Dear America, Here Is An In-Depth Foreign Interference Tool Using Data Visualization

My dataviz journey from medicine to defending democracy

Matthias Stahl
Oct 30, 2020 · 8 min read
Full overview of the visualization: Red balloons reflecting foreign interference attributions.
Balloons for democracy: Revealing foreign interference attacks and their sources of attribution in order to sensitize people on the politicization of such allegations and claims.

Am I on the right track? Is my work in the medical field enough? Could I do more?

Foreign Interference

How I Built The Balloon Viz

Black dots with a short vertical line arranged on a horizontal timeline.
Black dots with a short vertical line arranged on a horizontal timeline.
My first attempt to plot foreign interference cases by their attribution date from left to right. In order to get a sense of how clustered the data points are, I attached alternating vertical lines to each event.
Black dots packed as beeswarm on a horizontal timeline. The circle have various fill opacities.
Black dots packed as beeswarm on a horizontal timeline. The circle have various fill opacities.
Declustering circles with D3’s force simulation and collision prevention. The shades of blue already represent the case’s attribution score. A measure for the confidence in the reporting of each respective case.

Social Media Impact

Same as before, but now adding large semi-trasparent red circles around the black dots.
Same as before, but now adding large semi-trasparent red circles around the black dots.
Adding social media coverage encoded as transparent red circles around each case. It reminded me of a map of impacts — an analogy which isn’t too bad. However, readability was strikingly limited.
Black dots with semi-transparent red circles on top of curved vertical lines standing on the horizontal timeline.
Black dots with semi-transparent red circles on top of curved vertical lines standing on the horizontal timeline.
Separating the social media impact from the timeline led to an interesting arrangement of the events into a vernal flower field. While this was visually appealing, I felt uncomfortable with the analogy. Foreign interference attacks as a blooming field?
Sketch notes of different “circle” shapes: Flames, arcs, petals.
Sketch notes of different “circle” shapes: Flames, arcs, petals.
Exploring alternative shapes for the social media impact encoding. A blank piece of paper and a pencil are the best tools for free and quick design brainstorming.

Design Edits

Red shaded flames on top of the curved blue lines.
The match cabinet. Turning flowers to flames lit the visualization on fire. Enjoy this screenshot as you will not see these flames in the running visualization.

A Wider Range Of Data

Red balloons with different saturation. Balloon heights and radii reflect logarithmic social media impact.
Red balloons with different saturation. Balloon heights and radii reflect logarithmic social media impact.
Two logarithmic scales: Social media impact encoded as balloon height and radius. Both in logarithmic scale. Low performing cases are well distinguishable, but extremely high cases cannot be spotted.
Red balloons with different saturation. Balloon heights reflect logarithmic and radii square-root social media impact.
Red balloons with different saturation. Balloon heights reflect logarithmic and radii square-root social media impact.
A change of the radius scaling to a square-root function. The social media champs can now easily be identified by their enormous balloon radius.
Balloons with blue lines are on top of a world map linking balloons to countries.
Putting a map just below the timeline opened up the possibility to link the balloons to a country of origin.

What I Learned

Further Reading

Acknowledgement

Nightingale

The Journal of the Data Visualization Society