Digital Studies 101

A common resource for Digital Studies at UMW.

Tag: culture

YouTubing was founded in 2005 and quickly became a leading force in the surge of so-called “Web 2.0” culture that hit a peak with Time Magazine naming “You” the 2006 person of the year. YouTube has gone on to provide endless memes, cultural references, and launched the careers of an army of “YouTubers”. But how does YouTube keep a constant stream of videos in your feed, deciding what you should see? And what about the ads that are fed to you during those videos?

Suggested Reading

Suggested Tasks

  • Parody video mimicking the style of a sub-genre of YouTubers
  • Monitor and critically examine the algorithms suggestions using screen-capture software
  • Monitor and critically examine the ads you receive using screen-capture software


A ‘meme’ is a virally-transmitted cultural symbol or social idea. But what is it about memes leads to the level of virality? Why are we so attracted to making and sharing (and sharing and sharing and sharing) memes?

Suggested Readings

Suggested Tasks

  • Make a meme
  • Adapt a meme
  • Break down a meme
  • Track a meme

Digital Privacy

Privacy is increasingly important in a digital environment, not just because of the risk of what we consciously put online, but because of the digital traces of ourselves we leave without even knowing it.


  • Understand digital privacy and how to be proactive in protecting yours.

Suggested Readings

Suggested Tasks

Online Hate and Harassment: The Trouble with Trolling

“Don’t Feed the Trolls.” But why? And who gets trolled and why?


  • Understand the politics around gender and race regarding being attacked online
  • Protect and defend your digital identity

Suggested Readings:

Suggested Tasks:

  • Track a trolling hashtag using TAGS and analyze those tweets’ textual content
  • Or use NodeXL to analyze relationships among users of a trolling hashtag
  • Devise an activist trolling campaign
  • Practice counter-trolling strategies


Working for the Web

We use our phones and our devices for social media purposes, but do we ever think about the work that goes into producing our hardware, coding our software, or supporting the networks that make this all possible? From the mines where the metals are retrieved, to the factories that put the phones together, to all of the likes and shares we do each day, do we know how much of our labor goes into our social media and who does it?

It is often said that on the web, if you’re not paying for it, you are the product. Why is Facebook free? How is Facebook encouraging us to use their platform in ways that support their business model?


  • Learn about invisible labor issues around technology, particularly around race and gender
  • Share an awareness to others

Suggested Readings:

Suggested Tasks:

  • Simplified Map My Device
  • I Work for The Web activity
  • Track Your Work on Social Media


Black Boxes and Invisible Fences: Understanding Algorithmic Influence

How we experience the web generally, and social media more specifically, is largely mediated through algorithms. Algorithms are computer programs that make thousands of decisions for us every day, but we don’t often critically examine what is happening under the hood of the web to understand what we see and why. In this module, learn more about how algorithms work and what you can do about it.


  • Begin to understand algorithmic underpinnings of the web
  • Apply that understanding for your own digital identity and literacy

Suggested Readings:

Suggested Tasks:



Wikipedia is one of the largest and most heavily-trafficked websites in the world, and its structure and collaborative model make the world’s knowledge available to anyone. It’s been blamed for killing off encyclopedias, for enabling plagiarists, and for making Internet users intellectually lazy. It has also been called “The greatest work of literature in history.”

Wikipedia is incredibly large, with about 4.5 million articles in just the English-language database.

All this content, power, and promise does not diminish its imbalances, omissions, and controversies. According to one research in 2013, something like 91% of Wikipedia contributors are men. And just visit the “Talk” page for a current event or controversial topic to see how messy it all is under the hood. In this module, you’ll try and do something to make Wikipedia better.


  • Learn about the scope, scale, and breadth of Wikipedia
  • Learn about how Wikipedia works
  • Gain experience editing Wikipedia
  • Learn about Wikipedia Editing
  • Apply own information to Wikipedia


Suggested Tasks

  • Learn about Wikipedia’s history and the knowledge models that it seems to have replaced
  • Learn about Wikipedia’s processes and how those encourage consistent writing and accurate information
  • Read Wikipedia’s style guide
  • Improve a wikipedia article or several
  • Look into the ways administrators remove or add content to popular pages
  • Identify an under-represented area or content domain, and organize a group editing session. Invite your friends!
  • Investigate how Wikipedia works to correct misinformation being posted, as well as vandalism of articles.


“Selfie” was Oxford’s word of the year for 2013, and it hasn’t seemed to slow down in terms of its popularity and ubiquitousness. So, what is it about taking and sharing pictures of ourselves that is so attractive to us?


  • Develop a critical understanding of selfie culture
  • Practice negotiating and curating digital identity

Suggested Tasks:

Suggested Readings:

Anything on this list.

See also:


Blogging is dead! Long live blogging!


In the early 2000s, the end of the “.com” era saw the rise of “Web 2.0” as a loosely defined trend in online content generation where everyday users — not traditional media producers — created the content that defined digital culture. Blogs more than any other modality came to symbolize the freedom and autonomy made available by new networks and new platforms. In some ways, that role has since been supplanted by social media, but blogging remains an accessible and powerful tool for sharing one’s ideas. In this module, your challenge is to become a blogger.


  • learn about the history of blogging
  • gain experience working with and customizing blogging platforms
  • develop a writerly “voice” as a blogger
  • use analytic tools to measure and grow engagement with an audience


  • Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
  • O’Reilly, Tim. “What is Web 2.0” (2005)

Suggested Tasks

1. Platforms

  • install WordPress somewhere on your domain as well as two or three other Blog or CMS platforms
  • try posting on each platform and reflect on the differences
  • practice customizing your site through whatever means those platforms make available
  • invite others (your teammates, for example) to review your blog theme and design and take feedback on what design elements work and which don’t
  • set up Google Analytics and install it in each of your platforms. Use it to learn more about who visits your site and why.
  • Learn about which platforms have been dominant in the past, and if they’re less popular now, reflect on why that might be?

2. Culture

  • When did blogging start? Why?
  • Who is blogging now? Are there demographic data available, and if so, what does it indicate?
  • Is there a resonant cultural idea of what “a blogger” is, either on or offline? What kind of person is “a blogger”?
  • How have blogs, bloggers or blogging factored into US politics?

3. Blogging

  • Choose a topic or theme based on your understanding of the present culture of blogging.
  • With your preferred platform (see above) challenge yourself to a posting schedule: once a day, twice a day, or a word-limit per day.
  • Experiment with different genres of blog post: review, response, reflection, rant — heck, even a “listicle” is a kind of blogging.
  • As you write, enrich your posts with judiciously-integrated media elements such as links, embedded youtube videos, and so on.
  • Use other networks like Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else to share your posts and build your audience.
  • Use analytics (see above) to measure which posts and post types are the most successful and reflect on why.

Activism and Agency










These words with #’s in front of them aren’t just collating social media content around specific interests. Instead, these conversations and their participants come to think of these more like an event or social movement. In cases like “#1reasonwhy”, the hashtag becomes a platform for voices that otherwise might not be heard. For #Ferguson, the hashtag becomes a platform for citizen journalism.

In either case, something new seems to be happening around how users leverage different social media platforms to do something that matters. Your job in this module is to learn more about the history of hashtag activism (including any precursors) and think critically about its impact and possible future.


  • Learn about hashtag activism
  • Practice archiving and annotating social media content

Suggest Tasks

  • Learn about the history of citizen journalism on the web, both before and after the rise of social media. Read some commentary and critiques about the general phenomenon or specific campaigns
  • Identity current successful, important, or particularly controversial hashtags
  • Focus on at least one developing hashtag, archive its content (I recommend using TAGS), and produce some annotated record or commentary on the hashtag’s development
  • Use NodeXL to analyze a current hashtag or two, and compare their respective edge graphs

Suggest Readings