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How misinformation, confirmation bias is making recovery harder for Club Q survivors

In addition to grappling with the events of the November tragedy, a Club Q survivor describes another challenge: hateful comments and misinformation online.
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Posted at 1:07 PM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 13:07:15-05

For this story, Scripps station KMGH spoke with a Club Q survivor about how misinformation can be polarizing and dangerous, and with an MSU Denver professor about the importance of seeing the full picture in the information we follow online. 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – For Ed Sanders, a survivor of the November attack at Club Q, recovery is a slow process.

“Phantom pain,” he called the feeling, “from all the pieces of me that aren’t here anymore, but I think I’m doing pretty well.”

He has a bullet wound he calls a “Frankenstein scar.”

Sanders, 63, was shot twice while at Club Q the weekend before Thanksgiving last year. He was waiting in line to get a drink when gunfire rang out.

“I turned around to look and all I could see was the flash of the bullets,” he said.

He was struck once in the leg and once in the back before playing dead. The gunman killed five people and wounded several others in the attack.

“[The bullets] missed my spine, missed my kidneys. The broken rib stopped it from my heart, probably,” he said.

Sanders, who is openly gay and has been an advocate for LGBTQ rights throughout his life, says the recovery is only made more difficult by misinformation and hatred online – particularly toward the trans community.

He wants the message to be about acceptance and tolerance.

“A lot of hatred is directed at the trans community because they’re viewed as unnatural,” he said. “They’re trying to live in safety.”

“A trans woman is a woman and a trans man is a man.”

KMGH also spoke with Anna Ropp, a professor of psychological sciences at Metropolitan State University of Denver, who says much of what we see online “doesn’t show the full picture” and can be polarizing and even dangerous.

“For the LGBTQ population, if we talk about gender – there are people out there who say there are only two genders, but the research behind that does not back that up at all,” she said. “So they’re treating people who are intersex, or trans or nonbinary in a very negative way based on what they think is science.”

“The implications can be greater for groups like that [...] because it has a chance to only increase that discrimination or negativity.”

An issue on both sides of the political aisle, Rupp says, is confirmation bias in the consumption of information – only following those on social media who agree with our viewpoints.

“We have all of this information that is consistent with what we already believe,” Rupp said. “When that happens, there’s a lot of research that says our attitudes about that will only get more extreme.”

The data backs it up, too. The Pew Research Center says about one-half of Americans get their information from social media instead of from reputable news sources.

“Life is more complicated, but the complicated headline doesn’t always get the clicks,” Rupp said. “[Confirmation bias] can make you more radicalized. [...] It’s called group polarization.”

Ropp suggested using an app like Ground News, which helps users compare headlines across the political spectrum using media bias ratings-driven data. Ground News describes its mission like this: “We’re on a mission to well inform the world by empowering readers to think freely about the issues of our times.”

Ropp says the platform can help find “blind spots” in some partisan media coverage.

For Sanders, he says he’s more compelled than ever before to stand up for what’s right.

“Gay people can go out and be themselves, but trans people – that’s a real job to go out in your preferred dress or make-up. The hate is out there,” he said. “They’re lovely human beings, they’re not monsters or predators or anything like that. They’ve just been demonized.”

His message to those who hear his story: “Take a moment to get to know somebody.”

“Once you know them, you’ll know that all this misinformation is just wrong,” he said.

This article was written by KMGH.