAILING FORCE to that eventuality?

    Pete, keep asking the right questions, maybe, someday, we might even come up with the right answers.

  14. Gerald,

    “So to the Bastille!”

    And if you beat Trump, you must also take out Pence along with him, AT THE SAME TIME. If not, it will just make matters worse.

    You do that by TRACKING and TREATING the DEEP SYSTEM that supports both of them. It’s doable.

  15. Poor media. It’s in a tough spot, especially the media that aspires to getting it right. It really doesn’t want to lie and doesn’t want to choose sides.


    Since the darkly engineered bounce of Dan Rather from CBS sixteen years ago, the major news media outlets have found that they are not equiped to protect themselves from carefully crafted traps sprung from the underground depths of their own organizations. Compounding that danger are modern laziness and ignorance among the so-called anchor professionals, witness the chain utterances of “you know” and “I mean”.

    Therefore, media cannot chance sorting info and reporting what judgement tells them is the truth.

    So, what is plan B?

    A couple of news orgs choose to casually report what they wish were true, knowing they will be accused of that anyway. The rest settle for reporting at least two sides of every story no matter what the truth is (I despise this choice more than, say, FOX lies). The worse that can happen to the presenters of two sides is that critics might accuse them of being too fair. Meanwhile, no one knows the truth of any story.

    Truth is very expensive. Imagine the budget for attorneys a major news outlet must have to feel protected against libel suits and attack litigation, etc. It’s much less expensive to avoid truth; the only cost being the loss of truth, which is easily expensed out and shared with all America. Bean counters love it.

    And what individual or organization has enough wealth and foolish courage to risk being the big hero and attempt to once again print or broadcast truth of the Walter Cronkite/David Brinkley/Tom Brokaw variety? Truth, when you’re a large broadcast network, is suicide.

    I see no end to the situation. Poor media.

  16. Why try to make one’s loyal following more loyal? I know why I would try that: it is insurance that my followers would be adequately motivated when I want them to do something much more dangerous than heretofore asked of them. Guess what that would be.

  17. By-the-way, what would it take to increase your loyalty? Soon, I may have a very tough job for all of you. lol

  18. Yeah, Larry, where is John? He is our learned link to Bronze Age philosophy and I miss his contributions to this blog. Are you O.K., John?

  19. I heard an interesting interview, if I remember right on Newsy. The GOP The Trumpet and Pastor Pence in particular realize they cannot expand the core voters: Right Wing Reactionaries, Neo-Confederates, Macho Authoritarian White Males, and the bible thumper’s.

    The goal for The Trumpet Campaign is to stir as much FEAR up as possible to motivate the base to get out and vote.

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