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Internet Antagonisms

In July–August 2017, I was invited to be Guest Professor to teach a two-week intensive summer school programme entitled ‘Digital Living’ at Aarhus University. These are some notes and resources from my seminars, lectures, and workshops on Internet Antagonisms. Please feel free to use with credits back to this page.


Internet Antagonisms

Networked invisibility: screening as anonymity, pseudonymity, untraceablility

While internet technology allows users to connect more intimately with others across the globe, elements like the detachment of anonymity, the mask of pseudonymity, and distance from screened interactions may also encourage antagonistic behaviour. Although provocative troll groups have been prominent in the recent news, antagonism culture on the internet has a long history, as well as various origins, enactments, and motivations. In this week’s class, we will explore some of these practices in three different geo-cultural contexts to understand how these may be meaningful or productive practices


Compulsory readings

Phillips, Whitney (2015) This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship Between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press. Read: “The only reason to do anything: Lulz, play, and the mask of trolling” and “The lulz are dead, long live the lulz: From subculture to mainstream.” Pp. 27-36, 137-150

de Seta, Gabriele (2013) “Spraying, fishing, looking for trouble: The Chinese Internet and a critical perspective on the concept of trolling.” Fibreculture Journal 22

Abraham, Benjamin (2014) “Challenging Hate Speech with Facebook Flarf: The Role of User Practices in Regulating Hate Speech on Facebook.” The Fibreculture Journal 23.


Lecture guide

1) Use “人肉搜索(rén ròu sōu suǒ), 群众外包 (qún zhòng wài bāo)” to explain users’ perspectives

2) Introduce “Standpoint Theory”

3) Present brief examples of “social-cultural ecologies” and “cultural diffusion”

4) Discuss ‘types of norms’ by William Graham Summer (1906) in Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals.

5) Discuss concept of ‘social dramas’ by Victor Turner (1974) in Dramas, fields, and metaphors: Symbolic action in human society.

6) Present selection of case studies to reiterate concepts and initiate class discussion.


Case studies

This is why we can’t have nice things (Whitney Phillips, 2015)

The Ambivalent Internet: Mischief, Oddity, and Antagonism Online (Whitney Phillips & Ryan M. Milner, 2017)

The Chinese Internet and a critical perspective on the concept of trolling (Gabriele de Seta, 2013)

Challenging hate speech with Facebook Flarf (Benjamin Abraham, 2014)

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy (Gabriella Coleman, 2015)

Examining the social practices of r/Gonewild (Emily van der Nagel & Jordan Frith, 2015)

The world’s greatest internet troll explains his craft (Vox, 2016) (8:06)

Internet meme ruined my career (BBC News 2015) (2:10)

From trolls to activists – Author Gabriella Coleman on the many faces of Anonymous (Going Underground, 2014) (10:12)

The Internet Warriors (The Guardian, 2017)

Case study on Vigilante Trolling (restricted material; contact me for access)

Case study on Commercial Trolling (restricted material; contact me for access)


Supplementary resources

YouTuber Influencers vs. Legacy Media: PewDiePie, Weaponized microcelebrity, and Cross-media politics, 22 February 2017

2006-2016: From Lonelygirl15 to Lil Miquela, 19 September 2016


Assignment: Tracking An Internet Drama 

Part A: In groups of 5, pick a recent incident of antagonism on the internet and present it as a 20-minute case study presentation to the class after lunch.

How should we pick a case study?

In the lecture, Crystal would have shared some examples of recent case studies that you could consider taking up. You are also encouraged to adopt case studies you are interested in. If you require assistance, Crystal will walk around to guide you on how to pick a case study. You may like to consider how a certain incident tells you about the peculiarities, implications, and novelties of the cultural background you are interested in. For instance, would an antagonistic action be considered offensive in one setting but not another? What does this tell us about the rules of one group of people/(sub)culture over another?

What should the case study contain?

​Give us the context of the incident, how it unfolded and what forms of antagonisms were involved, and the impact it may have had on a group of people/a subcultural group. Some guiding questions include: How did the incident transpire? Who were the actors involved? Was it resolved? What sorts of antagonisms unfolded? What does this tell us about conflict on the internet today?

Part B: Each person is to submit a short 500-word essay that reflects two things. 1) Your personal reflections on the group activity, including the decision-making processes negotiated, and some interesting thoughts that emerged from your discussions. 2) Your personal standpoint on how screening practices (i.e. anonymity, pseudonymity, untraceability, etc) have facilitated antagonisms on the internet. A guiding sheet/template will be provided, but you are encouraged to be as creative/detailed as you wish.


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