I appreciated the opportunity to work on the Digital Humanities Capstone this semester. I chose to study vaccine misinformation visualizations throughout history. I have always been interested in misinformation visualizations, or images that convey mis- or disinformation. I chose to analyze misinformation visualizations about three vaccines: the smallpox vaccine, the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. I found the misinformation visualizations about the smallpox vaccine on archives. I largely found the misinformation visualizations about the MMR vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine on social media. While this research was rewarding and I am proud of my progress, I had a few issues. However, I was able to build a timeline and write an academic paper.
Overall, I was presented with two major difficulties: removal of images and reposting. Because some social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have removed the accounts of people who spread misinformation, or posts that spread misinformation, it was difficult to find the most popular images. Although this removal was beneficial-removing misinformation posts is one step in the process of combatting misinformation-it also resulted in some difficulty. I also struggled when building the timeline: initially, I wanted to discuss the first time that these images were posted, and their designer or artist. However, once again, this was difficult due to posting. Although I also tried to reverse-image-search, it was hard to find when these images originated online. Therefore, I spent a lot of time searching for the first date that these images were posted before largely dismissing the dates in favor of discussing the images and the misinformation perpetuated, or the negative effects of believing this misinformation. Once again, this is not a major issue.
This semester, I not only focused on building a timeline, but working on a paper component regarding anti-vaccination sentiment. Because anti-vaccination sentiment is so linked to the internet, I decided that this paper would also serve as part of my Digital Humanities project. I discussed each vaccine, their supporters and opponents, and the visualizations that were used to argue against vaccinations. This paper was meant to show the timeline as well, and I discussed specifically the evolution of arguments against vaccines and the anti-vaccine visualizations. Admittedly, this paper was a major part of my research and was also very time-consuming. This paper will be on the University of Iowa Internal Repository. This paper allowed me to improve my writing skills and document the history of anti-vaccine misinformation.
One of my favorite elements of this project is that it is still ongoing: although the timeline is online, it is still incomplete, and I plan on working on it during my time at the University of Iowa. I plan on uploading the first portion by the end of 2021.