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Julia DeCook

Julia DeCook


May 2, 2018

Launching: Networks of Hate

May 2, 2018 | By | No Comments

After a long seven months of dreaming, planning, and making, I’m happy to announce that my project, “Networks of Hate: Visualizing Extremist Celebrity Networks” is now live!

The motivation behind building this website was to visualize the ways in which extremist celebrities are connected in terms of the larger movement that they identify with or have been identified as belonging to. Many have noted how groups like the Manosphere and movements like GamerGate served as gateway ideologies/movements to more extremist groups like those that fall under the Alt Right or Alt Lite label, and the goal of my project was to visualize the networks of celebrities that these ideologies often travel on. To build the visualizations, I used R to make the interactive networks.

 Why celebrities?

The new extremism is notable for their use of digital platforms in community building and mobilization. Because of this, there are a number of “celebrities” in the movements themselves that serve as vehicles of these ideological messages, and visualizing how these celebrities are connected can demonstrate how the beliefs of these groups intersect. Of course, celebrities are individuals, but they speak and represent the groups that they are affiliated with to larger audiences. Extremist celebrities in the 21st century not only forge connections but expose groups to one another like brokers. Using platforms like YouTube, Twitter, reddit, and many others, these extremist celebrities forge connections between groups and seeing their group affiliations may illustrate the movement of these ideologies.

The home page gives a brief overview of the project and provides links to the networks themselves. The site is organized into four main pages and then four subpages under the “GROUPS” main page. The pages are as follows:

  1. HOME
  2. ABOUT
    1. Alt Right
    2. Alt Lite
    3. Manosphere
    4. Gamergate

As discussed above, “HOME” is the landing page where some cursory information is given about the project itself and the motivation behind it. This is an “at a glance” page and it includes links to the network visualizations on the landing page and an explanation of how to navigate the website.

A more in depth essay on the reasoning and motivation behind the project will be found on this page.

The main “GROUPS” page includes information about all of the groups and reasoning behind why they were included, and is titled “THE NEW EXTREMISM: Who’s Who?” to illuminate the purpose that these visualizations are meant to serve.

Alt Right
The first of the subpages includes a brief essay about the Alt Right, who the main players are, and presents the first visualization which includes all four of the umbrella groups that are included in the networks.

Alt Lite
The second of the subpages includes information about the Alt Lite, key players in the movement, and how it was borne out of the Alt Right – particularly after the Charlottesville Rally that resulted in the death of one counter protestor, the Alt Lite aimed to distance itself from overt white supremacy and instead is more focused on a nationalistic, “Western” civilization view. The network visualization on this page shows the connections between the Alt Lite and the Alt Right.

The third subpage is about The Manosphere, which is a web-based loosely connected collection of men’s rights activist websites, Pick Up Artistry spaces, and others. Groups that fall under this umbrella term include Mens Rights activist, r/TheRedPill, MGTOW, A Voice for Men, and others. Whether or not Incels has a place in the Manosphere is contested between the various groups. The Manosphere in particular has been pointed at as a gateway ideology, and this visualization illustrates the connections between the Manosphere and the Alt Lite.

The final subpage is about Gamergate, which was a harassment campaign targeted towards women gamers, game developers, and journalists, and culminated in a number of death and rape threats toward them. The communities where many of these harassment campaigns were enacted are still active and thriving, even if they have slightly receded from the limelight. A notable celebrity of this movement is Milo Yinnaopoulos, who then parlayed this fame in to being connected with the Alt Lite, Breitbart, and the Manosphere. This visualization presents the connections between Gamergate and the Alt Lite.

Just a page with a contact form, and nothing more.

Future Directions
I’m hoping to make more detailed visualizations in the future, like the specific groups that are connected since all of the groups I included in these initial visualizations are the broader umbrella terms. Also, my initial plan to have text pop up as one clicks on each node required a lot more technical knowledge than I could learn in a year, but I feel happy with the end result despite it being slightly different from my initial plan. Despite this, the website is a first glance at seeing how cultural flows and ideology are spread from celebrity to celebrity within these extremist groups, and future work can build off of these initial maps.

Julia DeCook


March 29, 2018

Networked Society’s Celebrity Networks

March 29, 2018 | By | No Comments

I have had to tone down some of my initial goals for what I thought my network would be, but am still going to endeavor to make a semi-interactive network and a website to house information for people who are interested in viewing the affiliations that extreme right celebrities have.

However, considering the role that the Internet has had in the resurgence of populist fascism in the U.S. and beyond, I felt that paying special attention to “celebrities” with significant online presences might be an interesting way to visualize these connections. Although the term “network society” was coined in the early 90s, the origins of it are from before that in terms of how society would eventually be connected by wired communications. Famously, Castell’s work The Rise of the Network Society laid down the foundations of how he envisioned society would eventually function: it is not that networks merely exist within our societies, but rather are the very basic foundations of them. Although of course, I’m not saying that the Internet is to blame for the rise of extreme right-wing politics, it did play a part in the accessibility of the ideology to millions of people.

In that regard, how do we envision networks of Internet celebrities within the networked society? What conditions led to their rise, and how might these conditions also lead to their downfalls? These aren’t necessarily questions that I’m grappling with since my project will be mostly descriptive and for visualization purposes, but are ones that can be dealt with later in academic work. In terms of downfall, we have seen how although the affordances of the networked society have been great, they have also been detrimental: websites are being shut down, subreddits are being removed, and Twitter accounts are being banned. But this brings about another age-old issue in terms of how digital space is governed and regulated, which are things that will constantly be debated as technology outpaces the policies that control them. This project, although not necessarily intended to, has really helped me think about the power of platforms, infrastructures, and their roles in shaping and inhibiting social movements – which is the basis of my dissertation, stay tuned for more.

Theoretical musings aside, I’m following a tutorial on how to make my network graph because a lot of network mapping software does not easily allow for the creation of event-affiliation or bipartite networks. However, software like R that requires a lot of manual coding do allow for the creation of these visualizations. Although seemingly very descriptive, event-affiliation and bipartite graphs can be helpful in determining who belongs to some organizations, thus increasing their likelihood of encountering people who otherwise may be disconnected. I’m making slow progress on the graph because it is in d3.js, but there is an R tutorial that may help me move along faster. Either way, I’m grateful for the experience because instead of pointing and clicking, I’m actually managing to teach myself the foundational code of what makes up these networks. Foundations of foundations, we’ve gone meta.

Tutorials for the curious:
How to Make an Interactive Network Visualization
Network Analysis and Visualization with R and igraph

Julia DeCook


March 1, 2018

Ideological Celebrities and Connective Action

March 1, 2018 | By | No Comments

After having a few conversations with my dissertation chair about my dissertation topic, it made me start thinking about my own CHI project trying to map out the celebrities of the far right and how they are ideologically connected. The idea of connective and collective action rests upon something simple, yet incredibly difficult to maintain: the idea of an “us” for there to be a motivation for a fight against a “them”. Indeed, Tajfel’s social identity theory introduced us to the idea of the in-group and out-group in the 1970s, but I think it goes far beyond reducing it to an in and an out. There also must exist connective tissue, for the muscles to adhere to the bones, and together they all move together. In political ideologies and movements, the connective tissue are the celebrities of the movement, the celebrities, the easily identifiable figures upon which a common identity is built.

These celebrities are instrumental in proselytizing the ideology and are easy to find on social networking services as well as other forms of social media like YouTube and others. With their status and platform visibility, they rally people around a common narrative that they then are constantly spreading across different groups that may otherwise be disconnected, except for the common ideological basis that brought them all to the same celebrity. As such, these celebrities are strategic in the content that they produce and the appearances they make – like other politicians, there is a method to their madness, and what is notable about the far right is their savviness in using digital technologies to form coalitions – although dispersed – that are not only built on the same political beliefs but also political figures that symbolize them.

Thus, it is not that people like Richard Spencer or Alex Jones themselves are the threats, but rather what they represent. They are merely poster children for a movement, an easily targeted rally point, and they are not necessarily “leaders” but merely the public faces of a larger political movement. Looking at the list of celebrities I’ve compiled so far, some are universally appealing to far-right groups whereas others are more divisive, thus demonstrating that not even the celebrities themselves are necessarily accepted across certain boundaries. Although the network I am building does not necessarily identify central figures and other measures of networks, it is still going to be an interesting visualization of how these movements are converging upon central figures within them. They are merely the human face to a larger subculture, and placing responsibility upon one person to be the “face” of an organization is not a new concept. The ways in which they are conducting this old practice of “representation” however is particularly compelling, and articles examining the prevalence of young conservatives (The Kids Are Far Right) point out the ease of which they achieve fame. This then begs the question – are there so many celebrities in this movement because they truly believe in it, or rather are they people who longed to be famous and decided to go the route of political extremist because of the attention they knew they’d receive?

Are they just exploiting a media landscape that privileges outrage?

Grumpy Cat is cute but also angry

In order to explore some of these larger questions, I’ve been going through and trying to give attribute values to my network nodes (the celebrities) by gender, age, and other dimensions to help better visualize differentiating aspects between far-right celebrities. Although I initially didn’t think that this project would connect to larger work that I am engaging in, it has really helped to illuminate the ideas of collective action around media figures – a creation of a “us” for a certain subset of people, and the celebrities then rally the “us” around a “them”.

Julia DeCook


January 31, 2018

Networks of Ideology

January 31, 2018 | By | No Comments

For the second part of the CHI fellowship, I’ve proposed a project that would map out an ideological network of celebrities in the “alt-right.” Of course, the term “alt-right’ is an umbrella catch-all term that has been proposed not only by the members of the movement itself but also the media and other institutions that inform the public. As such, the alt-right is merely a descriptor of a group of loosely connected political organizations and movements that have similar goals. There are even differentiations to the levels to which an organization can fall under this umbrella, and “alt-lite” has emerged as a way to identify some of these groups that are similar to the alt-right but have differences that are distinct enough that they do not fall under the term completely.

The first project is going to be constructing a network of celebrities that are active in the alt-right and which organizations that they are connected to. Some of these celebrities act as brokers between organizations that may not otherwise be connected, and the goal is to be able to visualize how celebrities have a broad reach and influence across the groups. For instance, Milo Yiannopoulos is a “celebrity” not only with the GamerGate crowd but also with the Manosphere. Jordan Peterson is also a celebrity within the movement, as are figures like Stefan Molyneux, Gavin McInnes, and others. Using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, Wikipedia, and other numerous sources, I will hopefully not only visualize the ideological network but also be able to provide some information when the nodes themselves are clicked on.

The outcome of the project is a first step towards visualizing how all of the groups are connected on the basis of their ideology and goals. Starting with the celebrities, I will house the project on a website and will continue to add new networks as time goes on.

I’ve been attempting to scrape my own data but I think just creating the network with already existing information may be the best way to go. A similar project, the Alt Right Open Intelligence Initiative, has done a lot of research in visualizing the discourse and content and can serve as a starting ground for some of this ideology network visualizing. The research done by the initiative has focused primarily on the social media platforms that these organizations use and how they are connected through their content. I am hoping to add to this research by looking specifically at the celebrities and how they are mentioned and talked about by the groups, and thus how they are affiliated along similar ideological lines.

I’m still working out some kinks in how I will go forth with the project but have decided that rather than reinventing the wheel and collecting all of my own data, using already existing data is the better way to go considering the time frame that I have. I hope that this will be the first of a line of projects that will aid in visualizing political extremism in the U.S. and beyond.

Julia DeCook


December 1, 2017

User Generated Archives as Sites of Knowledge

December 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

The cliché of “the Internet never forgets” and my own work has gotten me thinking about how the Internet itself and its functionalities serve as a giant archive for the netizens that inhabit it. Even if the materials themselves aren’t necessarily being carefully selected, curated, and organized according to archival logic, the way that the Internet allows for users to generate their own content and have it exist for as long as that platform does (or if they choose to remove it) positions it as just one large archive with different sections and materials.

Of course, there is the Internet Archive, whose sole purpose is to share access to materials like books, movies, etc. as well as billions and billions of web pages. But the Internet Archive is just one kind of archive, and it seems as though it serves as more of a catch-all place to remember as opposed to some user-generated communities and archives that serve as a space of socialization. Reading Doreen Lee’s book Activist Archives and then seeing materials on FemTechNet and even smaller subreddits that create their own archives for their members to access, reference, and use to help maintain a political movement is what I want to focus more of my attention on.

How do we conceptualize archive in a place where the very modality of communication and sharing can be thought of as an archive itself? When we think about our own bodies and experiences, do we in our minds maintain an archive of ourselves? In what way are political movements using net-based archives for their cause, and how are they being used to socialize (and sometimes indoctrinate) old and new members? In a lot of ways, I guess the Internet and user-generated archives disrupt previously held conceptions of what an archive is and how it “should” be organized and how it should serve others. One commendation of the Internet was how it would serve as a space to democratize knowledge, but if the epistemic violence that exists in [particularly colonial] archives just follows us from the physical to the digital, is this really knowledge democratization or does it just reifies social institutions that already exist?

I’m not going to say that the Internet hasn’t given people access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge – of course it has – but beginning to analyze Internet archives as merely mirrors to already existing archival logic has made me think of the many ways in which the Internet is a space that is embedded with its own biases in how it is developed and maintained. Is knowledge really democratized when it’s inaccessible by most of the world? Is knowledge really “more” accessible when it functions similarly to “physical” archives in that there are still gatekeepers, violence, and oppression that lie underneath the surface of a “free and open” space?

As it has been said time and time again, for those of us in the world who are on the Internet, the Internet is merely a reflection of social actors and does not exist as a separate space – even though it does provide the affordance of being able to transcend space and time for human interaction and access to events, knowledge, etc. But the Internet, like the archive, is built upon a certain kind of logic that privileges certain kinds of knowledge above others, and algorithms function in this regard as well because they are made by people. Has it made knowledge more accessible? I guess it depends on what kind of knowledge we’re talking about.

Julia DeCook


November 10, 2017

Ethics of digital data collection: The debate continues

November 10, 2017 | By | No Comments

The conversation around digital data collection and ethics behind it often default to rules/laws that exist in “face-to-face” data collection: if it’s in a public arena, then the rules are the same for observing people in physical public spaces. However, as many within the realm of digital data know, the idea of “public” can vary in the virtual sphere, and further, questions have been raised whether or not we as researchers have the right to use posts and other digital artifacts posted by users if they posted them without the intention of the posts being discovered and used without their consent by researchers. Basically, if someone knew that eventually their content would be used in research, would they have posted it at all? It’s the digital Hawthorne Effect.

This brings up a few issues with the approach of studying online communities, particularly on Reddit where they have the option to go private and the larger issue of there being Discord Servers, IRC channels, Slack channels, etc. where the members congregate. This then brings up the issue of gaining consent from every single member that frequents those closed access communities, and even on Facebook there are a number of closed groups that require membership to view their content. Although we can all agree that when something is closed it is no longer in the “public sphere” of the Internet, there’s one thing that I’ve grappled with in terms of looking for things using hashtags – if I happen to come across, say, an Instagram account because they used a hashtag once, can I then look at their account and use other posts by them if there are no hashtags on any of their other posts?

Basically – is visibility and “searchable”-ness (through hashtags) a facet of what constitutes “public” data, or is the mere fact that the account itself is public (i.e., not locked down and private) sufficient? If it doesn’t have a hashtag, does it exist in the public sphere?

Digital research can become incredibly messy, not just because of the types of content that exist online that help to paint a picture of social and cultural life through multiple modalities, but also because of the questions of ethics that arise throughout these processes. Postill and Pink (2012) talk about “hashtag sociality” in their work discussing ethnographies in virtual environments, and that hashtags are not merely a part of online culture but serve as an organizing function for topics like a web forum does (Solis, 2011). This still complicates my earlier question in whether or not content from an account that has hashtags on some posts but not others are still “public”.

The Intenet as a public sphere has been a topic of discussion for decades now, but laws surrounding internet privacy and mobility still challenge the status of “public-ness” and “open-ness” that the Internet is typically known for. It is more complex, and because of its ever-changing nature, constantly being differentiated from traditional notions of public-ness.

Hashtags are now ubiquitous in online interactions, and may be complicating some of the questions of ethics surrounding what data is “open” and “public” and what is not. I wonder where these conversations surrounding digital data ethics will go, especially since now there are so many concerns about how so much of our lives have gone digital and the risk of privacy involved in using this data in research without the person’s knowledge (not necessarily consent, but maybe even consent). There are clear and defined expectations and rules for what is public and private (open versus closed group), but what is someone just posts something without granting it discoverable markers? Is it still public then? I don’t know if this adds an unnecessary complciation to the ethics debate, but it is one that I’ve been curious about throughout my own research.

Julia DeCook


October 12, 2017

Cat memes and Identity – Archives and Digital Worlds

October 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

The reason why I wanted to do this fellowship was not only to expand my knowledge of computational/digital methods of approaching cultural heritage questions but also to have this methodological knowledge situated in appropriate theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Particularly, something I have noticed often in data-driven approaches to research within my own discipline is the lack of positioning – what does this data mean? How did it come to be, and what does it signify for larger historical, cultural, and social realms?

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Julia DeCook


September 22, 2017

Introduction to Julia DeCook

September 22, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hello, everybody! My name is Julia DeCook and I am a fellow in the Cultural Heritage Informatics fellowship initiative for the 2017-2018 school year. I am a 3rd-year doctoral student in the Infomation and Media Studies Ph.D. program, which is housed in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. My research focuses on online communities and how identity, ideology, and culture are created in digital spaces. My background is in Mass Communications, and so understanding the role of media in the spread of propaganda and reinforcement of a collective culture has always been an interest of mine.

The projects that I have been working on tend to fall within the realm of critical/cultural studies of media, however, I have long been wanting to apply more computational methods and approaches to gather data to conduct these analyses. Although I have a little bit of background in coding, my skills are incredibly limited, and so I am hoping through this fellowship that I gain the knowledge that I need to be able to do the research that I want to.

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