Thursday, August 30, 2012

PolitiFact’s “Settle It!”: An App Review

Since websites like were created to assess the truthfulness of urban legends, chain e-mails, rumors, and other misinformation spread online, people have been looking for a quick and easy way to settle the truth once-and-for-all.

A new app from Pulitzer Prize-winning website PolitiFact could do just that, settling debates and silencing know-it-alls. Called “Settle It!,” the free app, available for iPhone and Android devices,  is based on the PolitiFact website—founded and run by the Tampa Bay Times since August 2007—which has become the largest political fact-checking website on the web.

The app draws largely from PolitiFact’s constantly updated content and borrows its main functions, like PolitiFact’s signature Truth-O-Meter system. The Truth-O-Meter relies on a few ratings for checking facts: True, False, Mostly True, Mostly False, Half True, and Pants on Fire (reserved for only the most ridiculous falsehoods). 

However, to improve on its new app, PolitiFact got together with a handful of “journalists, technologists, and idealists” for an idea session—hosted by NPR—to figure out what concepts and features they wanted to have.

Here are the fruits of their labor:

The app has a simplistic Twitter-like interface and search feed that focuses on being user-friendly.  Searches using key words bring up a scrollable list of relevant quotes next to images of the people who said them. A search with the key words “same sex marriage,” for example, presented statements from well-known politicians/pundits to the not-so-well-known—among them were quotes from Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, senate delegate Bob Marshall, and popular Facebook posts.

Think you know your stuff? Other features of the app include the PolitiFact Challenge, a fun game which allows players to test whether they can recognize the factuality of statements. The game, which has users pick between “True,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire” ratings, also works on a point system. Earning points for each correct answer, players can move up through five player levels, from “Intern” to “Aide,” then from “Lobbyist” to “Pundit,” and finally to the highest level, “Wonk.”

Another, the “trending” feature shows the most buzzworthy current statements. The most popular statement at the moment is from Romney—“I didn’t inherit money from my parents”—which received a rating of “Half True.”

The app also allows you to share information with friends or opponents via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.

Even if you can’t find what you’re looking for, the app allows you to submit your own requests for specific statements.

What’s the Verdict?
PolitiFact’s “Settle It!” does what it’s intended to do—and does it very well. Easy to use and easy to navigate, the app effectively draws lines of truth and fiction in tough debates where you need to be up on your facts and figures.

With PolitiFact Challenge and its interactive functions, the app also fulfills its goal of encouraging “engagement in democracy.”

What’s great about “Settle It!” is that the app not only gives you a verdict for individual statements, but breaks down its reasoning in layman’s terms. For those who are looking for a quick answer for a given topic, beneath the Truth-O-Meter, the site gives you a succinct explanation of why the statement was so right or so wrong.  However, the site will also give you a full rundown of the quote’s origin and the facts or misinformation behind it. It even samples excerpts from key documents (like the Constitution and the healthcare mandate) to point out exactly where people have misinterpreted text.

A large effect of the app is the comfort of having an on-demand service of fact checking. The posts are updated very frequently. Perhaps if you had the more convincing argument in a dinner table debate with Settle It!’s help you would even feel a lingering sense of satisfaction.

But the most lasting impression that the app and PolitiFact can give is a sense of accountability for speech and the written word—not only from the policy makers and elected officials that we anticipate will know their facts, but from the average person as well, to think and review their facts before they disseminate “Half Truths” and even “Pants on Fire” rumors to the larger digital world.  

Links to download the app are available at 

Post by Lori Keong, Student Worker/Blogger, Russell Library

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