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”]

Introduction to Unit 2

Today we’re talking about Unit 2 and Twitter, but before we do that, let’s review what’s due tonight:

  • Post your final Truth-o-meter fact-check as a new post. That is, do not overwrite the DRAFT post; instead, create a new post so that I can compare the changes. This post is due before midnight tonight unless you go to the Writing Center. If you do that, and you email me your client report, you may turn in your work Wednesday instead. The cleint report is an email you’ll receive after your appoitment. It looks something like this:

Rowan University Report

Client: Steve Kim
Staff or Resource: Laura Rogers
Date: February 20, 2017, 10:00am – 10:30am

Comments: Hi Steve!

To recap, we reviewed and revised your introduction. We also went We also talked about where you could go next with your paper. You got to work on your paper a bit and we answered questions as you went. Good luck on your blog post!

Unit 2 overview

Let’s look at Unit 2, the schedule, and get you into your panels for the unit:


 Section 3 (9:30)Section 4 (11:00)
Group 1Olivia
Nicole M.
Group 2Sabrina
Christina P.
Nicole C.
Group 3Matthew
Group 4Sam
Christina L.

Trackers and nefarious hackers: why we need critical digital literacies and counter-technologies

You’ve had a lot of experience practicing basic web literacies using fact-checking sites like Snopes, Politifact, and Wikipedia; going upstream for original source material, and assessing credibility by reading sources laterally. Although we dabbled in the reasons why we need such literacies when we discussed filter bubbles, much more can be said of the kinds of technologies that require these literacies. In other words, we need to ask questions like:

  • Who or what are we trying to sidestep in using these skills? What traps exist for users trying to find info on the web? What is the worst that can happen? What stories do we know of people having a terrible experience online?
  • What are some of the trackers and hackers that make the web a potentially dangerous place? Who are these bad actors and what are their interests?
  • What are some ways you already avoid these traps? What critical digital literacies do you already have?

Twitter: An Introduction

In this unit we move from readers of social media to readers and writers of social media, specifically Twitter. As your readings for tonight suggest, Twitter has become an important — and problematic! — tool in the attention economy. My hope is that you’ll understand this better as you use it. To get started we’ll create an account:

  1. Go to and click the “sign up” button or load the app from your phone.
  2. Use your real name or a pseudonym and enter a valid email address.
  3. Before you accept the option to “Personalize Twitter based on where you’ve seen Twitter content on the web,” click “Learn More.”
  4. Also before you accept everything and sign up, click the advanced tab (which is purposefully hidden) and decide if you want “others” to find you by your email address or phone number. Now that you’ve decided on these privacy measures, you probably also want to skip entering your phone number on the next screen.
  5. Decide on a username. Usernames do not have to reflect your name in real life (IRL) and – above all – should be memorable. Use this username generator especially since Twitter is sensitive to nonconforming names that look like bots (i.e. wrt_799). NOTE: if Twitter locks you out and asks you for you phone number, you can try this procedure with Google Voice or start over and see if you can get an account without one.
  6. Confirm your account by checking your mail and clicking “confirm now.”
  7. Once you’ve decided on a username, add it to our blogroll and link it to your Twitter page. (example: @futureofwriting)
  8. Feel free to customize your experience, but you should know that the more info you give Twitter, the more its algorithm will assume about you.

Getting Started: 3 moves

  • Follow. Once you’re in the interface, find and follow @futureofwriting, your classmates on the blogroll (especially your fellow panelists), and possibly other good sources of info we discussed in the 1st unit (Snopes, Wikipedia, Politico, etc.).
  • Customize. Upload a profile pic and banner image, and write a bio for others to see. Still: be protective of your privacy, as your default setting is not private (and switching your account to private would lock us all out).
  • Tweet. Posting to the general public is as simple as entering a message in the “What’s happening?” field, but you can also post to specific users using the “@” sign at the beginning of your message (example: “@futureofwriting Here are 3 discussion questions…”).
  • # (hashtag). You should use the course hashtag, #WRTs18 for all tweets, which will help us organize our conversation and give you points. But feel free to use other hashtags and tag users too (example tweet: “Reading about twitterbots on @NYTimes for HW. #Russia def played a role in #2016election. #WRTs18” Tagging another user will notify them in their “mentions” tab.

Homework for Wednesday, 2/21