Whitney Phillips

Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies

Assistant Professor

Whitney Phillips

113 Sims Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244-1180


whphilli@syr.edu


Whitney Phillips is a critical media studies scholar focused on media literacy, media ethics, and how information issues connect to mental health and wellness issues. Current interests include mindfulness as a media literacy tool, especially in K-12 settings, creative nonfiction approaches to academic writing, and the "shadow gospel," secularized Evangelicalism spread through mass media (the subject of her latest book project). Previous projects on online subcultures, meme cultures, and the ethics of journalistic amplification have drawn from Phillips' humanities training, notably folkloristics and ethnographic research methods.

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 is the author of the 2015 Nancy Baym best book award winner “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture” (MIT, 2015); the co-author of “The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online” with her frequent collaborator Ryan M. Milner of the College of Charleston (Polity, 2017); and “You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape” (MIT, 2021), also with Ryan Milner. Phillips and Milner are currently finalizing a middle grades media literacy and ethics book. 

In addition to her monographs, Phillips is 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 also written numerous articles and book chapters on diverse media, folklore, and digital culture topics, including the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections, technological play with the afterlife, and the witches of Instagram. She has published dozens of popular press pieces on digital culture and ethics in outlets like the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Slate, and is an Ideas contributor at WIRED. Regularly featured as an expert commentator in national and global news outlets, Phillips’ 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, among many others. 

Phillips holds a Ph.D. in English with a folklore emphasis 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).

Education

  • Ph.D., University of Oregon
  • M.F.A., Emerson College
  • B.A., Humboldt State University

Books

  • 2020 W. Phillips and R.M. Milner. You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Network Manipulation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • 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.

Other work

  • 2021 Phillips and J.A. Tolbert. “The Things We Already Know and the Things We’re Set Up Not to See: Folkloristics, Covid-19, and the Traps of Amplification.” Journal of Folklore Research, special issue on the folklore of epidemics, forthcoming.
  • 2020 Phillips “Light Disinfects.’” Georgetown Law Technology Review, Special Issue on Network Ecologies.
  • 2019 W. Phillips. “The Toxins We Carry.” Columbia Journalism Review, December.
  • 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. “Our Information Systems Aren’t Broken—They’re Working as Intended.” NiemenLab Predictions for Journalism 2019, December 12. 
  • 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 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.

Lectures, panels and workshops:

Keynotes

  • 2021 Q&A Keynote with Whitney Phillips and Quinn Slobodian. Reactionary Digital Politics panel, part of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project Political Ideology, Rhetoric and Aesthetics in the Twenty-First Century: The Case of the “Alt-Right.” June 25.
  • 2020 “An Ecological Approach to Media Literacy.” Northeast Media Literacy Conference, November 6-7 (remote).       
  • 2019 "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.
  • 2019 “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.
  • 2019 “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.         

Talks

  • 2021 “Creative Co-Authorship and Approaches to Scholarship: Reflections on You Are Here,” University of Antwerp, April 16.
  • 2021 “Root Systems, Land Cultivation, and Hurricanes: The Benefits and Limitations of Applying Ecological Metaphors to Information Dysfunction,” Oxford Internet Institute, February 17.   
  • 2020 “The Marketplace of Ideas? Lessons in Online Ecology.” Congressional Technology Counsel speaker series on platform governance, August 6.
  • 2020 “Covering the COVID-19 Infodemic,” webinar co-hosted by the American Press Institute, Knowledge Futures Group, and Data & Society, April 29.
  • 2019 “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.
  • 2019 “Deep Memetic Frames: How Polluted Information Online Circulates,” hosted by the McLuhan Center (roundtable and public seminar), University of Toronto, March 31-April1.
  • 2018  “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. 

Conference/panel presentations

  • 2021 “Algorithms, Content Producers, and Problems of Manipulation.” Notre Dame Ethics Technology Center, January 8.
  • 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.
  • 2019 “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.
  • 2018 “Internet Speech: Trust, Truth, and Tribalism.” State of the Net conference, Washington D.C., January 29.
  • 2017 “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. 

Workshops

  • 2019 “Navigating Mis- and Disinformation Online.” Workshop part of the Central New York Council for the Social Studies K-12 Professional Development day, October 22.
  • 2019 “Digital Threats to Democracy.” Workshop part of CIVIX’s “Democracy Bootcamp” workshop with K-12 teachers, Vancouver, BC, September 19.
  • 2018 “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.