Thursday, March 4, 2021

A big problem with PolitiFact's updated website

If it was a snake, it would have bit me.

When "Unwoke Narrative" used a Twitter thread to go off on PolitiFact for the "Mostly False" rating it gave to an Unwoke Narrative Instagram post, one of the issues was a charge PolitiFact used a misquotation.

We questioned Unwoke Narrative about that charge, noting that the supposed misquotation looked like a paraphrase or summary.

Unwoke Narrative made a great point in response. PolitiFact signals to readers that its quotations/summaries/paraphrases of the claims it is checking are quotations.

The deck material of PolitiFact fact checks gets formatted the way many blog templates show quotations. There's a solid vertical bar to the left of the quoted material. And a lone quotation mark in the margin.

Here's an example:

The image of Biden to the upper left occurs in the shape of a word balloon. Just below the Biden balloon and a little to the right we find the lone quotation mark. And to the right of that a vertical yellow line. That's three cues to the reader that what is not a quotation of Biden is a quotation of Biden.

For comparison, have a look at this example from a page designed to help bloggers blog more stylishly:

It's a similar scheme. It features the vertical line, albeit with a skinnier vertical line bracketing the quotation on the right margin. And there's the lone quotation mark just to the left of the quotation.

How did I overlook this for a year?

I thought of one way PolitiFact's format might not mislead people: Maybe it's a pull quote? If it was a pull quote, then PolitiFact could justify putting partial quotations inside a bigger quotation using the standard doubled quotation marks (" instead of ').

But these aren't pull quotes. They're summaries, paraphrases, quotations or sometimes combinations of those formatted as quotations.

We find it unimaginable that professional journalists could find this presentation acceptable. We imagine the experienced journalists at PolitiFact gave the design team too much free rein and then failed to see the problem when it came time to approve the revised format.

It's a deceptive practice and needs to go.

I still can't believe I didn't notice it without having it pointed out to me.

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