VizPol is an app designed to provide journalists with contextual information about unfamiliar graphic symbols they may encounter during field reporting, especially during live events, protests, and rallies. By offering journalists some additional information about these symbols (or just alerting them to the fact that a symbol may have broader political connotations) the VizPol app supports more accurate, effective reporting on an increasingly complex political landscape.

Background

VizPol began as the Political Visual Literacy Project in the spring of 2019 as a research collaboration among faculty and researchers at , the , and the , all at Columbia University. Inspired by photojournalism professor Nina Berman’s desire to for a tool that would help her better understand in real-time the unfamiliar imagery she was observing at political rallies and protests, the goal of the project is to combine cutting-edge computer vision techniques with human expertise to provide users with context for a broad range of political graphics and symbols. Now under development for more than a year, VizPol is available as both a mobile and web app, with new symbols being added by researchers and users on a regular basis.

Current contributors:

  • Nina Berman, Professor of Journalism, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University
  • Shih-Fu Chang, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University
  • Susan McGregor, Assistant Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism
  • Ishaan Jhaveri, Computational Research Fellow, Tow Center for Digital Journalism
  • Guangxing Han, Postdoctoral researcher, DVMM Lab, Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University
  • Keya Imani Rice, MS Documentary Specialization ’20, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

Past contributors:

  • Svebor Karaman
  • Xu Zhang
  • Bhaskar Ghosh
  • Jessica Peng
  • Michael Deng Li

Funding and other support

VizPol has received substantial staffing and research support from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Digital Video and Multimedia Lab in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Additional funding has also been provided by the at Columbia University’s , and the .

The VizPol team also wishes to extend special thanks to and the researchers, photo professionals and users who have shared their time, energy and images to help improve the quality of the project.

Publications and media coverage

The VizPol app (as of March 2020) is described in detail here: , Computation + Journalism Symposium, 2020.

We have also written about our reporting and development process in Columbia Journalism Review:

, Columbia Journalism Review, September 26, 2019.

, Columbia Journalism Review, June 2, 2020.

External media coverage

, Sarah Scire, Nieman Lab, June 3, 2020.

, The Economist, June 13, 2020.

, Stephen Shankland, C|NET, June 20, 2020.

”, Malte Lehming, Der Tagesspiegel, February 16, 2021. [Original title in German: Sind es Faschisten oder Antifaschisten? Die “VizPol”-App erkennt Gesinnung anhand von Symbolen]

A collaborative research project at Columbia University building apps to help journalists identify unfamiliar political symbols in the field.

A collaborative research project at Columbia University building apps to help journalists identify unfamiliar political symbols in the field.