In the days following the 2016 US election hyper-partisan online news site Breitbart published a map of the US saying that Trump had won by 7.5 million votes. Of course, we now know that he lost the popular vote by 3 million, but by the time Breitbart had corrected the story it had already been shared thousands of times (35,000 shares, 59,000 likes) and the uncorrected piece one was not taken down. That fake news spreads far and wide is not longer news, but the success of Breibart’s article may have been helped by the inclusion of the authoritive-looking, yet utterly bogus map (seen below), showing almost all of the US covered in red (Republicans) with a diminutive splash of blue (Democrats) in California and areas in or near New York. The correct map of the county election results is sitting to the right.
It has become remarkably simple to create a valid-looking website, which to the unassuming eye resembles an official, big-name news outlet. But as if verifying text content wasn’t hard enough, seductive visualisations; graphs, charts, and maps, made with free tools found anywhere on the internet, can make fact checking even harder.
In an increasingly data-saturated world, individuals without the necessary skills to interpret the visualisation of that data with a critical eye are at a disadvantage. Indeed, while there is no shortage of disinformation and “FAKE NEWS!” around, there is also estimated to be a deficit of 500,000 data scientists and statisticians in the EU, meaning plenty of opportunities for anyone with a head start in data literacy.
The ability to collect, manage, evaluate, and apply data, in a critical manner, can begin in the classroom by showing young people exactly how statistics and numbers can be doctored by anyone with a particular agenda in mind. The following se