[NetBehaviour] Disinformation Visualization: How to lie with datavis

marc garrett marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Wed Feb 5 17:31:15 CET 2014

Disinformation Visualization: How to lie with datavis

By Mushon Zer-Aviv

When working with raw data we’re often encouraged to present it 
differently, to give it a form, to map it or visualize it. But all maps 
lie. In fact, maps have to lie, otherwise they wouldn't be useful. Some 
are transparent and obvious lies, such as a tree icon on a map often 
represents more than one tree. Others are white lies - rounding numbers 
and prioritising details to create a more legible representation. And 
then there’s the third type of lie, those lies that convey a bias, be it 
deliberately or subconsciously. A bias that misrepresents the data and 
skews it towards a certain reading.

It all sounds very sinister, and indeed sometimes it is. It’s hard to 
see through a lie unless you stare it right in the face, and what better 
way to do that than to get our minds dirty and look at some examples of 
creative and mischievous visual manipulation.

Over the past year I’ve had a few opportunities to run Disinformation 
Visualization workshops, encouraging activists, designers, 
statisticians, analysts, researchers, technologists and artists to 
visualize lies. During these sessions I have used the DIKW pyramid (Data 
 > Information > Knowledge > Wisdom), a framework for thinking about how 
data gains context and meaning and becomes information. This information 
needs to be consumed and understood to become knowledge. And finally 
when knowledge influences our insights and our decision making about the 
future it becomes wisdom. Data visualization is one of the ways to push 
data up the pyramid towards wisdom in order to affect our actions and 
decisions. It would be wise then to look at visualizations suspiciously.


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