Origins

Graduate & Undergraduate Work

As an undergraduate at Ripon College, I was trained in the tradition of public address criticism. My advisors, Jody Roy and Steve Martin, were both advised by Dr. J. Michael Hogan, now Professor Emeritus at Penn State, who was a member of my MA thesis committee.

My earliest projects as an undergraduate engaged political rhetoric on social networking sites, online media coverage of gay teens' suicides, Internet policy (net neutrality), and the online social movement Anonymous.

As a graduate student, I continued along the digital path, writing papers on Internet culture, video games, and the rhetoric of search engine algorithms. Some of my projects included:

  • A project analyzing Facebook memorials for Nelson Mandela, analyzing how social networking structures and algorithms shape public memory
  • A large research project on the rhetorical dimensions of BioShock; I performed textual criticism on the game, focusing on items such as religious metaphors and the element of control in the game
  • An analysis of Reddit discourse about ViolentAcrez, a man described as Reddit's “creepy uncle,” whose offline identity was revealed to the world by Adrien Chen at Gawker; the man, Michael Brutsch, was later fired from his job as a result of his online behavior as ViolentAcrez, and brought on Anderson Cooper's show on CNN.  I wrote about Brutsch for a co-authored essay in the volume Ancient Rhetorics and Digital Networks.
  • A comparative analysis of the rhetoric of Pirate Parties across the world, examining social media posts by various groups experiencing various material and symbolic struggles
  • An analysis of the Google bombing of Rick Santorum; I focused on how rhetoric is shaped at the search engine level (by algorithms, designed by humans and executing human priorities) and by those who seek to manipulate search engine results (in this case, followers of Dan Savage, who galvanized people to offer an alternative definition of “Santorum” using graphic language)

My Master's thesis tackled the rhetorical negotiations of online identities, examining how virtual selves (avatars, user names, handles) are used and discussed in political scenarios.  I defended my thesis in April 2014.  My three case studies include:

  • Discussion about Colleen Lachowicz, nicknamed the "World of Warcraft candidate" because she was attacked by the Maine GOP for her WoW character, Santiaga, in the midst of a State Senate election in 2012
  • Community mourning of Sean Smith, a US diplomat killed in Benghazi and an avid player of EVE Online, under the name Vile Rat
  • Deliberation about the propriety of two Ars Technica articles (here and here) focusing on Edward Snowden's forum user name, TheTrueHOOHA