Spectra Word Cloud; The Effect of Social Media on the Spread of Vaccine Misinformation

Menon, Mahesh, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Vrugtman, Rosanne, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

Over the past decade, the way information spreads has substantially changed. The twenty-four-hour news cycle, the advent of social media, and the amount of raw content currently generated on the Internet all have radically restructured the dynamics of society. This portfolio documents two separate research projects that deal with the production and consumption of information. For the technical research topic, the final product was the Spectra Word Cloud. This summer, as an intern for Capital One, I was tasked with creating a data visualization for an internal Capital One website called Spectra. The final deliverable, my technical research project, is a word cloud with various filters that uses user input to display important data trends from the website. For the STS research topic, the enclosed research discusses the question: How has social media enabled the spread of misinformation surrounding vaccines? Overall, the paper discusses the culture around social media and its consequences.
Capital One is an American bank with a reputation for being technology-focused. I worked for Capital One as a Software Engineering Intern and was tasked with creating a data visualization for Spectra, an internal Capital One tool that employees use to evaluate loans. These employees, called credit reviewers, fill out a questionnaire, termed a linesheet, for each loan and write down comments when the entity paying off the loan violates Capital One guidelines. These comments, along with overall loan summaries, are stored in the Spectra database, and the Spectra team wanted to create a feature that could visually show trends within the semantic data. The credit risk team at Capital One must be aware of any fluctuations in the lending industry. The tool that I created, the Spectra Word Cloud, allows credit reviewers to select specific time frames, and lines of businesses, and view the most frequent words that appear in the relevant linesheets. For example, if credit reviewers at Capital One wanted to determine how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their loan portfolio, they could select a timeframe of the past year and a half, and see which words appear most frequently in the word cloud. The Spectra Word Cloud tool will be instrumental in Capital One’s effort to successfully manage their risk, by making linguistic trends in their data clearer and more accessible.
As social media becomes a more important piece of many young people’s lives across the United States, the consequences of it are becoming apparent (Auxier & Anderson, 2021). There is a lack of fact-checking on the Internet, and it causes an echo chamber of misinformation to form (Zhang et al., 2021). One topic that has been affected is the COVID-19 vaccine. A debate is going on across the country about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine (Suarez-Lledo & Alvarez-Galvez, 2021). While many respected institutions are recommending everyone to get vaccinated, many people still resist as a result what they read and hear on the Internet (Allcott et al., 2019). Social media is an obvious catalyst to this anti-vaccine movement, as it is a huge culprit of the spread of misinformation (Xiao et al., 2021). This paper determines how social media has affected the spread of vaccine misinformation. Previous research about vaccine misinformation and social media are used to show quantitatively how exactly information spreads across social media. In addition, user interactions on specific platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are analyzed to demonstrate the consequences of the unregulated online communities that form. This research is analyzed using technological momentum to accurately describe how social media has taken a hold in society. The findings of this paper indicate the dangers of social media and should influence both policy makers and citizens on how to protect ourselves from misinformation.
These projects combined together form a complete perspective on how we interact with information. In fact, working on these projects at the same time has had a large effect on my day-to-day life. Seeing both sides of the topic has changed how I think about the media I interact with. My phone is now in grayscale, I have deleted many of my social media apps, and I have muted a large number of my notifications. Whether or not these changes will stick, I am not certain. However, it's clear from these actions that completing these projects have dramatically affected the way I think. The Spectra Word Cloud and STS research in combination illustrate the power and influence of information, and inform a more complete view of how people should interact with content.

BS (Bachelor of Science)

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Rosanne Vrugtman
STS Advisor: Bryn Seabrook

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