When data visualisation pushes fake news

Loads of debates on big data haven been widely discussed these years, data in the area of journalism is no exception, especially data visualisation .

Data visualisation usually in forms of graphs, tables, charts or other articulate pictures appears to be an vital element of journalism for effectively catching readers’ eyes. Furthermore, these easy-to-read images accompanying with real data enables the claims supported by those data visualisation be more likely to be believed in. Researchers of Cornell Universityreveal that graphs give more credibility to claims leading to persuasive effects. No wonder data journalism dramatically develops nowadays.

However, data visualisation can contribute to fake news if journalists do not appropriately make use of data. Problems result from the data visualisation without citing its source or the mistake in the process of transforming raw data to the final graphs. For example, professors argue that the graphic below is a distortion which is scandalous.

图片 1

The chart projected by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah in a congressional hearing investigating Planned Parenthood. (Chart from Americans United for Life’s website)

Professors point out that the trend lines are exaggerated and manipulated to give readers misleading information as the different units for the axis labels are easily ignored by readers.

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The corrected chart (from Linda Qiu)

In comparison with the above correct graph, we can see how fake information can be displayed through wrongly designing data visualisation.

What should we do to prevent data visualisation from fake news?

Firstly, the journalists should equip themselves with sophisticated abilities of visualising data. Like Mona Chalabi, data journalists can make a holistic effort on raw data, for example generating hand-drawn graphs and animations which leads to a more transparent data-gathering process. This not only ensures the accuracy of the data visualisation but also gives more credibility for the public to believe in it.

Apart from improving abilities, journalists should also keep honest and ethic in the process of data visualisation. This means journalists should have ethical, correct and objective epistemology towards raw data to present a truth for audience to interpret.

Facing the negative side of data visualisation, it is journalists’ duty to stop producing misleading information.

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