Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants

Title

Visual Lies: Infographics, Ethics, and Business Communication

Department

Writing Department

College

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

Infographics attempt to educate an audience about a specific issue in an interesting and easily navigable manner through a combination of words and visuals, often quickly communicating complex quantitative and/or qualitative information. They exist on nearly any topic within business communication, with many organizations now creating their own. Through social media, these infographics can be liked, posted, emailed, and tweeted with a single click. Infographics are not new, but their novelty is a recent rise to popularity within professional settings and the ease with which they can be shared. The merging of images and words is a powerful way to communicate multifaceted ideas. Arnheim (1997/1969) argues that audiences engage in a complex, though often quick, process when interpreting visuals. Infographics are effective because audiences can process visual information much more quickly than traditional prose. Audiences are also much more likely to remember the visual information after the fact. However, as is the case with all visuals, infographics are inextricably intertwined with ethics, as many communication scholars have suggested about visuals and data displays (Stallworth Williams, 2008; Tufte, 2003; Kienzler, 1997). Infographics present the illusion of trustworthiness because of their visual nature and presentation of statistical information. Moreover, infographics can easily present unethical information, omit source material, exclude authoring institutions, contain inaccurate information, or distort data to make a stronger point. Do creators of the genre, especially those produced by businesses, purposefully mislead their audiences for persuasive ends? This presentation will define the genre and explore how infographics situate themselves within business communication. The presentation also will examine some of the visual lies that often exist within infographics by showing specific examples. Finally, the presentation will raise questions about the genres ethical integrity.

Conference Name

Annual Conference for the Association of Business Communication

Conference Location

New Orleans

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