Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Elements of a Misleading Graphic

The internet is a vast wasteland of media sites vying for individual attention. It often seems that writers for these sites will employ any means neccesary to grab a reader's attention. In many cases, the flashy object to pull in that reader will be an information graphic. Flashy and colorful, a graphic might command the fleeting attention of a revenue generating reader by raising an interesting question or providing insight into a topic the reader finds interesting. The attentive reader may be able to identify many of these for what they are: advertisements rather than tools for communication.

Sure, many of these may be factual and insightful, but if their primary objective is to draw attention, you can bet your bottom dollar that many will be incorrectly displaying the data, or may be intentionally misleading if they are made to support a specific argument. Cognitive bias proliferates across internet forums for hot issues in social trends, politics, and religion. Writers are encouraged to create a graphic misrepresenting the data if it supports their opinion or argument. (See my post on 8/28 for an example of a misleading political graphic.) These graphics do not need to be blatantly untruthful, but can distort or obfuscate the real story the data tells.

The three ways a writer may deceive the reader are:

1) Hiding relevant data in order to highlight only the portion benefiting the story
2) Displaying too much data to downplay or minimize reality
3) Representing the data with the wrong type of graphic, so that it is easily confused or simply hard to read


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