Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies
Assistant Professor Whitney Phillips teaches classes in media literacy and online ethics; online discourse and controversy; folklore and digital culture; and lore surrounding monster narratives, urban legends, hoaxes, and crime.
Prior to joining Syracuse University, Phillips was a lecturer in media, culture, and communication at New York University (2012-2013), a lecturer in communication at Humboldt State University (2014-2015), and assistant professor of literary studies and writing at Mercer University (2015-2018).
Phillips’ research explores antagonism and identity-based harassment online; the relationship between vernacular expression, state and corporate influences, and emerging technologies; political memes and other forms of ambivalent civic participation; and digital ethics, including journalistic ethics and the ethics of everyday social media use. She is the author of This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture (MIT, 2015) and the co-author of The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online with Ryan M. Milner of the College of Charleston (Polity, 2017). She is also the author of the three-part ethnographic report The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists, and Manipulators Online (Data & Society Media Manipulation Initiative, 2018). She has written numerous articles and book chapters on a range of media, folklore, and digital culture topics, most recently “fake news” narratives, technological play with the afterlife, and the role social and memetic media played during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Additionally, she has published dozens of popular press pieces on digital culture and ethics in outlets like The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate.
Phillips’s book This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things won the Association of Internet Researchers 2015 Nancy Baym best book award. She is regularly featured as an expert commentator in national and global news outlets, and her work on the ethics of journalistic amplification has been profiled by the Columbia Journalism Review, Niemen Journalism Lab, and Knight Commission on Trust, Media, and Democracy. She is a member of the Association of Internet Researchers and the American Folklore Society.
Phillips holds a Ph.D. in English with a folklore-structured emphasis (digital culture focus) from the University of Oregon (2012); an M.F.A. in creative writing (fiction) from Emerson College (2007); and a B.A. in philosophy from Humboldt State University (2004).
2020 W. Phillips and R.M. Milner. You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Network Manipulation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
2020 W. Phillips and R.M. Milner. “The Vernacular Vortex: Analyzing the Endless Churn of Trump's Twitter Orbit.” Folklore and Social Media, ed. by Trevor Blank. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, forthcoming.
2020 W. Phillips. “You’re Fake News: The Problem with Etic Framings of False Belief.” In Fake News: A Reader, ed. Melissa Zimdars and Kembrew McLeod. MIT Press, forthcoming.
2019 W. Phillips. “The Toxins We Carry.” Columbia Journalism Review, forthcoming.
2019 W. Phillips. “It Wasn’t Just the Trolls: Early Internet Culture, ‘Fun,’ and the Fires of Exclusionary Laughter.” Social Media and Society’s 2K special issue. April.
2018 W. Phillips. “Am I Why I Can’t Have Nice Things?: A Reflection on Personal Trauma, Collective Play, and Ethical Sight.” In A Networked Self and Love, ed. Zizi Papacharissi. London: Routledge.
2018 W. Phillips. “Our Information Systems Aren’t Broken—They’re Working as Intended.” NiemenLab Predictions for Journalism 2019, December 12.
2018 W. Phillips and R.M. Milner. “Ghosts in the Machines: How Centuries of Technological Play with Death Has Helped Make Sense of Life.” In A Networked Self: Birth, Life, and Death, ed. Zizi Papacharissi. London: Routledge.
2018 W. Phillips. “The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists, and Manipulators Online.” Data and Society.
2017 W. Phillips and R.M. Milner. The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.
2015 W. Phillips. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Lectures, Panels and Workshops
"The Ethics of Amplifying Political Memes: The 2016 US Presidential Election as a Case Study." Symposium and Exhibition at the MUSEUdeMEMES, hosted by Fluminense Federal University (UFF) and Republic Museum, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 30.
“Best Practices for Reporting on Extremists and Manipulators: A Field Guide for the 2019 European Elections,” keynote for the “Re:claiming Public Discourse” conference sponsored by the Rudolph Augstein foundation and hosted by Der Spiegel, Hamburg, Germany, February 22.
“The Root of All Shitposting: Early Trolling Subculture, Memetic Agenda Setting, and How Media Literacy Backfired,” keynote for the University of Amsterdam’s Digital Methods Winter School, January 7.
“How to Be a Good Person on the Internet,” hosted by the Central New York Humanist Association, May 5.
“They Recognized the Clothes the Wolf Was Wearing, So They Didn't Recognize the Wolf: 4chan, Far-Right Trolling, and the 2016 US Presidential Election,” hosted by Penn State’s American Studies and Communication Department and Pennsylvania Center for Folklore, April 23.
“Deep Memetic Frames: How Polluted Information Online Circulates,” hosted by the McLuhan Center (roundtable and public seminar), University of Toronto, March 31 - April 1.
“The Vernacular Vortex: Analyzing the Endless Churn of Trump's Twitter Orbit,” co-presented by Ryan Milner, hosted by the University of North Dakota’s Communication Department, October 23.
“Am I Why I Can’t Have Nice Things: Ethics, Method, and an Autoethnography of Sexual Trauma,” hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Communication Department, September 25.
“The Reciprocal Relationship between Folklore, Emerging Journalism Practices, Algorithmic Docenting, and Platform Moderation,” co-presented with Ryan Milner, hosted by UC Davis’ Science and Technology Studies and Cinema and Digital Media departments, April 18.
|Conference/panel Presentations, 2020|
“Networked Media Ecologies and Public Discourse.” Georgetown Institute for Technology, Law, and Policy conference on Election Integrity in the Networked Information Era, February 7.
“Covering Hate.” The Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, June 14-15.
“There’s a Ghost in my Facebook,” co-presented with Ryan Milner on the “Connected through Creepiness: Ghost Stories and Other Frightening Legends as Folk Fixative” panel at the American Folklore Society meeting in Buffalo, NY, October 17-20.
“Digitally Mediated (In)appropriate (In)congruity” (co-presented with Ryan Milner). Presented at the Eliot Oring retrospective panel at the American Folklore Society meeting in Minneapolis MN, October 21-24.
“Mock the Vote: The Amplification of Online Harassment During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election Season” (co-presented with Ryan Milner). Presented at the “Malicious Scripts” panel at the International Communication Association Meeting in San Diego, CA, May 25-29.
“Navigating Mis- and Disinformation Online.” Workshop part of the Central New York Council for the Social Studies K-12 Professional Development day, October 22.
“Digital Threats to Democracy.” Workshop part of CIVIX’s “Democracy Bootcamp” workshop with K-12 teachers, Vancouver, BC, September 19
“Online Harassment: The Biomass Pyramid Model.” Workshop with area educators co-presented with Ryan Milner, hosted by the University of North Dakota’s Communication Department, October 24.