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Fact checking the fact checkers fact check metadata

Fact checking the fact checkers fact check metadata

Tim Finin, 10:26pm 13 May 2017

TL;DR: Some popular fact checking sites are saying that false is true and true is false in their embedded metadata 

I’m a fan of the schema.org claimReview tags for rendering fact checking results as metadata markup embedded in the html that can be easily understood by machines. Google gave a plug for this last Fall and more recently announced that it has broadened its use of the fact checking metadata tags.  It’s a great idea and could help limit the spread of false information on the Web.  But its adoption still has some problems.

Last week I checked to see if the Washington Post is using schema.org’s ClaimReview in their Fact Checker pieces. They are (that’s great!) but WaPo seems to have misunderstood the semantics of the markup by reversing the reviewRating scale, with the result that it assets the opposite of its findings.  For an example, look at this Fact Checker article reviewing claims made by HHS Secretary Tom Price on the AHCA which WaPo rates as being very false, but gives it a high reviewRating of 5 on their scale from 1 to 6.  According to the schema.org specification, this means it’s mostly true, rather than false. ??

WaPo’s Fact Check article ratings assign a checkmark for a claim they find true and from one to four ‘pinocchios‘ for claims they find to be partially (one) or totally (four) false. They also give no rating for claims they find unclear and a ‘flip-flop‘ rating for claims on which a person has been inconsistent. Their reviewRating metadata specifies a worstRating of 1 and a bestRating of 6. They apparently map a checkmark to 1 and ‘four pinocchios‘ to 5. That is, their mapping is {-1:’unclear’; 1:’check mark’, 2:’1 pinocchio’, …, 5:’4 pinocchios’, 6:’flip flop’}. It’s clear from the schema.org ClaimReview examples that that a higher rating number is better and it’s implicit that it is better for a claim to be true.  So I assume that the WaPo FactCheck should reverse its scale, with ‘flip-flop‘ getting a 1, ‘four pinocchios‘ mapped to a 2 and a checkmark assigned a 6.

WaPo is not the only fact checking site that has got this reversed. Aaron Bradley pointed out early in April that Politifact had it’s scale reversed also. I checked last week and confirmed that this was still the case, as this example shows. I sampled a number of Snope’s ClaimCheck ratings and found that all of them were -1 on a scale of -1..+1, as in this example.

It’s clear how this mistake can happen.  Many fact checking sites are motivated by identifying false facts, so have native scales that go from the mundane true statement to the brazen and outrageous completely false.  So a mistake of directly mapping this linear scale into the numeric one from low to high is not completely surprising.

While the fact checking sites that have made this mistake are run by dedicated and careful investigators, the same care has not yet been applied in implementing the semantic metadata embedded in their pages on for their sites.


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