Not every topic warrants a “both sides” approach. Some viewpoints are simply not backed by empirical evidence or are based on false information. And journalists have to be careful not to present them as legit debates. If they do, they are creating a “false equivalence.”
TEACHERS: Learn more about this topic and how you might teach it with your students via one of our free summer PD courses: https://teach.kqed.org/misinformation-course-collection/
What is false equivalence?
It’s when you set up two opposing sides of an argument, and make it look like they hold equal weight, when really, they don’t. And presenting both of these views as valid is a logical fallacy, or a “false equivalence.”
Why do false equivalences happen in journalism?
When news is breaking, journalists are often faced with making decisions quickly, without much time for fact-checking. Propagandists -- people who want to use the media to spread a particular cause or belief -- often take advantage of the chaos of breaking news to spread rumors and conspiracy theories. They often create false social media accounts, and then use other false accounts to comments and like a post. Even trained journalists can fall for false posts when they are shared widely by real-looking accounts on places like Twitter or Facebook. False equivalences also happen when news outlets will invite two opposing “sides” on an issue to debate one another, but one side doesn’t rely on solid evidence to back their argument. Both sides are given equal air time and equal weight -- creating a false impression of equivalence. The false argument will often spread on social media before it can be de-bunked.