The Kids Are Alt-Right

Whether you’re into crafts and DIY, boybands, gaming, or grilling, chances are you’ve watched a YouTube video about it before. YouTube is a video-sharing platform and the second largest search engine behind Google Search. Users watch over a billion hours of content on the site every day.

This post from our course blog discusses a growing issue on social media platforms–The Algorithm. Clicks = Ad $$ and algorithms reflect that. The echo chamber, or filter bubble, or whatever you want to call it, that is born from aggressive algorithms can be dangerous. Once you engage with certain content, similar content starts popping up more, and users are recommended increasingly extreme content.

Safiya Noble’s “Google Search” interrogates the algorithmic practices of biasing information through search engine results, specifically concerning how Black women and girls are rendered online. Noble  states an ugly truth: “…search engine technology replicates and instantiates derogatory notions.”

Search results for the word “feminist” in YouTube Search.

TikTok-ers have recently been posting about such a phenomenon on YouTube, particularly affecting teenage boys, known as the “Alt-Right Pipeline.”

PewDiePie, a gaming channel, has been known as an entry to falling down the alt-right rabbit hole. “Edgy humor” becomes increasingly blurred with hate speech, and compilations of SJW/Feminist/whoever gets destroyed/owned/whatever becomes all you see. These subcultures are fed by content creators that promote each other and their other social media platforms. In an extreme instance, a shooter live-streamed his attack on a mosque and told viewers, “Remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie.” In the past 4 years, alt-right groups have grown emboldened by support from former President Donald Trump.

The rise of the alt-right is both a continuation of a centuries-old dimension of racism in the U.S. and part of an emerging media ecosystem powered by algorithms.
Going through an “Alt-right phase” isn’t quirky or relatable. Interacting with these ideologies has real-life dangerous consequences.
In an effort to engage users as much as possible, we are left with the consequences of algorithms gone wild. Companies need to be more transparent about their algorithms, and actively work to improve them to be anti-racist. Additionally, we need to examine more closely the relationship entertainment and education have online. As we click, and click, and click, companies lead us down extremist rabbit holes, and profit all the while.

Automated misinformation

In “How Automated Writing Systems Affect the Circulation of Political Information Online,” Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee survey the online ecosystem of “fake news.” Writing in 2017, Laquintano and Vee concentrate on how fake news affected discourse surrounding the 2016 US presidential election. The authors’ concern for misinformation driven by automated systems of writing might have predicted the horrible events at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

After Trump supporters violently stormed the US capitol building on January 6, ten social media platforms temporarily or permanently banned accounts owned by the former president. Twitter responded to the permanent suspension of @realDonaldTrump saying, “we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

Since then, C.E.O.s of giant tech companies, like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, are facing pressure from lawmakers and the public about their responsibility in mediating misinformation.

The Chief Executive Officers of Alphabet, Facebook, and Twitter testify virtually to congress

Sundar Pichai (Alphabet/Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), and Jack Dorsey (Twitter) virtually testify to congress

Currently, these companies are shielded from liability of what’s posted on their platforms by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Section 230—which was enacted before the invention of Google—protects websites from being liable for content posted by third-party users.

According to Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Alphabet, “Without Section 230, platforms would either over-filter content or not be able to filter content at all.”

This contested editorial ecosystem is at the heart of Laquintano and Vee’s 2017 article. The authors observe a shift from human-editorial writing practices to software-based algorithms that influence how information circulates. This shift becomes problematic because social media and tech ~companies~ prioritize user engagement.

Laquintano and Vee explain that these companies profit from user engagement through algorithms that curate content to individual users in attempt to maximize their screen time.

Previously on this blog, Christa Teston observed the material conditions that enable the online spread of information. I add that algorithmic “filter bubbles” created by social media and tech companies are another factor threatening public well-being via misinformation online.

The January 6 insurrection was an overt example of the dangers of the current online writing ecology. (There are still less publicized victims of online misinformation). Accordingly, Section 230 has become a contentious piece of legislation in the US, but it seems like both sides of the aisle are open to discussing its revision—for different reasons.

Commodification of Black Identity

Emojis, memes, and reaction gifs are a form of writing—maybe a bizarre opinion, but it’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

And no doubt, writing is a powerful tool. Certainly it’s a factor in determining and perpetuating both stereotypes and power dynamics. Does this mean, then, that memes (and emojis and reaction gifs and various online behaviors) aren’t just harmless jokes but actually powerful tools for easily spreading dis/information, opinions, and ideas?

Tweet saying, “Is digital blackface a form of policing our freedom of expression? Or does it perpetuate harmful stereotypes?”

Well, yeah.

(If you need more convincing, then don’t miss my upcoming post on memetic warfare.)

Now that we’ve laid some groundwork, I’d like to talk about Digital Blackface

You know, when non-Black people use digital spaces to “try on” Black identity. Sometimes people make entire social media profiles; sometimes it’s as seemingly-innocuous as sending a reaction gif. In both cases, Blackness—as in, Black social identity and culture—is performed in an exaggerated, often harmful and stereotypical way.

I won’t rehash the many, many arguments that have been put out there. More appropriate, more experienced people have tackled this subject. So, especially if this is unfamiliar territory, I definitely recommend you check out their articles. (After you’re done here of course!) 

What I do want to do is offer another layer to the conversation. 

Tweet from @BriannaABaker saying, “Why is it that when a Black man expresses emotional vulnerability, he’s made into a meme?? #DigitalBlackface” with Google search results for “crying meme” underneath.

Identity commodification is damaging yet simultaneously unseen and ubiquitous. Safiya Noble shows us in her article on Google’s search engine algorithms why this is such a serious problem:

“Black girls are sexualized or pornified in half (50%) of the first ten results on the keyword search “Black girls”… What these results point to is the commodified nature of Black women’s bodies on the web—and the little agency that Black female children (girls) have had in securing non-pornified narratives and ideations about their identities” 

Both Digital Blackface and Google’s search engine results commodify Blackness. They give control to non-Black people over the construction of Black identity. I’d say that’s a pretty big deal.

An American Sense of Reality

“To watch the TV screen for any length of time is to learn some really frightening things about the American sense of reality. We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are.”
                                                                                              – James Baldwin

The singularly most omnipresent entity amongst the American populace is that of mass media. It leaks into every facet of our lives and defines how we perceive others and construct our own identities.

Adult reaching out to baby through phone screen

It has been proven through various studies that mass media is a powerful influence that commonly causes people to undergo an identity shift. An identity shift is defined as “choosing to change your current identity because you want to become a new person and experience a new life.”

The most susceptible group to media influence and identity shifts is adolescents. This is because the adolescent years are the most formative in identity formation for a human.

TikTok is a great example of a mass media venue that constantly encourages impressionable youths to undergo identity shifts. These identity shifts can be relatively tiny, such as a person basing more of their identity around a harmless fandom, or substantial, such as a person adopting an antagonistic language and attitude towards certain groups of people in order to mimic their favorite creator.

Kirkland & Jackson, in their work “‘We Real Cool’: Toward a Theory of Black Masculine Literacies,” offer another great example of the ability of mass media to influence adolescents’ identity. They specifically investigated the role rappers and rap media played in determining the language-in-use by “cool” African American adolescents. In specific, they traced how the group of “cool” children altered their language, social views, and clothing choices in order to align more closely with what rap media portrayed and perpetuated as cool.

Picture showing off a child's drawing that exemplifies Hip-hops's cultural influence on the way children speak

The pair also provide context on why specific mass media have a more significant influence on certain groups over others. In their study’s case, African American children formulated their “cool talk” and identities around African American rap artists and media because the community they inhabited deemed said rap artists as representative of what a “cool black man” and/or “black masculine cultural model” is.

I think moving forward as a society that it will become more and more important to encourage persons to distance themselves from media consistently in order to allow themselves the ability to maintain and reinforce their own personally constructed identity separate from overpowering external influences. Otherwise, I think that events such as the recent uptick in white supremacists specifically targeting racist media at adolescent boys in the hopes they will form their identity around normalized racism will become much more commonplace.

Vaccinations, Public Health Rhetoric, and Snapchat Stories: How Online Writing has Affected Vaccination Efforts

If you live in Ohio and are currently located in the Columbus area, you may know the struggle of getting a COVID vaccine. Just look at the map below to see how the distribution of appointment unavailability is concentrated in Columbus. Compared to other large population centers in Ohio, Columbus is by far experiencing the most shortages. Even with places like the Schottenstein center having delivered over 79,000 vaccines, the demand for vaccination in the Columbus area is higher than the supply.

A map of ohio that highlights vaccine availability

But why is this? As discussed in Week 12, the pandemic has caused an increase in coalitions and relational literacies in regards to health on this specific issue. We in Columbus, especially those who attend OSU, are lucky to have a close relationship to health information via the Wexner Medical Center. They provide so much information on health and wellness, and many students and alum value their writing greatly.


With the integration of health information so strong in the Columbus community, it seems to me there has been an even greater response to vaccination. Even in my personal communities, everyone I know is actively trying to book a vaccine appointment or has booked an appointment. We, as OSU students and community members, are more aware of how important getting vaccinated as quickly as possible is, and we, therefore, have a much higher demand for vaccine appointments.


This increase in availability may be more of a reflection of trying to support rural and minority communities, who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. This increase in appointment availability will hopefully help these rural communities get over some of the vaccine hesitancy presents there. Unlike in Columbus, many people in rural communities may not be able or willing to take a vaccine appointment time that interferes with their work or life schedule. There will also need to be a bigger push of public health writing and rhetoric to decrease vaccine hesitancy, and it will need to target the specific fears and hangups each community has.


Unfortunately, this lack of appointments means people like me, a 22-year-old college student, have a much harder time accessing vaccines. We want to be able to celebrate our graduations safely, but this means we need to be vaccinated within the next week if it’s not already too late. But fortunately, social media has helped many people access the vaccine in an alternative way. While you shouldn’t be posting your vaccine card, posting about getting a vaccine is a way of sharing support for a public health issue. It also makes others aware of how they can get vaccinated. I personally found access to a vaccine through social media. While it may be used to push anti-vax rhetoric, social media also has the power to get us back to normal even faster.

2020: A Year of Political Unrest or A Year of Literacy?

One of few things undebated about 2020 was that it was a year full of political unrest. Either side of any debate held that year, whether presidential, COVID-19, wildfires, etc., will attest to that.

Civil Unrest Political Cartoon

Malcom X would argue the reason is the world is more literate than ever before. Literacy is loosely defined as the ability to read and write. So, with the United States reaching a 99% literacy rate as opposed 80% in 1870, it has more to say and hear than ever before.

Simply said, there is a greater number of people whose different ideas are finally being shared. Additionally, by the 2016 election extremely well-read internet ecologies such as Twitter and social media have more or less been accepted as an official news source or valid manner of spreading information.

2016 Presidental Election Twitter Image

But any person can publish themselves on Twitter. So, anyone with an idea worth listening to can muster up the same audience and credibility as news reporters.

Blocks with Social Media Images

In other words, mainstream narratives about elections, political issues, ideals, and how to think etc., no longer are provided by the news outlets alone. The common man now has as much potential political sway as Alexander Hamilton. The only problem is millions of people are attempting to do this at once.

Alexander Hamilton as Depicted on the Ten Dollar Bill

So, the end result is responses to issues now seem cluttered. Movements seem contradictory within themselves. In general, politics has lost its unity without the authority of the news to lead either side.

Malcom X Giving a Speech

Perhaps this is a benefit. Movements like BLM and others that have been massively ignored for decades finally have gained attention basically thanks to social media and increased literacy of those writing and reading about it. Malcom X argued that the inability to write and read is what kept him in chains.

Regardless of whether this rapid transfer of ideas, politics and movements is positive or negative, the result is civil unrest.

Without the internet and the increase in reading and writing ability in the United States a majority of current political issues would likely have been ignored.

The end result is the ecology of political writing has changed entirely. No longer is political writing reserved for the news companies or the Ben Franklins of the world. But each person has the ability to capture attention like those giants of the past did. This means more ideas, more movements more politics in general.

A Political Activist Tweet

Main Character Syndrome, Fleabag, and the Internalization of Audience

When I first read Marilyn Cooper’s article “The Ecology of Writing”, I’ll admit I was puzzled by the differences between what Cooper calls the cognitive process model and the ecological model of writing. The notion of a solitary author, as posited by the cognitive process model, didn’t seem so outlandish to me. Of course writing is a solitary activity– I don’t exactly sit around and gossip while I write essays, and I’ve certainly felt that I was “not a part of the world” I was writing for. As a lonely, nerdy, pre-English major of a child, I often turned inward to creative writing and reading as a substitute for human interaction. (That should have been the first clue that reading and writing are SOCIAL activities, but alas).

Then I remembered something else I did as an introverted child in lieu of socializing with my peers, and the tenets of the cognitive process model started to give way to those of the ecological model in my mind. Don’t laugh (or do, it’s kind of funny) but pre-teen Anna used to pretend like she was the main character in a young adult novel or a coming-of-age movie. Sound familiar? It should. If you’ve been on TikTok in the last year or so, you’ve probably heard of the main character trend (playfully dubbed “Main Character Syndrome”) going around. As the name suggests, the trend refers to when TikTok users romanticize aspects of their everyday lives and themselves (think sitting in a coffeeshop looking mysterious) as if they were the main character in a story. The main character in the TV show Fleabag embodies this idea perfectly. The protagonist frequently looks directly into the camera and talks to us, the audience, telling us what’s she’s thinking but can’t say out loud for fear of judgement or impoliteness.

So what do my poor coping mechanisms of years past, TikTokkers, and Fleabag all have in common? The answer: the internalization of audience. I conceptualized my middle school problems as plot twists and trials in my very own Hero’s Journey as if they could all be laid out and read chapter by chapter. Teenage girls wander somberly through bookstores, trying their best to look aloof and intellectual for the front-facing camera. Fleabag (that’s also the main character’s name) literally looks directly into camera, all the time. This is when I really started to grasp the ideas of the ecological model. Because pretending to be in a book certainly didn’t do me any favors (hindsight is 20/20: just quit sitting alone at lunch). Psychology professor Michael Karson has written about how viewing oneself as the main character can quickly become toxic. In the show, Fleabag only starts to learn and grow once she turns away from the audience.

Finally, I understood what Cooper meant when she said that no one is a truly solitary author– or at least, it’s unhealthy to do so. Because for Fleabag and I, the only long-term solution to feeling like an outsider involves opening yourself up to others. I can’t speak for teens on the internet, but I know that meeting up with friends after a long day of staring at my laptop and scrolling through social media always makes me feel more connected to the wonderful web of life we live in.

You are not a solitary author mournfully narrating your own story to an outside audience, and you’re never going to feel a part of something greater until you let go of your internal sense of audience. So maybe we all ought to get out of our heads, so to speak, and try to engage in reading, writing, and even speaking/socializing from an ecological perspective and not a cognitive one.

Discussion posts & replies: a plea?

Let’s talk about the digital classroom real quick.

In many ways it’s messy—slapped together in a haphazard panic by people fatigued from, among so many other things, a constant need to develop their own digital literacy. Given the broader context, maybe we’re all doing this distance learning thing better than I give us credit for. 

But still, I can’t help thinking some of our writing activities are… I don’t know, lacking? And nothing is more lacking than discussion boards

Let’s get a couple points out of the way first:

  1. If done right (which, c’mon, how often is this happening?), discussion boards serve several significant purposes. Not least of which is authentic engagement with the class’s material.
  2. Discussion boards will inevitably follow some of us back to our in-person classes when the time comes. 
  3. Writing is ecological (more on that in a bit). So the way we approach discussion boards matters outside of the discussion board genre.

What are we, students and teachers from all education levels, supposed to do with a failing system despite its huge potential?

I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers. Frankly, that pedagogical thread is far too tangled for my liking. But I do have a thought. Hear me out: 

I, for one, love when researchers leverage social media to develop and refine their research questions. Networked participatory scholarship is not without its faults, but it does provide those outside the academic sphere a small opening to an otherwise impenetrable scholars-only club. (For a more nuanced discussion, check out this quick read.)

And that’s where I think Cooper’s ecological model of writing comes into play. She says:

“[A]ll the characteristics of any individual writer or of writing both determine and are determined by the characteristics of all other writers and writings in the system.”


“Writing, thus, is seen to be both constituted by and constitutive of these ever-changing systems, systems through which people relate as complete, social beings, rather than imagining each other as remote images: an author, an audience.”

Learning to communicate on discussion boards as complete, social beings whose ideas affect and are affected by the ideas of others will impact how we form and share knowledge outside of the digital classroom.

What researchers do on Twitter and other sites is in the same spirit as our discussion boards. They’ve been able to use digital spaces to mature their ideas. Why are we so weird with discussion boards then?

Maybe it’s time to shake up the standard conventions of discussion board posts and replies.

Ditch the formalities. Ask questions. Challenge ideas. Make responses shorter, more meaningful, and more conversational. Teachers and professors, compose your own discussion posts and reply to students in the same way you want them to be doing so they have a template to emulate. 

This is just my perspective; what’s yours?

Phoenix Rising: The Fall and Rise of a Writing Genre

The date is December 15, 2017 and an icon in the childhood of many passes away silently without notice…

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) finally shutters its virtual doors on the tail end of 2017, but the announcement barely makes a blip in the news due to the service already having been on its death bed for years.

The once very popular instant messenger began its prolonged death in earnest in 2011 after the dramatic rise in popularity of SMS messaging and social media plummeted its market share to 0.73%. AIM’s demise seemed a natural part of the seemingly inevitable shift from dedicated instant messaging (IM) services towards other digital writing genres that were rapidly growing as the 2010s began but in actuality it did not end up so.

Before continuing, a moment of silence for the deceased (pictured below).

AIM Running Man

AIM Running Man (May 1997 – December 2017)

Research in 2010 by Grabill, et al.’s on “The Writing Lives of College Students” placed instant messaging as the 7th most frequently written genre of writing for college students (just after mostly academic genres). Yet, the same paper show signs indicative that the genre is on the way out in terms of usage and value, which can be seen through college students rating it as the 15th most valuable genre and the close trailing by the just emerging social networking genres just behind it at the 7th and 8th place in frequency. As seen through the demise of AIM a year later, these negative indicators shined true and so began an era in which social media began to dominate (Facebook hits the NASDAQ in 2012 and its billionth user in 2013) and instant messaging became a feature (Facebook messenger, Gmail messenger, etc.) over a dedicated service.

Enter the smartphone, the handheld miracle worker of the 21st century and the savior for instant messaging. Instant messaging apps provided a inexpensive and readily accessible alternative to one of the dominant writing genres of the period — SMS texting (ranked number one in frequency in Grabill, et al.’s research). SMS texting would be surpassed by IM apps in volume of messages in 2013, and two years later a single IM app (WhatsApp) alone would account for more messages daily than SMS texting as a whole, thus the instant messaging writing genre began its climb back towards the top.

Now, not only has instant messaging majorly beat out the former number one (SMS texting), but IM has also beat out the other writing genre which had edged it out years prior with IM apps now holding 20% more active monthly users over that of social networks as of 2020.

Picture of various instant messaging apps, such as Snapchat, WeChat, and WhatsApp

Various instant messaging apps (such as Snapchat, WeChat, and WhatsApp)

Through it all instant messaging has endured, and I believe it will continue to do so for many years more since it is marked by two essential traits in any frequently used genre of written communication — versatility and accessibility.

So, here’s to the the one who all instant messaging apps can thank a lil’ for their existence — thanks AIM.

Comical Histories and Influences: From Cave Paintings to Viral Tweets

What do a nerd bitten by a radioactive spider, a redheaded football player in a deathly small town, and a galumphing Great Dane all have in common?

Answer: Comics.

Peter Parker (AKA Spider-Man), Riverdale’s Archie Andrews, and the chaotic canine Marmaduke all obtained their origin stories from comic books that have since been adapted into blockbuster movies or bingeworthy TV shows.

Comic books themselves may seem like a niche market nowadays, but their influence immerses us in ways we may not have previously considered. Countless pop culture items across the world—such as anime, graphic novels, and even Twitter—sample techniques of comics (to see the world’s largest collection of cartoons and comics, visit The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at The Ohio State University).

But where did comics come from?

Comics as we know them seem to have originated in 19th Century Europe, but their beginnings could be argued back all the way into ancient times. American cartoonist and comic theorist Scott McCloud gave a fascinating lecture at Harvard University, during which he discussed the various histories and discussions surrounding comics.

McCloud pointed to several early examples as ancient influences of comics. In cave paintings that predate 6,000 BCE, Egyptians described the world around them in drawings of donkeys and people. In addition, researchers have been fascinated by the Codex Borbonicus, a 500-year-old Mesoamerican document that used pictures to describe cycles of the Aztec calendar.

Although lacking the words of contemporary comics, these examples rely heavily on images to drive a narrative. This appreciation for visual storytelling has persisted all the way to present day, where TV and movies dominate mainstream entertainment, and even the text-driven narratives of popular books are often translated into screen adaptations. Throughout history, despite advancement in how we compose visual media, the fondness for it has remained the same.

Speaking on the linear, continuous narrative presented in these ancient comics, McCloud was fascinated by how “the story determined the shape.” Contrarily, for the characteristic squares neatly confining newspaper comics, McCloud argues that “technology [in the 1990s] was determining the shape.” He voiced excitement as to how comics would evolve with advancing technology.

Comic influences can now be seen on Twitter; some of the most viral Tweets capitalize on the affordance of combining images and texts (check out Katherine Everett’s post detailing how Twitter changed the way we write).

Some feature a caption in the text portion of the Tweet, followed by a series of images, like this one. Others feature screen grabs of movies or TV, with the captions included on the image. These Tweets mimic the structure of conventional newspaper comics, and some even appear to be straight out of a comic book, like the one on the right.

Perhaps comics did not evolve the way McCloud hoped, returning to squares of pictures and text instead of flowing, boxless stories. But maybe this is because we have movies and television to satisfy our desire for linear narratives, and thus we are content with keeping comics in the little boxes.