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.
For some of the easier methods of working with online data, though, I have two projects right now working with Instagram data: one is a discourse analysis applying Barthes’ figures of rhetoric from Myth Today to the content produced by “Instagram Models”; the other is looking at right-wing conservative meme accounts that are being spread on the platform to understand how memes on Instagram are being harnessed as a means of ideological propaganda. My larger research interests about online communities is trying to understand what these groups symbolize, signify, and how they recruit members through the creation of their ideologies.
Further, my interests in how technology functions and mingles with the social in these spaces is a larger theoretical question that helps to bind together all of my research. Some of the big picture questions I have going on with my research on right-wing conservative extremist groups online:
- What is the role of digital archives in helping uphold the ideologies created in these spaces?
- What role do algorithms have in guiding people toward a larger community outside of their own?
- What is the feminist perspective for all of this, and in what ways do race, social class, gender, and sexuality exist in virtual environments?
- How are identities being created and reinforced?
- What methods are being used to ensure the survival of the group? What about the language they use?
- How are they building a heritage of hatred on these online spaces? Where do their ideologies intersect, and where and how do they differ?
I also think a lot about data and how algorithms are being used to manipulate and control what we are shown and also about media ecosystems and how they are constructed. These are some of the larger questions guiding my research overall, my project for the CHI fellowship, as well as my dissertation (which is a bit farther off in the future). The thing that I have found the most surprising, however, is the response by the public to the rise of these extremist groups – they have existed for years, and have been carefully cultivating an ideology and culture that is robust and far-reaching. But how far reaching is it, and how are they constructing this ideology? My project, hopefully, will be to network map the ideologies of the multiple groups that exist underneath the umbrella term of “conservative right-wing extremist.” What will it reveal? I’m not sure. But I hope to find it.
But how far reaching is it, and how are they constructing this ideology? My project, hopefully, will be to network map the ideologies of the multiple groups that exist underneath the umbrella term of “conservative right-wing extremist.” What will it reveal? I’m not sure. But I hope to find out. 🙂
On the non-ac side of things, I really love food – everything about it, eating it, making it, etc. I also have been in graduate school for so long that my hobbies have become 1. food and 2. finding places to buy and eat food. I also watch way too much television and spend way too much time on the Internet in the name of “research,” and I have two cats, whom I love dearly. I am indeed a crazy cat lady and am not afraid to admit it.
Find me on Twitter or Instagram: @julesopolis