Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Who's the audience for our graphics? Not the people who need them the most

Disinformation in the United States is an asymmetrical phenomenon: prevalent and central to the political right, and peripheral elsewhere. Liberal and left-wing disinformation exists, but it's not as dominant, virulent, or violent.

It you are a conservative, the previous paragraph might make you cringe and stop reading; you might feel prompted to call me a left-wing partisan and ignore anything else I have to say—even if I'm hardly on “the left” on several matters.

You'll also ignore the multiple studies and books that warn against this phenomenon, calling them “biased”. This includes my own How Charts Lie.

That's the problem with stories such as this investigation by The New York Times. It describes how conspiracy theories about the attack on Paul Pelosi spread on the right-wing alternative reality, fueled by politicians, online influencers, media personalities, and even the thin-skinned new owner of Twitter.

Who's the audience for this type of investigative reporting? Who will read it and explore its beautiful graphics, such as the long beeswarm plot that reveals the ebb and flow of conspiratorial narratives?

I bet it won't be the audiences who need to read it the most. They'll dismiss it before even taking a look at it—precisely because it was published by The New York Times.

Instead, the audience for stories like this is me —and most of you, I guess. But we aren't the ones who need to be told that it's scary that half of the U.S. population is being fed a systematic diet of ignorance, fear, and hatred. We know that already. Just yesterday I saw the famous podcaster Joe Rogan offering his massive platform to a white supremacist who is also one of the main superspreaders of disinformation against LGBTQ people in this country. Shame on Rogan; he ought to know better.

None of this is a reason to stop doing research, writing, denouncing, and visualizing relevant subjects such as disinformation. But it is a reason to think about how to reach seemingly unreachable or unpersuadable audiences. Maybe through education, new platforms, and new voices, but I'm hardly optimistic.

Note: I'm scaling down my presence on Twitter. You can add this blog to your RSS reader (let's go back to the good old days!) or follow me on Mastodon. If you don't have a Mastodon account, here's a guide to get started.

Read some updates on my work here.