We don’t use a linear scale to rate the truth of political claims at Zebra Fact Check.
We have long criticized such systems because they lack nuance, create misleading impressions and give readers an excuse not to read the text of the fact check.
We could not introduce a rating system without believing we have addressed those problems.
Our system simply provides a graphic representation of specific findings in the fact check. If we can find a way of interpreting a claim to make it true, we post a red button with a capital “T” on it to represent that it is a true statement. Depending on the degree of difficulty in giving the statement a true rating, we place one of three red “charitable interpretation” buttons beside the “T.” The bigger the + sign, the more charity was needed. Where we see no reasonable way to read the statement as true, we use an “F” button.
We use a set of white buttons to describe misleading rhetoric such taking things out of context or employing apples-to-oranges comparisons.
We use a set of black buttons to represent fallacies either explicit in the political claim or significantly encouraged by the claim. Those icons, unless we see a need to create more, were created by YourLogicalFallacyIs.com and are used by permission.
The rating will always follow the text of the fact check, and will reflect specific criteria examined in the text of the fact check, like whether we had to use charitable interpretation to see a claim as true or whether the claim commits or encourages fallacious reasoning.
A rating might look like this:
Hovering the cursor over an icon will give a text description. Clicking on the icons will lead in most cases to a more detailed description.
If we find a rating true with some level of charitable interpretation and in addition list one or more fallacies in association with the statement, the fallacies occur with the charitable interpretation. We find the non-charitable interpretations false.
These ratings are not made with the objectivity of a machine, so we do not emphasize the use of language, like “Zebr-O-Meter,” that conveys that impression. The rating symbols will never suggest that a political statement is a lie in the sense of intentional deception, though in the text of the fact check we may judge that deceptive intent was likely.
Do the symbols convey a quick-and-easy way for the average person to judge the truth of a political claim? Probably not. But we embrace that problem. If political claims were supposed to be easy to figure out then nobody would need fact checkers in the first place.
This fact check site does not exist to give readers, by analogy, the answers to a multiple-choice test. It exists to show readers more complete information about political claims and how to use that information to get closer to the truth of the matter. Sometimes that process will involve difficult tasks like interpreting claims from the speaker’s perspective. Sometimes it will involve dipping into the language of logic and fallacies so that we can see the way politicians may lead us toward poor conclusions. We want to make our readers better prepared for tests.
Finally, please remember that this work isn’t easy, and the hardest part comes from trying to interpret each statement free from ideological bias. We don’t pledge perfection, but we pledge a good-faith effort.
Truth value modifiers
The bigger the white cross, the greater the charity required to find the statement true.