Defining phenomena and managing online sources

We have a lot planned for today, including developing strategies for defining the topics and phenomena for your projects, and introducing you to some tools for managing sources.

Counter-technology project: a case study

By now you should have:

I mentioned on Monday that this process models what I’m asking you to do for your project. Take 5-10 minutes to meet your panel and talk with them about this set of readings via the following tasks. Have someone tweet out your answers (or share the task) using our hashtag #WRTs18.

  1. Who are the people mentioned in the readings that are purposefully distorting reality? What are their interests? What tools and technologies are they using? How do these tools help them?
  2. Use the readings themselves (attribution, links, footnotes, etc.) to suggest additional readings that would deepen your understanding of these phenomena. In other words, where could we go next if we wanted to learn more?
  3. What search terms and keywords would you use if you wanted to find more articles on Google or Twitter?  Provide a list.

Brainstorming phenomena 

In the above example, we could take Web Brigades or Russian Trolls as our phenomena for this project. Here’s how one group might handle this for their project:



“Salutin’ Putin: inside a Russian troll house” (The Guardian, April 2015)

Facebook’s Russia-Linked Ads Came in Many Disguises” (New York Times, October 2017)

Twitter questions:

Q1: What do you already know about web brigades?

Q2: Why do you think Russia feels the need to use #RussianTrolls to influence the US?

Q3: Russian trolls have become more popular in the past few years, why do you think it’s grown?


This is, of course, is only one phenomenon among many you could choose from. Others might include:

  • doxing or doxxing
  • the internet of things
  • social media addiction
  • attention merchants
  • big data
  • algorithms
  • cookies
  • hacktivism
  • sharing economy
  • fake news
  • crowdsourcing
  • virality
  • hashtag activism
  • catphishing or online dating
  • astroturfing
  • identity theft
  • the dark web
  • trolling/cyberbullying/online harassment
  • online scams
  • clickbait
  • privacy controls
  • the digital divide
  • net neutrality
  • children & tech
  • laptops in the classroom
  • piracy

As you can see from this list, many of these overlap and interact, so there’s no clean way to define your topic. You are also welcome to suggest a starting point that is different from above. Work with your group to articulate your interests and then being to work through some of the following. You may choose to divvy up these tasks somewhat.

  • Start with Wikipedia to evaluate the scope of a phenomenon — especially how it is defined, structured, and linked to other phenomenon.
  • Brainstorm and keep track of additional keywords or search terms as you read. By reading the Wikipedia entry for clickbait, for example, I see that “listicles,” “Buzzfeed,” or even “yellow journalism” might be good search terms. More importantly, I notice that “viral marketing” is listed as a “See Also,” which means perhaps my phenomenon is actually more broad than just “clickbait.”
  • Search Google News to see how the phenomenon is being discussed today. These might be the articles you assign our class when it is your panel’s turn.
  • Search Google Scholar and Campbell Library for books and other scholarly materials on the subject.
  • As you search also be on the lookout for counter-technologies — again defined as tools, strategies, or literacies that help us manage, expose, disrupt, or otherwise limit the malfeasance these phenomena cause us online and IRL.

Homework for Monday, 2/26

  • Tweet out a potential reading with a comment. Use both the course hashtag (#WRTs18) and the hashtag(s) of the phenomenon. [Example: “Here’s an op-ed from the @washingtonpost about the role of #clickbait in politics. #WRTs18]
  • Respond to a groupmate’s post using the same hashtags.[Example: “Skimmed this article quickly. Why did @facebook install a #clickbait filter when we need literacies! #WRTs18”]