Mitigating Bias Through Content Strategy
Current events can often be the catalyst for addressing issues and challenges that organizations face to mitigate issues of bias and inequalities. Most recently, many organizations are making an effort to examine how their organizational practices might be biased or inequitable. If you are thinking about how your organization’s content can be more diverse, accessible, and inclusive, mitigating bias through your content strategy is an excellent place to start.
Mitigating bias requires us to challenge our unconscious categorizations and bias and actively identify those biases that are causing harm. One place to start is an understanding of the types of bias that we may insert into our writing. We’ve talked about bias in some of our other posts, and a few commons types of bias that find their way into content creation include:
- Cognitive bias: The tendency to increase mental efficiency by enabling people to make quick decisions without any conscious deliberation.
- Confirmation bias: The inclination of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses.
- Framing effect: The likelihood of people to decide on options based on having content presented within a positive or negative context.
Make deeper content connections
To start, you can review your content to determine if you have included any of your own biases. It is challenging work, and if you were the author of the content, it may require an honest review from your team or other colleagues as well. Look for opportunities where you can create experiences that resonate with audiences on multiple levels. Try to create content that connects with audiences beyond blackout Instagram posts, slogans, or hashtags. Here are a few things you might consider when trying to mitigate bias in your content strategy:
- Are the references, sources, testimonials, and quotes in your content from diverse voices?
- Is there diverse and equitable representation on content creator/producer teams?
- How diverse and inclusive is any audience research you’ve collected on the topic?
- How might the content affect people of diverse identities?
- Does your editorial guide include standards for plain language, unbiased vocabulary, and other inclusive languages?
- Is the language free of stereotyping and bias?
Stay vigilant and make adjustments
We tend to believe that our actions and reactions are exempt from conscious or subconscious biases, however, we all have biases to recognize and confront. Here are a few actionable steps you can take to make your language less biased.
Use “People” first language: Refer to People or individuals first. Use any descriptor after completing the noun phrase. For example, instead of disabled people, content creators should use the term people with a disability.
Find alternates to adjectives and descriptive language: Be aware of terms used to describe different communities. For example, instead of “marginalized communities”, use the terms such as “under-represented” or “historically under-represented communities.” Groups of people are not a monolith and lose their complexity when treated as such.
Use identity if it is relevant to the topic: If the content is about a particular community or organization whose race, ethnicity, or gender is relevant, include it in the content. If it does not matter or put the content’s theme or message in context, leave it out.
Watch for cultural or regional words or idioms: Common phrases and expressions can confuse or alienate readers who are from different regional or cultural backgrounds than the author. Cultural terms can get lost in translation for non-native English people. This includes sports metaphor, slang terms, and other words and phrases specific to one region or cultural identity.
Update your content strategy
After reviewing and auditing your content, you may consider updating or adding to a new or existing content strategy policies and guidelines to counter inherent bias and blind spots to reduce harmful results or hurting audiences. You can make a series of updates to address bias in your current content strategy:
- Implement additional layers to content audits, to include adding categories to better understanding how to better execute your organization’s mandate.
- Review where and how in the process content is developed and created. Does content planning reflect the diversity of your audience? You can also build in processes or guidelines that remove bias from the start of the content creation process.
- Consider bias from the beginning of the content development and curation process; awareness during content decision-making can mitigate bias.
- Include gender-neutral language guidance in your style guide that provides solutions to typical, unconscious bias such as gender, race, education, economic status, and physical ability.
- Build diverse perspectives into the ranks of the editorial process decision-making to provide access to new ideas, sources, and voices to help your content be more inclusive and diverse.
- Improve the focus to have a clearer content intent. Avoid framing content as positive or negative.
Unconscious bias reinforces privilege and is often reproduced in information and content. Content producers, creatives, and strategists who proactively work to identify and reduce their presence can lessen the impact of bias. Recognizing how structured content is a reflection of societal values and actively working to not perpetuate biases and inequalities is a crucial part of this work. Content creators, curators, and producers can work to prioritize inclusion and equity over efficiency during the process of developing and managing content.
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