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Criminal Mis-Representation

I've spend much of my career exploring how representations can be designed to help people to manage and control complex systems. The goal has been to use representations to increase perspicacity and to help people to 'see' what matters with respect to the situations that they are managing.

So it makes me sad and angry to see people intentionally use graphics to hide information and to purposely mismanage situations. In this case, in a way that can have severe consequences. Look at these two graphics and note how the graphical images are intentionally manipulated to misrepresent the COVID situation in the state of Georgia. This manipulation is intentionally designed to create the impression that there is no increasing risks of COVID in the state of Georgia. This manipulation is being used to justify policies and decisions that threaten the health of people in Georgia.

The graphic below is a more current version. Note the numbers continue to increase, but the graphic remains much the same - small red spots in a sea of blue. Note that the stated intention of the graph is to "aid understanding whether the outbreak is growing, leveling off, or declining...." But of course, the increases across these graphs will be hidden, as long as the color-to-number-mapping changes to accommodate the increasing number of cases.

In my view, the public officials responsible for these graphics are criminally liable for intentionally misleading the public. I don't understand why every newspaper in Georgia is not calling out this deception and publishing corrected graphics that show the true state of the COVID situation. This is not the first time that state officials have presented misleading data. The image below is from a press conference in May to help make the case that things were getting better. Note that the dates on the x-axis are not chronological.

For those involved in designing technology - this illustrates the powerful impact that representations can have on how people think. And this is an important reminder that we have an ethical responsibility to use that power to enhance and improve human experience.

1 thought on “Criminal Mis-Representation

  1. Jack Sherman

    Thanks for your honest, ethical assessment. As a physician, I am alarmed at this types of malicious death game being played in many places and not just in GA. As a political observer, I am not too surprise given the current affairs in DC. Sadly, I think the game will get even more intense as we move toward the election date. An independent committee really is needed to look into these potential criminal acts, but the current US Senate leaders are willing to play along. The short game, I see, is to make the data look favorable to win the election. After that, it will be a brand new ball game. Keep speaking out where there is wrong and I will do the same.

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