Video, PodcastMay 18 2017

The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online

Whitney Phillips, Ryan M. Milner

Databite No. 99

Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner share excerpts and discuss their book, The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online (Polity Press, April 2017).



This book explores the weird and mean and in-between that characterizes everyday expression online, from absurdist photoshops to antagonistic Twitter hashtags to ambivalent online play with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Through these discussions, the book shows how digital media can help and harm, bring together and push apart, and make laugh and make angry in equal measure. Most significant to the current political climate, it shows how these media can equally facilitate and restrict voice. Not only do digital spaces and tools empower hate groups like the white nationalist alt-right and other extremist figures, they also empower progressive pushback against these same groups and figures—along with a whole range of folkloric play that eludes easy classification. By foregrounding the fundamental ambivalence of digital media, the book demonstrates that there are no easy solutions, and no simplistic, one-size-fits-all answers, to pressing questions about free expression, democratic participation, and issues of basic safety on the contemporary internet.

Whitney Phillips is an Assistant Professor of Literary Studies and Writing at Mercer University. She holds a PhD in English with a folklore structured emphasis (digital culture focus), as well as an MFA in creative writing. Her work explores digital media and technology studies, communication studies, cultural studies, folklore studies, and critical race, gender, and sexuality studies.The MIT Press published her book This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture in 2015, which she followed in 2017 with The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online (Polity Press), co-authored with Ryan Milner of the College of Charleston.

Ryan M. Milner is Assistant Professor of Communications at the College of Charleston. He studies the social, political, and cultural implications of mediated communication. As he’s undertaken this work, he’s published in outlets like The Los Angeles Review of Books and The New York Times, commenting on the vast and vibrant conversations that occur online. Most substantially, Ryan is a leading scholar on internet memes, and has spent a half-decade exploring the significance of the strands of conversation, commentary, and play we spread through our social networks. The culmination of this work is his book The World Made Meme: Public Conversations and Participatory Media, released in 2016 with the MIT Press. His research on memes informs his second book, co-authored with Mercer University’s Whitney Phillips; The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online, is forthcoming from Polity Press in Spring 2017.

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