A Private Conversation in a Public Place: The Ethics of Studying “Virtual Support Groups” Now

I feel compelled to give disclaimers whenever I speak to friends or family about my research on support groups for survivors of domestic violence. I always quickly clarify the circumstances that led me to this work. I want them to know the agency in my research is one where I have personally volunteered as a support group facilitator for nearly seven years—and it’s also one where I was previously a client, giving and receiving support in groups just like those that I now lead. Anxiously, I assure others that I would never share identifiable information about the clients I serve or their experiences of abuse with any audience, for any reason, without those clients’ knowledge and consent (which I do not wish to seek). Above all, it seems crucial to express that I never imagined conducting research on this agency when I first came into contact with it. It was only after five years of volunteering that I became interested in studying support groups, and that interest proceeded from the hope that rhetoricians like myself might find new ways of lending their specialized skills to non-profit organizations.


Needless to say, these disclaimers are meant to convey that I am acting ethically in my research—or at least, that I am trying very hard to do so. Investing significant amounts of time, energy, and care back into a community that once did the same for me, I assume a deeply personal mission to “do good research without doing bad things” (Cagle 1). And according to some research ethics scholars, perhaps my choices have been acceptable. In a discussion with Heidi McKee and James Porter regarding her research on medical support groups, Laurie Cubbison opines, “the participant observer needs to establish some street cred… You really need to establish yourself in the community even before you start doing research” (Cubbison qtd. in McKee and Porter 100). Out of context, Cubbison’s statement could seem superfluous: most academics would discourage barging into a community utterly unknown to the researcher and launching a project devoid of any prior contact with potential subjects. Doing so would be deemed intrusive, arrogant, or deceitful, whereas the ability to “develop a relationship over time with participants” was once “a necessity for qualitative researchers (i.e., field research) in traditional social research” (Hall et al. 251). But importantly, what these scholars are discussing is not quite traditional research, but rather research on the Internet—in particular, on content drawn from message boards, listservs, social media posts, and the like. Though they are far easier to access than in-person groups, these Internet communities ironically raise far more ethical conundrums for some researchers who intend to study them.


Throughout the 1990s, increased access to the Internet among the general populace offered unprecedented opportunities for human connection and communication. For individuals who have endured some of the most traumatic or stigmatizing experiences known to humankind—for example, childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, self-harm/suicidality, and so on—the ostensible anonymity and global scope of online communities provided an especially appealing alternative to face-to-face resources. Drawing on culturally available models of supportive communication, Internet users adopted the phrase “online support group” (or “virtual support group”) to refer to a vast range of communities and services enacted among members of various vulnerable populations. Meanwhile, eager to amplify the voices of trauma survivors and situate their experiences within broader systems of harm, scholars also began to study such communities with great enthusiasm—generally availing themselves of raw data in the form of members’ lengthy self-disclosing text posts.[1] Ethicists have expressed concern about the risks of studying online communities for about as long as such research has been conducted, yet recent work by rhetoricians indicates that we are still struggling to conceptualize “the public nature of ‘public’ data” (Buck and Ralston 2). Greatly exacerbating this struggle is, of course, the enormous gap between the rate at which “socio-technical systems” transform and the rate at which we can systematically analyze those transformations (Nissenbaum 5).


In this essay, I argue for a reexamination of Internet research on virtual support groups in light of two major socio-technical shifts in recent years: first, the significant changes in most Internet users’ relationships to video teleconference technologies (e.g., Zoom) during the COVID-19 pandemic; and second, the resulting changes to the concept of a “support group” as it is understood by vulnerable populations in a post-pandemic age. Clearly, evolving technology and social norms are greatly diversifying the range of online activities we still collectively refer to as “virtual support groups,” highlighting the need for a more nuanced analysis of these groups’ distinct modalities, the complexity of the self-concealment/exposure they afford, and their resulting epistemic potential. Driven by my experiences as a facilitator of both in-person and virtual support groups for survivors of domestic violence, I built a case study around the explosion of synchronous, video-based support groups in the United States from March 2020 onward. Specifically, I explicate several ethical quandaries that arose from one agency’s attempts to implement a Zoom-specific confidentiality policy in its support groups, showing how rapid uptake of this platform introduces new conflicts between core values that are usually compatible. Combining the apparent privacy of face-to-face group meetings with the ambiguous publicness of online communication, Zoom support groups illustrate the extent to which our understandings of “virtual support groups” have changed since scholars first started researching human subjects on the Internet—and therefore how much our ethical considerations must change, too.

Researching Internet Communities: Ongoing Ethical Debates


Most scholars would condemn infiltrating and studying a face-to-face support group without participants’ knowledge, yet for virtual communities, the temptation to do this is so strong as to warrant lengthy reflection and ethical debates. Why is this so? For many academics, researching Internet support groups is exempt from ethical review because the content of such groups is “already public” (Zimmer 313). In other words, it is open for use by anyone online—the group is easily locatable via search engines, requires no special credentials or identity verification to join, and (crucially) may be hosted on a platform whose terms of service agreement clearly states that users’ posts are accessible to the public. Collecting information shared in these groups, then, would be comparable to taking notes on conversations overheard in a “public square” (Kaufman qtd. in Zimmer 321) or radio or television show (McKee and Porter 83), and posting a message to potential subjects would be like posting a flier on a bulletin board in a community center (Carrion 444; Opel 188). On the whole, the persuasiveness—and pervasiveness—of the notion that Internet users waive their rights to privacy when using public platforms is so potent that Helen Nissenbaum has christened it “the normative ‘knock-down’ argument” (114). 


Arguments that exclude internet content from the purview of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) often function as enthymemes, resting on an unspoken assumption that anything public is “fair game” for research (McKee and Porter 2; Zimmer 323). Nonetheless, Internet research ethicists increasingly reject the “public/private dichotomy” as a basis for ethical decisions (Nissenbaum 90), holding that this binaristic view neither reflects humans’ actual perceptions of privacy nor successfully protects them against harmful research—even if said research is fully legal and IRB approved.[2] Indeed, Dawn Opel summarizes a prevailing position on institutional ethics: “[legality] is not the whole of ethical research practice, in much the same way that IRB approval does not mean that a researcher has always acted ethically” (183, emphasis in original). Annette Markham and Elizabeth Buchanan similarly problematize the term “human subject” as it is applied in/out of regulatory frameworks, rather directing scholars’ focus to concepts like “harm, vulnerability, personally identifiable information, and so forth” (6). For these scholars and others, analyzing one’s research design involves a multiplicity of factors beyond the sensitivity of information or its public/private status, and such analysis must be done “using a complex process that weigh[s] these variables contextually” (McKee and Porter 87). Not only is a study’s ethicality not evaluable through a simple binary of ethical/unethical, but it also does not exist on one single continuum of ethical/unethical, and its placement on a wide range of continua cannot be judged solely through theoretical means. Instead, the most recent version of the Association of Internet Researchers’ (AoIR) widely adopted guidelines for ethical research stresses the importance of developing methods “from the bottom up” in a “case-by-case approach” while avoiding “a priori judgments” (franzke et al. 4).


In keeping with aline shakti franzke et al.’s endorsement of “ethical pluralism” and the many divergent “judgment calls” elicited through this approach (6), AoIR’s ethical guidelines consistently embrace the idea that “ambiguity, uncertainty, and disagreement are inevitable” (Ess qtd. in franzke 6, emphasis in original; Markham and Buchanan 5).[3] Given that the Internet and its users are constantly changing, scholars cannot possibly account for the infinite number of factors that may ever affect the ethicality of Internet research—they would be shooting at a moving target. Hence, Markham and Buchanan impart that a “process approach” to ethics “highlights the researcher’s responsibility” for making decisions “within specific contexts and … a specific research project” (5). While scholars must “consult as many people and resources as possible,” it is clear that their individual values inform the harms they are willing to risk in order to produce new knowledge (Markham and Buchanan 5). In light of ample research showing online communities’ aversion to being studied (Hall et al. 250; Hudson and Bruckman 135; King 122)—as well as common-sense awareness that groups discussing “socially sensitive” topics are especially keen to limit their membership to “only others that understand, respect, and support their situation” (King 126)—it seems critical for researchers of virtual support groups to clarify “what greater benefit justifies the potential risks” of their work (Markham and Buchanan 11).


A feminist approach to Internet research helps scholars contextualize their choices at every stage of a project, empowering them to reflect on their individual standpoints while also valuing a multiplicity of other perspectives. Though it’s apparent that “There is not one single tradition of feminist history” or “discourse” (franzke et al. 64), several principles have emerged as typifying a feminist approach to Internet research. Both informing and echoing franzke et al.’s “Feminist Research Ethics” resource in the 2019 AoIR ethical guidelines, scholars have valued a feminist “ethics of care” (Cagle 7; Luka et al 22); standpoint theory and situated knowledges (Carrion 443; Luka et al. 22); maximally contextualized praxis and data (Luka et al. 26); transparency about method/ologies (Carrion 443; De Hertogh 485; Luka et al. 30); reflexivity throughout the research process (Carrion 446; Luka et al. 23); and reciprocity and beneficence towards the community one is researching (Cagle 7; De Hertogh 495; Hall et al. 250). Underlying all of these values is a determination to honor research subjects’ dignity and hold oneself accountable for any harms thereto. Realizing that the responsibility for making good judgments ultimately falls to individual researchers, feminist approaches place us in “vulnerable and often messy positions, where each researcher looks her or his own biases in the eye” (Luka et al. 31). In this process, one may be tempted to view ethical decisions as a sort of hard-won compromise between researchers and subjects; each party’s interests are assumed to contradict the other’s. Yet even if feminist scholars consciously choose to prioritize their subjects at the cost of their research, this does not mean ethical decisions are any easier to make. As revealed in the case study below, rapid changes in Internet-based research technologies are already requiring feminist scholars to reassess, not just whether/when to show beneficence to human subjects, but also which kinds of beneficence might be more imperative than others.

Case Study: Zoom Support Groups

Current scholarly discussions of Internet research often underscore—if not conclude on—the notion that ethical guidelines must evolve over time to meet new challenges presented by new conditions of the socio-technical systems we are studying. For example, Markham and Buchanan stress that the 2012 AoIR ethical guidelines were developed “in an effort to recognize and respond to the array of changing technologies and ongoing developments” (e.g., greater use of smartphones and social media) that had drastically changed the landscape of Internet-based research since the publication of the first version of the guidelines in 2002 (2). Likewise, the development of increasingly sensitive Internet search engines since the late 1990s certainly problematizes the use of exact quotations from internet communities in prior research: McKee and Porter inquire, “Did the discussants in the newsgroups in the 1980s and early 1990s envision the powerful search engine capabilities of Google and the like making their posts easily traceable?” (83). Nevertheless, few existing studies delve deeply into one specific, ongoing socio-technical transformation and its implications for ethical decision-making in the future. In what follows, I present a case study on video-based, synchronous support groups that convene via the popular video teleconferencing platform Zoom, explicating how the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted Internet users’ relationships with video teleconferencing technology and, consequently, popular understandings of the term “support group.”


Under what (if any) conditions is it ethical for a scholar to study communications that occur within a Zoom meeting for members of a vulnerable population? While there is no easy answer to this, it is certain that individual scholars’ responses will be guided in part by their perceptions of the Zoom platform. For many Internet researchers, one of the most important factors affecting the ethicality of a project is its “venue”—the specific online platform they are visiting and their beliefs about its purpose, user base, terms of service, social norms, and so on (franzke et al. 16, 18). For instance, McKee and Porter share Yukari Seko’s reflections on her research on blogs by self-harming/suicidal authors, observing that “concern about the status of a blog” strongly influences her methods (96). Seko states: “If I think of [blogs] as the letter for the editors, I don’t have to get any informed consent, but if I think of it as personal conversation, I have to get informed consent… it’s totally related to my articulation of blog” (qtd. in McKee and Porter 95-96). If a scholar perceives a publicly-accessible Zoom support group as analogous to an open Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at their local church, they might make ethical decisions that favor their right to drop in and study the group. Conversely, a scholar who perceives a Zoom support group as analogous to a group therapy session at a local mental health clinic will come to quite different conclusions. Some crucial questions for those interested in researching virtual support groups, then, must be, “What is Zoom?” and “Who or what is Zoom for?”[4]


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the average American would have perceived Zoom (if at all) as a video teleconferencing tool used for professional, utilitarian purposes when an in-person meeting with one’s colleagues was unfeasible. Events on this platform probably would not have been “fair game” for academic research, if for no other reason than that opportunities to join a Zoom call you weren’t personally invited to were decidedly rare. Precious few scholarly articles had been written about Zoom, and even fewer had explored its utility in collecting qualitative data. Yet in early 2020, Internet users’ relationships to this platform seemingly transformed overnight. According to The New York Times, Zoom’s daily user base skyrocketed from ten million pre-pandemic to three hundred million in April 2020 (Isaac and Frenkel). The platform’s distinctly user-friendly design combined with its robust security features—now often credited for Zoom’s triumph over contemporary competitors such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, or Skype (Talukdar 167)—made it adaptable to a variety of new remote communication needs. In addition to enabling some individuals to work and attend school while quarantining, Zoom became a primary site of many people’s social lives. With just the click of a weblink, it suddenly became possible to join public-facing, widely attended Zoom events hosted by businesses, schools, non-profits, governments, and more any day of the week. What was once a fairly niche tool for private professional calls became, quite abruptly, a necessity for people of diverse identities to participate in public life. And public it is: even when hosts take precautions to prevent “Zoom bombing,” or disruptions from unwanted/uninvited parties, the possibility of an attendee surreptitiously recording sound, video, images, or text chats is always present. Hence, as many workers serving vulnerable populations would soon discover, it is inherent to Zoom’s features that the risk of confidentiality breaches is high and the capacity for any single meeting attendee to prevent such breaches is low.


When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the southeastern United States in March 2020, I was one of the most active facilitators in the support group program at a domestic violence agency near my university. As was the case with most non-profit organizations in this era, the staff was obliged to adapt their services into an online format with very little time or prior experience to calibrate their choices. Following global trends, they moved all support group meetings to Zoom. Given the relative accessibility of this online space and the urgency of maintaining confidentiality while working with survivors—some of whom could be in grave danger if their information is unprotected—my supervisor and I soon recognized the need to implement Zoom-specific policies. Drafting our first “Zoom Support Group Confidentiality Agreement,” an addendum to the pre-group “Participation Agreement” clients always sign, was theoretically simple. We sought to identify all possible threats to confidentiality on Zoom and specify how clients should avoid them. However, as we gained more practical experience running virtual support groups, our policies received frequent edits and expansions. They also proved difficult to enforce, highlighting unexpected tensions between confidentiality and other agency values such as empowerment and access. To capture the ethical complexity of working with this population on this platform, I offer three basic conflicts we encountered with questions we asked ourselves:


Where should group members physically be while attending meetings via Zoom?

  • Are there any cases in which it is not preferred for members to attend via Zoom from their own homes?
  • If a member cannot attend via Zoom from home, what alternative locations are acceptable? Are members permitted to attend meetings from their car, their workplace, their school, a park, a café/restaurant, the library, a friend or family member’s home, etc.?
  • What locations are absolutely unacceptable for attending meetings via Zoom?
  • Are members required to stay in the same location for the entire duration of the meeting?
  • What measures should members take to ensure that their location is not under audio/video/other forms of surveillance?


Who should group members be with while attending these meetings via Zoom?

  • Are there any cases in which it is not preferred for members to attend alone?
  • If a member cannot attend alone, how much space and/or substance (walls, doors, etc.) should separate them from others in their environment?
  • What sort of people can be nearby while members are attending meetings via Zoom? Are members permitted to attend meetings in the general vicinity of their abuser, other family members, friends, roommates, colleagues, classmates, fellow patrons, etc.?
  • If a member is a caregiver for children, can they tend to those children during Zoom meetings? If yes, is there a maximum age/developmental stage after which this is not acceptable? 
  • What measures should members take to ensure that people in their environment cannot hear/see the meeting, including the members’ own contributions?


What audio/visual information should group members share during meetings?

  • Are there any cases in which it is not preferred for members to have their cameras and microphones turned on at all times?
  • If a member cannot keep their camera and microphone on at all times, is there a maximum amount of time they are permitted to have either one turned off? 
  • Are members permitted to obscure information about who/what is in the room with them by using a virtual or blurred background, positioning themselves against a corner or wall, playing background music/other noise, communicating solely via chat text, etc.?
  • What obligation do members have to inform the group if they are attending the group under circumstances that threaten confidentiality?
  • What measures should members take to ensure that their audio/visual equipment is not inadvertently exposing information they do not wish to share with the group (their full name, home address, occupation, etc.)?


Internet users’ increasingly acute control over the flow of their personal information—the high demand for which has spurred Zoom’s popularity—is disorienting in the context of virtual support groups. In earlier parlance, the phrase “virtual support groups” often signified text-based, asynchronous, and anonymous communities; conventional groups were in-person, synchronous, and comparatively vulnerable (revealing a physical self, name, current location, voice, etc.). These descriptions no longer hold for groups convening via Zoom. While attending a meeting on this platform, a user can choose to share their real-time image, sounds, background/location, non-verbal emoji “reactions,” and/or screen in addition to text posts, providing fellow attendees with far more personal information than was possible in earlier online communities. On the other hand, one can choose not to share this information, retaining much more agency to self-conceal than in traditional support groups. Zoom’s features thus empower group members to set their own terms for participating in groups, a fact that takes on special meaning vis-à-vis individuals who have experienced a profound loss of personal autonomy. The ability to toggle between various types/levels of engagement also reduces barriers to access for those who lack the ideal conditions for attending a Zoom call. For non-professional facilitators of virtual support groups, though, ethical conundrums unfortunately arise when their commitment to these core values of empowerment and access may directly undermine their commitment to confidentiality.


The questions listed above are difficult enough, but even if answered through group policies, they are quickly eclipsed by even thornier questions about each policy’s relative importance, the harm entailed in violating it, and the harm entailed in enforcing it. Put simply, someone must decide when (if ever) a group member who doesn’t follow confidentiality policies should therefore be removed from the group. Such an action is extreme, and it compels the meeting host to decide that their ethical duty to maintain confidentiality while serving a vulnerable population is more important than their duty to benefit said population by securing their access to resources. Whereas confidentiality is often a necessary condition for access to social services, permitting people to speak freely about sensitive subjects, here one of these principles must be upheld at the cost of the other. What lengths should Zoom hosts go to, then, in order to protect confidentiality? Needless to say, the ethical ideals one pursues in theory are not always effective in practice, and the considerations scholars should take while researching support groups are not the same as those guiding the work of a non-professional group facilitator. I assume that if I were attending virtual support group meetings as a scholar collecting data on human subjects, I would err on the side of confidentiality in ethical decisions. But anecdotally, it seems to me that every virtual group meeting I’ve actually attended has involved some level of deviation from our Zoom policies, yet I have never witnessed any facilitator removing a client from a group for this reason. Consciously or not, our decisions often prioritize a client’s right to benefit from the group—and moreover, the other clients’ right to benefit from their peer’s continued presence, even if their choices slightly increase the already massive potential for confidentiality breaches on Zoom.


In the absence of substantial data about the dangers of Zoom-based support groups, those who wish to study such groups will inevitably draw upon their own subjective expectations and goals to make ethical decisions. In doing so, they may hope the strictest approach to confidentiality will yield the most ethical research. Unfortunately, it isn’t clear that this is the case, particularly if such approaches require the loss of personal power or access to resources among members of a vulnerable population for the sake of as-yet-unknown gains. To ponder whether certain uses of certain Zoom features could cause harm to meeting attendees is quite different from asserting, definitively, that they do cause harm. Some will argue that it’s better to risk removing attendees who are not a threat than to risk retaining even one attendee who is a threat, and this is a viable position—but others will argue the opposite. In the years to come, perhaps those who hope to work with vulnerable populations via Zoom can look forward to the creation of a professional code of ethics for their respective fields; their challenge will be one of learning how to follow confidentiality policies for video teleconference-based research. In the meantime, our challenge is learning how to write them.

Works Cited

Augustine, Nora. “Facilitating Rhetoric: Paratherapeutic Activity in Community Support Groups.” Strategic Interventions in Mental Health Rhetoric, by Lisa Melonçon and Cathryn Molloy, 1st ed., Routledge, 2022, pp. 71–88. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003144854-7.

Boland, Joshua, et al. “A COVID-19-Era Rapid Review: Using Zoom and Skype for Qualitative Group Research.” Public Health Research & Practice, vol. 32, no. 2, 2022, pp. 1–9. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.17061/phrp31232112.

Buck, Amber M., and Devon F. Ralston. “I Didn’t Sign Up for Your Research Study: The Ethics of Using ‘Public’ Data.” Computers and Composition, vol. 61, Sept. 2021, pp. 1–13. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2021.102655.

Cagle, Lauren E. “The Ethics of Researching Unethical Images: A Story of Trying to Do Good Research without Doing Bad Things.” Computers and Composition, vol. 61, Sept. 2021, pp. 1–14. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2021.102651.

Carrion, Melissa. “Negotiating the Ethics of Representation in RHM Research.” Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, vol. 3, no. 4, Feb. 2021, pp. 437–48. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.5744/rhm.2020.4005.

De Hertogh, Lori Beth. “Feminist Digital Research Methodology for Rhetoricians of Health and Medicine.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 32, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 480–503. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1177/1050651918780188.

franzke, aline shakti, et al. Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0. 2019, pp. 1–82, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf.

Hall, G. Jon, et al. “’NEED HELP ASAP!!!’: A Feminist Communitarian Approach to Online Research Ethics.” Online Social Research: Methods, Issues & Ethics, edited by Mark D. Johns et al., Peter Lang, 2004, pp. 239–52.

Hudson, James M., and Amy Bruckman. “‘Go Away’: Participant Objections to Being Studied and the Ethics of Chatroom Research.” The Information Society, vol. 20, no. 2, Apr. 2004, pp. 127–39. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1080/01972240490423030.

Isaac, Mike, and Sheera Frenkel. “Zoom’s Biggest Rivals Are Coming for It.” The New York Times, 24 Apr. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/24/technology/zoom-rivals-virus-facebook-google.html.

King, Storm A. “Researching Internet Communities: Proposed Ethical Guidelines for the Reporting of Results.” The Information Society, vol. 12, no. 2, June 1996, pp. 119–28. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1080/713856145.

Luka, Mary Elizabeth, et al. “A Feminist Perspective on Ethical Digital Methods.” Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age: New Challenges, Cases, and Contexts, edited by Michael Zimmer and Katharina Kinder-Kurlanda, Peter Lang, 2017, pp. 21–36.

Markham, Annette, and Elizabeth Buchanan. Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (Version 2.0). Association of Internet Researchers, 2012, pp. 1–19, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics2.pdf.

McKee, Heidi A., and James E. Porter. The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process. Peter Lang, 2009.

Nissenbaum, Helen Fay. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2010.

Opel, Dawn S. “Ethical Research in ‘Health 2.0’: Considerations for Scholars of Medical Rhetoric.” Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, edited by Lisa Melonçon and J. Blake Scott, Routledge, 2018, pp. 176–94.

Talukdar, Pooja. “Three Is a Crowd: Is the Boom in Zoom Mediation Piercing the Confidentiality Bubble?” American Journal of Mediation, vol. 14, 2021, pp. 151–80.

Zimmer, Michael. “‘But the Data Is Already Public’: On the Ethics of Research in Facebook.” Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 12, no. 4, Dec. 2010, pp. 313–25. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-010-9227-5.

End Notes

[1] Indeed, as is noted in my own autoethnographic research on support groups, studies of web-based communities may be overrepresented in the current scholarly literature precisely due to the comparative practical and ethical difficulties of studying a traditional (confidential, closed membership, face-to-face) support group (Augustine 74).


[2] For further discussion of the public/private binary construct (and limitations thereof), see Buck and Ralston 3; De Hertogh 493; Hudson and Bruckman 129; King 126; Markham and Buchanan 6; McKee and Porter 77; Opel 181.


[3] McKee and Porter speculate, for instance, that even if an academic community’s own Internet posts were being dissected in unflattering research, “Some AoIR researchers who are staunch advocates of a free use policy will no doubt stand by their convictions, swallow hard, and say, … ‘the researcher has the right to do that’” (McKee and Porter 9).


[4] Naturally, a speaker’s choice of whether to refer to what happens on Zoom as “meetings,” “calls,” “sessions,” “e-conferences,” or so forth is an indicator of their perceptions of this platform. Pooja Talukdar, for example, uses all of these terms over the course of her analysis of Zoom-based legal mediation services.


[5] For a “rapid review” of recent studies on the use of video teleconferencing platforms in qualitative group research (2015-2020), see Boland et al. (1).

Towards Best Practices for Podcasting in Rhetoric and Composition


The turn towards multimodal composing in rhetoric and composition has inspired researchers and practitioners–including in the sub-field of computers and writing–to create and circulate various scholarly digital genres including blogs, documentary films, videos, and podcasts, which are available online. Many of these projects continue to increase in views and downloads each year and are emerging as popular digital spaces for scholarly discourse and academic research across disciplines. The podcasters producing Pedagogue, Rhetoricity, The Big Rhetorical Podcast, and re:verb: A Podcast about Politics, Culture, and Language in Action (re:verb), among others, have demonstrated that podcasting in rhetoric and composition is a sustainable, legitimate method of knowledge creation and circulation[1]. The affordances of podcasting and podcasts–and thus, listening–coalesce with feminist research values, including narrativity, collectivity, inclusivity, accessibility (Ratcliffe; Ratcliffe; Royster and Kirsch; Ceraso; Ceraso; Hocks and Comstock; McGregor; Easter and Marquardt; Woods and Wood). In this cluster conversation, we argue podcasters should use feminist research methods in developing their podcasts, including: enacting collective knowledge making, prioritizing stories as a site of that knowledge, and creating best practices for podcasters in rhetoric and composition, which includes valuing collaboration, accessibility, and feminist citation practices. In this article, we interrogate the research methods of a single podcast as an example of this argument and suggest that further research on podcasts be conducted to further develop this scholarly conversation. 

Podcasts maintain the potential to “shift the ecosystem of scholarship so that new forms of thinking become possible” (McGregor). But podcasters must think through their research methods when developing a podcast that will extend across multiple arenas simultaneously. Podcasters do not rely on the guidance of editorial boards unless they are directly associated with an academic journal or organization, nor do they rely on traditional peer-review infrastructures that support content quality through scholarly oversight. How, then, do podcasters choose who to cite in show notes and which sources to lean on for audio clips for topics which reach academic and public audiences? Each podcaster or team of podcasters determines their own approach to online research as well as how to balance scholarly expectations with the expectations of wider audiences. How do podcasters archive audio data amid expanding ethical concerns as policies for different platforms, software, and cloud-based technologies impact the privacy and confidentiality of recordings? Each podcaster creates their own methods of data storage and destruction without explicit guidelines. We offer advice on how podcasters can negotiate these complex questions using feminist research methods to develop their projects and hope this cluster conversation piece leads to larger discussions about podcasting in the field.   

The Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) updated their ethics guidelines in 2019, which researchers can use as an interdisciplinary guide to ethical online research. Since individual understandings of research ethics vary, the “under-construction” foundation of research methods for podcasters remains an issue as their methods are emerging, increasingly networked, and, in many cases, undocumented. This murkiness leads to questions such as: do podcasters performing interviews sift through various qualitative data (e.g., subject-specific bibliographies and author biographies) online before booking guests? If so, how do they perform it? Do podcasters consider how the “prevalence of the digital in rhetoric and writing affect[s] the questions we ask, the methods we use to answer these questions, the knowledge we make, and the teaching practices we employ”? (VanKooten and Del Hierro 3). Furthermore, digital rhetoric scholars have considered the issues researchers face when moving feminist practices online, asking: “how should feminist researchers handle the politics of location, interpretation, and publication when working in increasingly networked and mediated online spaces?” (McKee and Porter 170)2. 

Technofeminists were correct that profound technological achievements like the Internet did not “make it any more possible for women to find virtual landscapes for re-inventing and re-representing themselves” (Blair and Takayoshi). This is true of all technologies, including podcasts. Yet, the collaborative nature of podcasts avails itself to a more equitable “negotiation of the power dynamics at play with redressing access biases and reimagining more just technology design” (DeVoss, Haas, and Rhodes). Podcasts could lead to more robust, diverse, and accurate narratives of and about the field. However, unless podcasters pay careful attention to their research methods–and utilize feminist research methodologies–then “more traditional mass cultural representations will have simply found a new home in a new medium” (Blair and Takayoshi). Therefore, podcasters should apply Digital Black Feminist[3] approaches by “centering voices and thoughts of community members across non-academic and academic spaces,” (Haywood 34) as they offer spaces for “engagement with complicated histories and complex arguments” (Steele 16) as a way of establishing equitable podcast research and production. 

Accordingly, feminist scholars performing research in digital spaces have focused on online research methods by theorizing about podcasts (McGregor; Tiffe and Hoffman); composing with sound (Comstock and Hocks; Rodrigue and Stedman); designing for accessibility (Butler) and considering the implications of big data (Buck and Ralston). Amber Buck and Devon Ralston describe a “Heuristic for Reflective Research and Data Collection,” (the “Heuristic”), a multipronged approach that serves as an ethical guide rooted in reflexivity for researchers collecting data online. We believe the Heuristic can serve as a prototypical guide for podcasters that helps them work toward establishing best practices for producing podcasts outside the purview of journals, which follow editorial standards. Our work here moves towards such practices informed by the Heuristic to provide guidance in podcasting. To illustrate feminist values applied to research methods and podcasting, we examine re:verb. 

The turn towards multimodal composing in rhetoric and composition has inspired researchers and practitioners–including in the sub-field of computers and writing–to create and circulate various scholarly digital genres including blogs, documentary films, videos, and podcasts, which are available online. Many of these projects continue to increase in views and downloads each year and are emerging as popular digital spaces for scholarly discourse and academic research across disciplines. The podcasters producing Pedagogue, Rhetoricity, The Big Rhetorical Podcast, and re:verb: A Podcast about Politics, Culture, and Language in Action (re:verb), among others, have demonstrated that podcasting in rhetoric and composition is a sustainable, legitimate method of knowledge creation and circulation.1 The affordances of podcasting and podcasts–and thus, listening–coalesce with feminist research values, including narrativity, collectivity, inclusivity, accessibility (Ratcliffe; Ratcliffe; Royster and Kirsch; Ceraso; Ceraso; Hocks and Comstock; McGregor; Easter and Marquardt; Woods and Wood). In this cluster conversation, we argue podcasters should use feminist research methods in developing their podcasts, including: enacting collective knowledge making, prioritizing stories as a site of that knowledge, and creating best practices for podcasters in rhetoric and composition, which includes valuing collaboration, accessibility, and feminist citation practices. In this article, we interrogate the research methods of a single podcast as an example of this argument and suggest that further research on podcasts be conducted to further develop this scholarly conversation. 

Podcasts maintain the potential to “shift the ecosystem of scholarship so that new forms of thinking become possible” (McGregor). But podcasters must think through their research methods when developing a podcast that will extend across multiple arenas simultaneously. Podcasters do not rely on the guidance of editorial boards unless they are directly associated with an academic journal or organization, nor do they rely on traditional peer-review infrastructures that support content quality through scholarly oversight. How, then, do podcasters choose who to cite in show notes and which sources to lean on for audio clips for topics which reach academic and public audiences? Each podcaster or team of podcasters determines their own approach to online research as well as how to balance scholarly expectations with the expectations of wider audiences. How do podcasters archive audio data amid expanding ethical concerns as policies for different platforms, software, and cloud-based technologies impact the privacy and confidentiality of recordings? Each podcaster creates their own methods of data storage and destruction without explicit guidelines. We offer advice on how podcasters can negotiate these complex questions using feminist research methods to develop their projects and hope this cluster conversation piece leads to larger discussions about podcasting in the field.   

The Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) updated their ethics guidelines in 2019, which researchers can use as an interdisciplinary guide to ethical online research. Since individual understandings of research ethics vary, the “under-construction” foundation of research methods for podcasters remains an issue as their methods are emerging, increasingly networked, and, in many cases, undocumented. This murkiness leads to questions such as: do podcasters performing interviews sift through various qualitative data (e.g., subject-specific bibliographies and author biographies) online before booking guests? If so, how do they perform it? Do podcasters consider how the “prevalence of the digital in rhetoric and writing affect[s] the questions we ask, the methods we use to answer these questions, the knowledge we make, and the teaching practices we employ”? (VanKooten and Del Hierro 3). Furthermore, digital rhetoric scholars have considered the issues researchers face when moving feminist practices online, asking: “how should feminist researchers handle the politics of location, interpretation, and publication when working in increasingly networked and mediated online spaces?” (McKee and Porter 170)[2]. 

Technofeminists were correct that profound technological achievements like the Internet did not “make it any more possible for women to find virtual landscapes for re-inventing and re-representing themselves” (Blair and Takayoshi). This is true of all technologies, including podcasts. Yet, the collaborative nature of podcasts avails itself to a more equitable “negotiation of the power dynamics at play with redressing access biases and reimagining more just technology design” (DeVoss, Haas, and Rhodes). Podcasts could lead to more robust, diverse, and accurate narratives of and about the field. However, unless podcasters pay careful attention to their research methods–and utilize feminist research methodologies–then “more traditional mass cultural representations will have simply found a new home in a new medium” (Blair and Takayoshi). Therefore, podcasters should apply Digital Black Feminist3 approaches by “centering voices and thoughts of community members across non-academic and academic spaces,” (Haywood 34) as they offer spaces for “engagement with complicated histories and complex arguments” (Steele 16) as a way of establishing equitable podcast research and production. 

Accordingly, feminist scholars performing research in digital spaces have focused on online research methods by theorizing about podcasts (McGregor; Tiffe and Hoffman); composing with sound (Comstock and Hocks; Rodrigue and Stedman); designing for accessibility (Butler) and considering the implications of big data (Buck and Ralston). Amber Buck and Devon Ralston describe a “Heuristic for Reflective Research and Data Collection,” (the “Heuristic”), a multipronged approach that serves as an ethical guide rooted in reflexivity for researchers collecting data online. We believe the Heuristic can serve as a prototypical guide for podcasters that helps them work toward establishing best practices for producing podcasts outside the purview of journals, which follow editorial standards. Our work here moves towards such practices informed by the Heuristic to provide guidance in podcasting. To illustrate feminist values applied to research methods and podcasting, we examine re:verb. 

Expanding the Heuristic to Account for Podcasting 

re:verb launched in 2018 and is produced by a team of podcasters, including Alex Helberg, Calvin Pollak, Sophie Wodzak, and Ben Williams. The primary focus of re:verb is on American culture, and recent episodes have focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and writing, pronoun usage in the public sphere, and the films of Jordan Peele. Re:verb demonstrates that developing a podcast is more than just uploading a sound file to an RSS feed: a podcast includes producing and editing audio, running a website and social media management, and creating digital artwork to promote episodes. Analyzing these aspects of re:verb reveal how podcasts are a feminist research method and examining how podcasters think about research ethics further highlights podcasting as a feminist method.  

Technofeminist researchers often emphasize digital ethics due to the intuitive usability and growing prevalence of tools to collect data from Big Technology companies (Markham, Tiidenberg, and Herman; Mehlenbacher and Mehlenbacher). Additionally, feminist scholars are considering how bodies are impacted in the act of digital making. Trisha Nicole Campbell makes the case for what she calls “a practice-based model for beginning the process of [digital] empathy” where she analyzes the experiences of recording voices and the labor involved in sound editing and learning audio platforms and describes how “digital recording technology enlists our bodies in speaking, but also listening, and in speaking and listening simultaneously” (“Digital Empathy”). Podcasting is laborious. However, the value of making collective knowledge more mobile and accessible compels us to view podcasts and podcasting as worthwhile.  

There are many approaches to guide digital research methods (see VanKooten and Del Hierro), but they are not usually about podcasting. This includes the Heuristic, which is designed as a feminist methodology concerned with how privacy is conceived among different communities who may be unclear about how online researchers use public data (e.g., data scraped from Twitter). Yet the Heuristic is primed for expansion for podcasting since it focuses on a primarily image-heavy and text-based platform, with podcasts introducing the sonic mode. In the following table, we utilize the Heuristic to examine re:verb’s research practices and demonstrate how to expand the Heuristic to account for the practice of podcasting. 


Heuristic Research Questions  Applied to re:verb   Questions for Podcasters 


What are you studying?   What is re:verb podcast studying? 


Meaning making in American culture. Emphasizes analysis on culture, but not solely focused on the American political arena, and includes popular culture. re:verb makes their focus clear in the tagline, which is centered on the website and the cover image seen on podcast apps. Additionally, the “About” section of the website includes information about the creators, re:verb’s purpose, and how it fits into the scholarly landscape.  


What is the topic of the podcast?  


How does your podcast enter into or extend scholarly conversations on its topic? 


How is a podcast useful for researchers, instructors, and students who are interested in this topic?  


Are you positioned, ethically, to enter into ongoing conversations on this topic? 


Who are you reaching? 



Who is re:verb podcast reaching? 


Listeners in rhetoric and composition. Other listeners include general audiences, undergraduate and graduate students, podcast browsers who are educated or want to be educated on the topic. 


How does the podcast merge academic and public discourse? 


How does the content of your podcast, including the guests booked, topics covered, and projects promoted, center traditionally marginalized voices? 


What different protections (e.g., closing comments, protecting anonymity) do you utilize to protect guests, particularly those from marginalized positions, from potential harassment?  


What are you collecting?  What is re:verb podcast collecting? 


Sound files, online images, and listener data. Podcasting platforms allow data collection about listener demographics, downloads, website hits, etc. 




What do you want to know about your audience? Why?
 Are you following Intellectual Property (IP) guidelines for collecting media online to develop the podcast?  How does listener data influence the development of your podcast?  Does your podcast project need IRB approval to account for transparency about the data you are collecting?   
What are your study’s boundaries?  What are the limitations of re:verb’s podcasting research? 


Primarily sonic modes can be limiting for expanding podcast listenership. Temporality is crucial since re:verb comments on American culture. Additionally, re:verb must account for podcasting research (e.g., booking, sound editing), including labor concerns and constraints of podcasting tools and platforms. 


Are you being reflexive in acknowledging your own limitations as a researcher as your attitudes and opinions change over time? 


How will you maintain the sustainability of the podcast as research ethics evolve over time?  




Are you complying with all terms of service (including tools being used)?  Is re:verb podcast complying with all terms of service (including the tools being used)? 


Listeners can inquire to re:verb podcast to learn about their compliance practices via links on their website and social media pages.  


Have you considered the complexity of complying with all terms of service, even beyond the primary podcast hosting platform?  


Are you complying with the terms of service of the third parties that web-based podcasting tools (e.g., Spotify), website platforms (e.g., WordPress), and social media accounts engage? 


What about ephemerality?   How does re:verb podcast handle ephemerality?  


Access to episodes could change or re:verb could stop recording and publishing episodes. Their podcast or website host platforms could close. For the podcasters producing re:verb, reactions to specific contexts; feelings, ideas, opinions might change over time. 


Have you considered how to maintain an archive of your podcast so you and your collaborators can write about what you produced, and researchers can analyze what was created?  


Are you collaborating with other podcasters and their students in research studies  

as a method of building community?  


Is there an opportunity for participants to respond to your analysis?  Is there an opportunity for participants to respond to re:verb podcast? 


re:verb listeners can interact with the podcast on various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, a form and comments function are available on the “Contact” page of the website. 


Are you creating an open dialogue by inviting critique of your podcast? 


Do you provide clear instructions to listeners about the ways they can engage with your podcast?  


Is your podcast accessible, including transcripts of episodes, alt text for online images, and a website compatible with screen readers?   


How are you representing the context of circulating information?  How does re:verb podcast represent its context? 


re:verb publishes show notes with each podcast episode as a way of demonstrating the scholarly context of their content. The podcasters introduce interviewees, scholars, and scholarship, during episodes. They provide a bibliography and links to accessible transcripts for listeners on their website. Additionally, re:verb produces different categories of episodes, including “re:joinder,” “re:blurb,” and “re:read.” 


Are you being reflexive about how your podcast exists among other scholarship in and beyond research in rhetoric and composition? 


Are you practicing ethical citation by emphasizing where references (e.g., hyperlinks, show notes) for your project are located for audiences who want to learn more about a topic or trace the scholarly or cultural conversations? 

How are you representing participants and their data?  How is re:verb podcast representing interviewees, scholarship, and online media? 


It is unknown if re:verb producers allow interviewees and guests input on editing or if the podcasters retain final cut. Citations are included in the re:verb show notes on their website as are links to online resources for sound files (e.g., news outlets, YouTube). Photographs and images of interviewees and guests accompany the podcast artwork (e.g., thumbnail).  


Are you establishing ethical standards for collaboration (e.g., conducting interviews, inviting contributions) with a foundation in feminist editorial practices?  


How do feminist citation practices guide who you cite in your podcast? 


How will you amplify references to the scholars, scholarship, and other projects you cite? 


Which style guide works for the content of your podcast? 


 The first few questions in the Heuristic (What are you studying? What are you collecting?) are foundational for all research studies, especially for feminist researchers. Podcasts prove useful in providing vocal space to amplify feminist topics and research (Tiffe and Hoffman). The questions developed in the third column (“Questions for Podcasters”) expand the Heuristic to account for feminist values like reflexivity and community. For example, reflexive podcasters constantly negotiate their limitations as scholars who balance multiple research projects, teach several classes, and serve their department on top of maintaining a personal life beyond their job. Additionally, the complex technical elements of learning about innovative podcasting technologies and the newest recording software can compound the pressure podcasters feel to produce quality content that feels like research. As such, it is laborious and time-consuming for a scholar, who is also a podcaster, to balance all these roles and stay current on topics in the field, let alone beyond it. Together, these questions provide a robust framework for podcasters to create ethically aware work. 

Toward Best Practices for Podcasting in the Field 

In this section, we work toward establishing best practices rooted in feminist values for podcasting in rhetoric and composition through analysis of re:verb podcast. As explained earlier, podcasters working in the field have demonstrated sustainability proving the digital genre is a valuable way of making and circulating collective knowledge. re:verb is a model podcast to use to analyze how feminist research methods can be central to a podcast’s evolution and sustainability because we understand re:verb as podcasting with feminist tenets in mind, even if implicitly, as evidenced by its approach to different aspects of podcasting, including collaboration. Thus, best practices for podcasting in rhetoric and composition must amplify collaboration (as described above), value accessibility, and utilize feminist citation practices.  

re:verb’s attention to accessibility involves using high contrast design (white text on a black background) for episode thumbnails. And while red is a component of the overall color palette for the podcast, using white text contributes to readability. Providing thumbnails with guest photographs for certain episodes on the website makes it easy for audiences to quickly gauge the content of each episode. Clicking on the title of the episode or the thumbnail hyperlinks the audience to an episode-specific page featuring show notes detailing the context of the episode more thoroughly, and highlighting information about the guest. Additionally, re:verb’s show notes include a list of citations for each episode and a link to a transcript (if available) that is compatible with a screen reader.  

re:verb includes transcripts for most episodes. For some episodes (like the re:joinder series) a transcript is not provided. Access to the digital transcription tools can be tricky for grassroots podcasters depending on funding, recording methods, and content. However, providing a transcript is a best practice for an accessible podcast, many of which include interviews with scholars, activists, and other subject-matter experts. Interview podcasts are a popular format in the field and individual podcasters develop their own interview techniques over time. Yet there are some interviewing methods which align with feminist approaches to qualitative research, including providing questions to guests beforehand and offering a collaborative approach to developing questions. This approach allows for interviewees to address concerns with or provide additional information to podcasters. Such collaboration contributes to a better conversation and provides a structure for the episode that acknowledges appreciation for the guest’s time and labor.  

A component of citation practices, and thus a best practice for podcasters, is building ethos by introducing guests using official titles and institutional/organizational affiliations, as well as by offering an overview of their research and professional accomplishments. re:verb hosts introduce guests and establish rapport early in each episode, allowing space for full responses. The podcast website draws attention to episodes featuring interviews by highlighting guest names both in the episode title and on the thumbnail and including either photographs of the guest or information about their most recent publications. But what protocols are in place for protecting collaborators from dissenting or hostile audiences of a podcast? Establishing methods to protect the identity of collaborators in advance of interviews is an essential component of cultivating a vocal space. Identifying scholars–particularly feminist scholars–participating in polarizing and politically charged debates can lead to concerns about privacy and retaliation. Thus, podcasters must caution collaborators that they will identify their voices and institutional affiliations in their introductions and that audio metadata could detail geo-location, leaving them in a potentially vulnerable situation. Indeed, while these concerns for research collaborators seem new because the podcast remains an emerging digital genre, they mirror the concerns that feminist scholars writing about justice and equity have faced and continue to face. 

Reflexive podcasters should practice inclusivity as they consider how their podcast exists among other scholarship in and beyond the field. Since podcasts reach audiences beyond traditional academic venues, podcasters should center diverse and even polarizing perspectives which challenge authoritarianism and hegemony. Thus, who a podcaster chooses to cite matters. Sara Ahmed explains, “Citation is how we acknowledge our debt to those who came before; those who helped us find our way when the way was obscured because we deviated from the paths we were told to follow” (17). Podcasters have the opportunity to offer a space for uncomfortable topics and must acknowledge the potential vulnerabilities of their guests. This inclusive approach amplifies attention to names and pronouns as well as a consistent awareness for citing trans scholars without using deadnames (Thieme and Saunders, 84). 

Practicing inclusivity means conveying a willingness to be an accountable source for scholarly debate. One way podcasters can think through what it means for a new venue to join ongoing scholarly conversations is through citation practices. re:verb provides “Works and Concepts Referenced” for each episode using APA documentation as well as hyperlinks to contextual resources and information about where audiences can find a collaborator’s scholarship, including their books, articles, and digital work. This practice demonstrates awareness of the positionality on the part of the re:verb team as they create worthwhile collaborative opportunities. As podcasts try transition to publishing venues that consistently include credible academic discourse in our field, and across disciplines, it will be important for podcasters to engage with their audience via direct messaging, email, and website contact forms as these forms of communication offer more immediate dialogue than traditional academic venues (e.g., books, articles). Although best practices will evolve over time, these tenets can provide a foundation to guide podcasters in the near future. 


 Rhetoric and composition has embraced podcasting as a valuable method for composing and circulating knowledge in the field. Podcasts and podcasting are popular now, but inevitably new digital tools will be created that press scholars to rethink the kinds of multimodal projects that can best advance the field. As mentioned earlier, while podcasts like re:verb continue, and new podcasts debut, questions about research ethics will require further attention. For example: how do listeners incorporate ideas from re:verb into their own scholarship? How do podcasts influence research trajectories? And what methods do podcasters employ to perform research as a project evolves? The best practices outlined in this cluster conversation serve as a foundation on which future podcasters can work to answer these questions as they develop their podcasts.  

But there are other aspects of podcasts and podcasting for future podcasters to consider. For example, how can a podcast count as scholarship? How can podcasts help scholars fulfill tenure and promotion benchmarks that require them to explain how and where their work has been amplified? Podcasts are valuable scholarly contributions that deserve attention during tenure and promotion review because they have the potential to be cited more often than journal articles behind paywalls. Additionally, we encourage podcasters to choose topics substantiated by current rhetoric and composition research. And we hope podcasters choose engaging topics with the potential to merge public and academic discourse. For re:verb, their focus on the intersections of culture and rhetoric maintains an immediacy that allows for commentary on cultural moments, including those related to social justice, and invites intertextuality across genres and mediums.  

In this article, we have offered guidance that podcasters can take up and use practically throughout the development of their podcast. We have expanded the Heuristic, originally focused on social media sites like Twitter, to account for podcasts as we work toward best practices anchored by feminist principles and methods for podcasting in the field. There is enormous flexibility in the Heuristic’s guiding questions, and podcasters can return to them throughout the lifespan of a podcast project. Indeed, we hope they do as we understand practicing reflexivity as a best practice for podcasters. Ultimately, this approach embodies a feminist praxis that acknowledges an awareness of a podcast’s and/or podcaster’s positionality and demonstrates collaboration through sharing knowledge of trends and research interests currently defining rhetoric and composition. 

Works Cited 

Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017. 

Association of Internet Researchers. “Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0,” 2019. https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf 

Blair, Kristine, and Takayoshi, Pam. “Navigating the Image of Woman Online.” Kairos, vol. 2, no.2, 1997. http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/2.2/binder2.html?coverweb/invited/kb.html

Buck, Amber, and Ralston, Devon. “‘I Didn’t Sign Up for Your Research Study’: The Ethics of Using ‘Public” Data.” Computers and Composition, vol. 61, September 2021, pp. 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2021.102655  

Butler, Janine. “Integral Captions and Subtitles: Designing a Space for Embodied Rhetorics and Visual Access.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 37, no. 3, 2018, pp. 286-299.  

Campbell, Trisha Nicole. “Digital Empathy: A Practice Based Experiment.” Enculturation, vol.  24 http://enculturation.net/digital_empathy

Ceraso, Steph. “(Re)educating the Senses: Multimodal Listening, Bodily Learning, and the Composition of Sonic Experiences.” College English, vol. 77, no. 2, 2014 pp. 102-123.  

Ceraso, Steph. Sounding Composition: Multimodal Pedagogies for Embodied Listening. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018. 

DeVoss, Danielle, Angela Haas, and Jackie Rhodes. “Introduction by the Guest Editors.” Technofeminism: (Re)generations and Intersectional Futures, a special issue of Computers and Composition Online, 2019. http://cconlinejournal.org/techfem_si/00_Editors/ 

Easter, Brandee, and Meg M. Marquardt. “Toward a Feminist Sonic Pedagogy: Research as Listening.” Soundwriting Pedagogies, edited by Courtney S. Danforth, Kyle D. Stedman, and Michael J. Faris, Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2018, pp. 197-208.  

Haywood, Constance. “Developing a Black Feminist Research Ethic: A Methodological Approach to Research in Digital Spaces.” Methods and Methodologies for Research in Digital Writing and Rhetoric Centering Positionality in Computers and Writing Scholarship, Volume 2. WAC Clearinghouse, 2022. https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/positionality2 

Hocks, Mary. E., and Michelle Comstock. “Composing for Sound: Sonic Rhetorics as Resonance.” Computers and Composition, vol. 43, March 2017, pp. 135-146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2016.11.006. 

Itchuaqiyaq, Cana Uluak, and Jordan Frith, Citation Practices as a Site of Resistance and Radical Pedagogy: Positioning the Multiply Marginalized and Underrepresented (MMU) Scholar Database as an Infrastructural Intervention. Communication Design Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 3, October 2022, pp. 10- 19. 

Markham, Annette, Katrin Tiidenberg, Katrin, and Andrew Herman. “Ethics as Methods: Doing Ethics in the Era of Big Data Research.” Introduction. Social Media & Society, vol. 4, no. 3, July 19, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305118784502 

McGregor, Hannah. “Podcasting as Feminist Method.” Green College Leading Scholars’ Series: Challenging Differences. Green College University of British Columbia.  October 3, 2019, University of British Columbia. Lecture. 

McKee, Heidi A., and James E. Porter. “Rhetorica Online: Feminist Research Practices in Cyberspace.” Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods & Methodologies, edited by Eileen E. Schell and KJ Rawson, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010, pp. 152-170. 

Mehlenbacher, Brad, and Ashely Rose Mehlenbacher. “The Rhetoric of Big Data: Collecting, Interpreting, and Representing in the Age of Datafication.” Poroi vol. 16, no. 1, 2021. https://doi.org/10.13008/2151-2957.1311. 

Mott, Carrie, and Daniel Cockayne. “Citation Matters: Mobilizing the Politics of Citation toward a Practice of ‘Conscientious Engagement.’” Gender, Place & Culture, vol. 24, no. 7, 13 June 2017, pp. 954–973., https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369x.2017.1339022. 

Ratcliffe, Krista. “Rhetorical Listening: A Trope for Interpretive Invention and a Code of Cross-Cultural Conduct.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no.2, 1999, pp. 195–224. https://doi.org/10.2307/359039. 

Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. 

Royster, Jaqueline Jones, and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.  

Rodrigue, Tanya, and Kyle Stedman. Soundwriting: A Guide to Making Audio Projects. Broadview Press, 2022.  

Steele, Catherine Knight. Digital Black Feminism. NYU Press, 2021.  

Thieme, Katja, and Mary Ann Saunders. “How Do You Wish to Be Cited? Citation Practices and a Scholarly Community of Care in Trans Studies Research Articles.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes, vol. 32, 2018, pp. 80–90., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2018.03.010. 

Tiffe, Raechel, and Melody Hoffman. Taking Up Sonic Space: Feminized Vocality and Podcasting as Resistance. Feminist Media Studies, vol.17, no. 1, 2017, pp. 115-118. 10.1080/14680777.2017.1261464 

VanKooten, Crystal and Victor Del Herrio. Methods and Methodologies for Research in Digital Writing and Rhetoric Centering Positionality in Computers and Writing Scholarship, Volume 1. WAC Clearinghouse, 2022. https://wac.colostate.edu/books/practice/positionality1/  

Woods, Charles, and Shane Wood. “Podcasts in Rhetoric and Composition: A Review of The Big Rhetorical Podcast and Pedagogue.” Computers and Composition, vol. 67, 2023. 

End Notes

[1]Podcasts have been awarded prestigious awards in the field of rhetoric and composition, including the Michelle Kendrick Outstanding Digital Production Award presented by Computers and Composition and the John Lovas Award from Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. 

[2]McKee and Porter draw on the work of Gesa Kirsch in Ethical Dilemmas in Feminist Research: The Politics of Location, Interpretation, and Publication, SUNY Press, 1999. 

[3]Catherine Knight Steele’s Digital Black Feminism (2021) traces the history of Black feminist technoculture in the United States through blogs, tweets, and social media posts to critique algorithmic racism, influencer culture, and other forms of digital aggression. 

Beyond Text: Ethical Considerations for Visual Online Platforms

This conversation cluster comes out of two exigencies, both concerned with changes in internet research. As scholars of digital research ethics note, things change quickly in the digital sphere, which requires the field at large and individual researchers to enact reflexivity on our practices. Second, much of the current research focuses on text-based social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, that are easily scraped and collected at a mass scale. With the lessening popularity of Facebook and Twitter and the rise of TikTok and Instagram, which are far more image-based than their predecessors, researchers need to revisit their practices to be better attuned to the popularity of image-based social media. This does not mean reinventing the ethical considerations but thinking about them perhaps on a smaller scale for more image and video-based platforms. As the 2019 Association of Internet Researchers guidelines note, there is no universal research ethic for online research, particularly where privacy is concerned:  

given the range of possible ethical decision-making procedures (utilitarianism, deontology, feminist ethics, etc.), the multiple interpretations and applications of these procedures to specific cases, and their refraction through culturally diverse emphases and values across the globe – the issues raised by Internet research are ethical problems precisely because they evoke more than one ethically defensible response to a specific dilemma or problem. Ambiguity, uncertainty, and disagreement are inevitable. (AoIR) 

In keeping with the inevitability of ambiguity, I follow Katrin Tiidenberg when she suggests that “instead, an approach that reimagines ethical decision-making as a deliberative process that enables enacting beneficence, justice, and respect for persons on a case-by-case basis is increasingly recommended” (6). Like Leysia Palen and Paul Dourish, I am conceptualizing privacy as a boundary regulation process when they write that “privacy is not about setting rules and enforcing them; rather, it is the continual management of boundaries between different spheres of action and degrees of disclosure within those spheres” (3). Because of the increased disclosure that comes along with posting images online, the implications for privacy, sharing, and researching are heightened. This article considers ethical decision making and privacy for a visual social media landscape. It is important for scholars to ask: How are privacy and identity conceived of differently on primarily visual social media sites? What do internet researchers need to consider differently on visual platforms? What is at stake with embodiment in internet research? 

In the following section, I discuss some of the previous questions that scholars have engaged in regarding research online before suggesting a framework for the ethics of online privacy in an increasingly visual social media landscape. Namely, I propose a series of questions that scholars can ask themselves before and during the research process in order to address ethical and values-aligned research studies utilizing visual data. As people put more and more of themselves online, it is important for scholars to continue revising our tactics of protecting both our identities and the privacy of our participants. To do this, I discuss my research experiences with two image-based social media projects: the online conference Braving Body Shame and the sexual health education Instagram page The Vulva Gallery. Finally, I reflect on my own research practices in order to demonstrate a feminist research ethic of self-reflexivity.  

Approaches to Privacy and a Heuristic for Image-Based Platforms  

The dynamic world of social media research requires scholars of many backgrounds to think critically about their research practices. This conversation contribution is less concerned with what happens in cases of automated data collection and more about the situations where the identity of the research subject is the focus of the research. Scholars across disciplines use internet research to look at language and social action. As Amber Buck and Devon Ralston note, writing studies professionals use internet research to discuss student writing practices, digital rhetorical practices, participate in digital ethnographies, and more. It is important within all of these contexts to consider “who is conducting that research, how communities are represented, and how that data is collected and distributed are key concerns for writing researchers and point to the need for considering critical digital literacy in research ethics” (Buck and Ralston 3). Buck and Ralston provide an excellent heuristic for reflective research and data collection. I build on this heuristic by providing further considerations for video and image-based media, while also demonstrating a process of reflection that is necessary for ethical engagement with social media research. Although using someone’s words in research carries risk, attaching a face and body to that information is even riskier, particularly with the rise in deepfakes and identity fraud.1 Scholars have begun to discuss how to protect the privacy of individuals when their identities are easily searchable—such as when their name or likeness is contained in a post—and IRB has measures to address this risk. IRB also attends to voice and image included through interviews and videos. But now, scholars must update our approach to address voice and image in online data collection. 

Buck and Ralston’s exploration of key considerations is the jumping off point for this discussion, which formulates four questions for scholars to consider: 1) Who owns the post? 2) What is the network of the user? 3) How is the user engaging with their own privacy? and 4) What are my research values? 

Buck and Ralston thus encourage us to question who owns the posts, where they can be shared, and how the presence of a researcher complicates those two questions. These questions are further complicated depending on the positionality of the social media users. Stephanie Vie explains that “it’s critical to consider as researchers whether and how to share and recirculate those stories, particularly when they’re being shared by individuals from vulnerable populations” (262). Lauren Cagle speaks to researchers’ positionality and asks scholars to consider their agency and engage with participants about… where participants’ information falls along the “public/private continuum’’(7). In other words, scholars have to consider their role and consider the implications of further sharing posts from participants whose consent was not given.  

The public/private continuum is complicated on social media, where images often travel beyond intended audiences. Social media platforms often collapse audiences, “making it difficult for people to use the same techniques online that they do to handle multiplicity in face-to-face conversation” (Marwick and boyd, “I Tweet,” 120). As a result, even if a poster is sharing private information, they may not have the intention of a broad, public audience. This can be especially true on sites like Instagram and TikTok where popular “Explore” pages and “For You” feeds send content to a wide range of people. These types of platforms ask users to have a less defined audience, making ethical research more complicated. Researchers need to consider the ethical implications of shifting audiences to an academic space by including posts in their data set. When people post images or videos online, it is highly unlikely that they imagine a group of academics discussing their posts. For example, if a person posts a political rant online for their friends and family, they may not envision that a researcher of political rhetoric would engage with them, nor present their work to another group of researchers. In cases where informed consent is not possible, such as one of the case studies I discuss later on, it is key that researchers consider what is at stake for posters and their identities. Therefore, asking Who owns the post? Is the owner different than the original poster? What are the implications of sharing this image in a different context than its intended space? can lead to greater contemplation and ethical engagement with online data. It is true of both text and image posted to social media that users’ posts often travel beyond their intended audience. With images, and the potential implications of likeness being shared, researchers need to consider ethics beyond the original poster’s desire and broaden thinking to focus on networks.  

One way to complicate engagement with visual posts is to consider the role of networked publics in digital research. danah boyd defines networked publics as “spaces constructed through networked technologies and imagined communities that emerge as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice” (Marwick and boyd, “Networked Privacy,” 1059). Alice Marwick and danah boyd take up this concept and note that viewing privacy beyond a binary will allow for a community-based approach to information sharing, rather than an individual one. In this conception of privacy, networks are negotiated between changing audiences, “social norms, and technical affordances” (Marwick and boyd, “Networked Privacy,” 1064). To illustrate this concept in action, consider Michael Zimmer’s discussion of a research team looking at Facebook accounts of college-students. Despite the steps taken by the team to protect the users’ privacy, the identities of those in the database were easily discovered. Zimmer contends that had the researchers adopted a more networked view of online information, they could have better shielded the participants from discovery. This view of privacy allows scholars to further nuance their approach to information published online. In some cases, as Zimmer points out, users set specific restraints to limit who sees through the social media platform itself. Some platforms, like Tik Tok, are designed to have a more expansive networked reach. In the case of Zimmer, lack of attention to the power of networks allowed for the identities of individual participants to be easily found. Contrastingly, Alice Marwick and danah boyd looked at the privacy of teenagers and their posting online. They found that teenagers saw privacy as a matter of boundaries, primarily consisting of trust and context. They argue that “conceptualizing privacy as networked highlights the difficulty involved in defining or even understanding social contexts, as they are co-constructed by all present and shaped by the affordances of the social technology in play” (“Networked Privacy,” 1063). The key difference between these approaches is that Marwick and boyd centered the teenagers’ understanding of privacy and their knowledge of their own networks. Therefore, they were able to approach the participants based on social contexts that the teens were already aware of and comfortable in. Additionally, considering networks has the potential to protect research participants because it makes researchers more aware of the many ways that privacy can be breached across a variety of contexts. Therefore, scholars should ask themselves: Who does the users’ network include? How is the network potentially impacted by the platform they are using? 

The emphasis on network also raises the question of identity. Often, researchers will come to a specific online community because of the identities of the communities they are studying, so       they must be mindful of the cultural implications of online engagement. Privacy is culturally situated. For example, Catherine Knight Steele discusses how Black communities may share public information online but intend for it to remain within that discourse community like a type of oral cultural community (116). Sharing social media information outside of its intended socio-cultural situations can put marginalized communities at risk of harm. As Zimmer notes, “merely having one’s personal information stripped from the intended sphere of the social networking profile and amassed into a database for external review becomes an affront to the subjects’ human dignity and their ability to control the flow of their personal information” (321). Therefore, it is important to view each post in terms of the users’ cultural experience and ask: Am I interacting with a culture that might define privacy differently than I do? This question may not have an obvious or clear answer but demonstrates that researchers should engage in some reflexivity about the assumptions we bring to the question of privacy. 

Beyond these more subject-focused questions, an ethical approach to research should acknowledge the role of the researcher. How am I defining my own ethical engagement? How are my values as a researcher reflected in my process of researching? For example, as a feminist researcher, it is important for me to center the lived experiences of my subjects. I subscribe to a feminist ethics of care that is both “a value and a practice, both affective and cognitive” (Tiidenberg 7). It requires researchers to be mindful of power dynamics and ask sticky questions of representation. This approach to research ethics necessitates a reflective process where individuals can confirm that I am interpreting their experiences and intentions correctly. In the absence of this possibility, it is necessary for my analysis to be careful and supported. The work of feminist research is not simple–there is emotional labor present in care-based ethics, and an approach that prioritizes individual autonomy and experience is not always the most effective for a research project that aims to be more generalizable. It is important, however, for researchers to establish their individual value of ethics beyond the pragmatic concerns of IRB. 

I began this conversation by noting that the landscape of social media is constantly changing. At our current cultural moment, it is difficult to say what online research will look like in a few years’ time. Therefore, any approach to internet research ethics needs to be flexible and self-reflexive. In the following section, I detail my experiences working with two datasets shared in visual formats and the ethical considerations I undertook while doing this. I use my work not because it is exemplary, but because I believe it is important that researchers are transparent in their practices, even when we might make different choices in the present. It is this amount of self-reflexivity that will lead to ethical engagements with internet research.

Case Studies: Braving Body Shame and The Vulva Gallery 

To demonstrate these guiding questions in action, I will discuss two research projects, one finished and one ongoing, that helped me shape this approach to researching social media images online. The Braving Body Shame conference first took place in the spring of 2020 and featured speakers from a variety of backgrounds. The conference was virtual and took place over a week. I was initially drawn to the conference because of the explicit focus on embodiment and shame, and I analyzed the various ways that participants in the conference described their experiences of overcoming shame. I examined nine video interviews from actresses, activists, dancers, and students who discussed their feelings of shame and how they have worked to move past it (Taylor). This study initiated my interest in internet research ethics as I had to consider my use of these videos for the purpose of academic publication. 

The second case study I discuss involves the Instagram page, The Vulva Gallery. The page features illustrations of people’s vulvas with their stories of embodiment and acceptance. Though the posts do not feature individual’s faces, they often include their name, information about their family, friends, and locations, and unique experiences that could threaten anonymity. Both of these research sites were places where participant experiences were already grouped together on an online platform, so I knew that the individuals had agreed to have their information shared beyond their immediate followers or network. This does not, of course, as discussed above, assume that the individuals imagined that their materials would one day be the center of research studies. 

Who Owns the Post?  

In the case of Braving Body Shame, the conference owned the posts. In my analysis, I did not link to the speakers’ platforms outside of the conference, aiming to honor their wishes about where and how their information is shared. However, my ethical considerations did not end there. Despite the fact that the conference was open, the participants in the Braving Body Shame conference mentioned explicitly that their content was not aimed at academic audiences. In fact, the organizers state the misconceptions in academic research as the exigency for their entire conference. During my writing and review process, this tension came up fairly frequently. The home page of the conference still states: 

After attending a couple of in-person academic conferences, one of our hosts saw that there was a BIG part of knowledge and understanding missing from each conference. She realized that there was a great NEED for a conference that was more accessible and less academic-focused. (Braving Body Shame).  

The conference organizers felt that academic discussions of body shame often removed the lived experience of individuals, favoring generalizable and quantitatively driven information. How did I, then, as a researcher, justify researching a group whose stated exigency was to move away from academic audiences? More importantly, how would I protect their likeness as I worked to analyze it? First, I ensured that my research goals aligned with the conference goals – to focus on the lived affective and embodied experience of people experiencing body shame. Second, the speakers encouraged viewers to share the information widely, without any caveats about academic research. I was never able to reach the conference organizers after trying several times throughout the research process.  Third, I only studied video interviews that had been shared beyond the conference (see explanation in next section). 

With the Vulva Gallery, I had a different experience. It was much clearer how to protect the identity of participants, partially because the posts were already anonymous. The images were illustrations, therefore protecting the likeness of the individuals, and I could protect their privacy by following the example of the page. The Instagram page and gallery owned and posted the image, and therefore the reach was broad. The participants submitted their own images for the purpose of education and empowerment. For example, the About page on the website states that “The Vulva Gallery is an online gallery and educational platform celebrating vulva diversity, aiming to improve sexual health education and opening up conversation about topics that are still being stigmatised.” The educational purpose behind the postings reveals that the audience is intentionally broad. The participants agreed to have their images shared via a popular social media site and are aware that the audience they may be reaching is larger than their individual follower-base. Beyond considering ownership, looking at the networked publics of the posts allowed for more nuanced analysis of ethical considerations.  

What Is the Network of the User?  

Beyond the specific audience of the individuals, it is important to consider the broader networks that they engage, specifically with how their posts are distributed based on platform affordances. In the case of Braving Body Shame, the audience was not markedly different from the network of the participants, at least at first. The videos were originally posted on a website for conference purposes only and required a password to access. After the conference, however, the videos were posted on YouTube with the consent of the participants, according to the conference organizers. This move made me feel more confident in my use of the data, as it was clear that the participants consented to their talks being shared beyond the initial audience of the conference. I initially received feedback from my article reviewers that I needed to more clearly justify why I was using this information at what seemed against the wishes of the conference organizers. I explained that each of the individual participants posted their videos. For analysis, I only drew from YouTube videos that had been highly circulated and suggested high public engagement. Some of the more popular participants had tens of thousands of followers and linked the videos to their Instagram feeds. Because these were public figures, the question of ethics was less about protecting their identities and more about considering the agency and decision-making of the participants. Had the videos only existed on the Braving Body Shame website, I do not think I would have proceeded with my research. Furthermore, the networked of speakers expanded far past conference attendees because the speakers employed the affordances of the platforms. Speakers shared clips of video interviews, spliced together parts of their talks, and reshared both to their feeds and stories on Instagram. Again, this intentional public reach gave me confidence in including these materials in online research. 

Similarly, The Vulva Gallery used the affordances of Instagram to expand the network of people who see the vulva illustrations. My engagement with these posts was also about honoring the intention and agency of the participants. According to the owner of the site and illustrator, Hilde Atalanta, the participants submit their own images and stories to be published on both the website and Instagram. The individuals are not directly connected to the page through tagging, so their direct exposure to the network of the page is limited unless they comment directly on the post itself. The Instagram page had already done the work of considering consent and network, meaning at the very least that participants knew that their images would be shared to a public space. However, as other scholars note, this was not informed consent to participate in my research, begging the question of the benefits of doing this research and potential harms for participants. The Vulva Gallery fills a similar gap in popular sex education as it does in academic research—there are very limited discussions of diverse bodies in health education and related scholarship. Academic research on visual representations of female body parts, especially sexual organs, is primarily focused on harm. This research adds an empowerment focus. ​​In addition, my research goals aligned with the purpose of the gallery–to introduce narratives of diverse bodies into sexual education. These factors gave me confidence that I was honoring participants’ intentions and not introducing more harm than they were already exposed to. 

How is the User Defining Their Own Privacy?  

Beyond an analysis of the network that the information was shared in, it is important to consider how the individuals consider their own privacy. In both cases I discuss, I was studying diverse populations that were united by a common identity or experience. This, however, did not ensure that each individual person considered privacy in the same way. Within the context of Braving Body Shame, the participants were part of marginalized and multi-marginalized communities. Each speaker experienced some level of discrimination based on their size, and many experienced oppressions related to their race, gender, ability status, or sexuality. Though participants primarily discussed body shame, this affective experience was never fully separate from their other experiences of shame. Each of the speakers noted that they wanted to share their experiences of body shame so that others’ experiencing shame and people perpetuating shame can learn from their experiences. They consented to the videos being posted for conference participants and then for the public at large. I did not engage with any material about the subjects outside of the video interviews in an attempt to maintain the amount of privacy that they agreed to.      

Following my experience with Braving Body Shame, I closely considered the potential harm and how the participants considered their own privacy for Vulva Gallery participants. The Vulva Gallery is a pseudo-anonymous site; most of the stories contain first names and identifiable information such as location and experiences that are unique. However, this information was presented on Instagram and the gallery’s website. I chose to not include any of the images of vulvas or stories that could be identifiable in my research, favoring quotes that contributed to a thematic analysis. The identities of the participants were hidden aside from what they chose to reveal in their narratives, making it difficult to discern if they thought about privacy differently based on cultural differences. Still, by consciously working to not introduce harm and considering individuals’ definitions of privacy, researchers can work toward more ethical online research.  

How Am I Defining My Research Values? 

As I described earlier, my approach to online research is grounded in feminist research ethics, and as I walked through the above questions before determining whether or not to finish and start these projects, I made it a priority to ground my analysis in the lived experiences of participants. I centered both the Braving Body Shame conference participants and Vulva Gallery posters’ goals in my work and withheld any impulse to critique, instead prioritizing how they publicly framed their personal experiences. As may be evident from my detailing of this decision-making process, the ethics felt clearer in the Vulva Gallery than Braving Body Shame, despite the fact that the former contains more private information. This clarity is in part because of the nature of the public information and partially because I refined my approach to ethical considerations.  

These guiding questions are not a comprehensive list of things to consider, but they do provide a heuristic for examining the ethical implications of researching visual platforms. Because the posts are more embodied, the researcher should carefully consider the material consequences of their research. By asking these questions before engaging in research, scholars are more likely to treat participants with ethics and care.  

Conclusion, or a Moment of Reflexivity  

In an attempt to honor my feminist research ethic, the writing of this conversation contribution has made me re-evaluate my own orientation to participants’ privacy and the value of my work. Particularly, I was much more aware of my research ethics in analyzing the Vulva Gallery because of the questions posed by reviewers during the process of first publishing the piece on the Braving Body Shame conference. I did not receive formal training in online research, and so my initial question, analysis, and consideration left out the negotiation process that is privacy setting. This is perhaps an argument for more training on online research ethics in graduate school, and more broadly an example of a feminist research reflection that interrogates decision-making. I would have likely considered a different set of questions if I had been thinking about the agency of the participants beyond availability of the Body Shame video interviews. This reflective process will facilitate my ethical research decisions in the future, as well as model processes for interrogating the complicated relationship between participants’ privacy, agency, and networked engagement for other researchers.       

As many researchers have expressed, wading through the constantly changing landscape of social media requires a re-evaluation of research processes. The set of questions I propose is just one example of the many ways that researchers can approach their ethical considerations, and I invite scholars to build upon this heuristic in establishing best practices for digital research on visual materials. Like Buck and Ralston, I acknowledge that “issues of privacy and surveillance are fraught and always changing on social media platforms” (10). The relationship between public information online and privacy concerns will continue to blur and following a feminist ethics of centering the experiences of individuals is one way to honor the complexities of the platforms and people we study.  

Works Cited 

“About.” The Vulva Gallery. https://www.thevulvagallery.com/about 

“About.” Braving Body Shame Conference. https://www.bravingbodyshame.com/ 

Buck, Amber M., and Devon F. Ralston. “I Didn’t Sign Up for your Research Study: The Ethics of Using ‘Public’ Data.” Computers and Composition, vol. 61, 2021, pp. 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2021.102655 

Cagle, Lauren E. “The Ethics of Researching Unethical Images: A Story of Trying to Do Good Research Without Doing Bad Things. Computers and Composition vol. 61, 2021, pp. 1-14. doi: 102651. 

franzke et al. Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0. 2020. https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf 

Marwick, Alice, and boyd, danah. “Networked Privacy: How Teenagers Negotiate Context in Social Media.” New Media and Society, vol. 16, no. 7, 2014, pp. 1051–1067 

— “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience.” New Media & Society, vol. 13, no.1, 2011, 114–133. https://doi-org.libproxy.clemson.edu/10.1177/1461444810365313 

Palen, Leysia, and Paul Dourish. “Unpacking” Privacy” for a Networked World.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2003, pp. 129-136.  

Steele, Catherine Knight. “Black Bloggers and their Varied Publics: The Everyday Politics of Black Discourse Online.” Television & New Media, vol. 19, no. 2, 2018, pp. 112-127 https://doi.org/l0.1177/1527476417709535. 

Taylor, Hannah. “Unsticking Shame: Considering Lived Experience and Processes of Overcoming.” Peitho, vol. 25, no. 1, 2022. https://cfshrc.org/article/unsticking-shame-considering-lived-experience-and-processes-of-overcoming/ 

Tiidenberg, Katrin. “Research Ethics, Vulnerability, and Trust on the Internet.” Second International Handbook of Internet Research, edited by Jeremy Hunsinger, Matthew Allen, and Lisbeth Klastrup. Springer, 2020, pp.569-583.  https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1555-1_55 

Zimmer, Michael. “‘But the Data Is Already Public’’: on the Ethics of Research in Facebook.” Ethics Information Technology, vol. 12, 2010, pp. 313–325. DOI 10.1007/s10676-010-9227-5 

Researching on the Intersectional Internet: Slow Coding as Humanistic Recovery


I write this article to you on one screen, and you, reader, view it on another, a transmission I invoke here to highlight an embodied digitality that suffuses my points to come. The impress of my keyboard keys indexes movement across networks—digital and otherwise—that both captures my bodily movement and sequences it across our infrastructural milieu. The springs of my keys as my fingers travel across them ferry meaning to you across space and time, and there you are—somewhere on the other side of light-based fiber optics, data servers cohering our networked lives, a router powered at planetary expense, the person who plugged in the router in the first place, the radiant technology of Wi-Fi seemingly inhering our connectivity. This small collection you make of me here (and I am collecting you, too) that is, this arrangement of bodies and technologies—deceptively simple—belies the theoretically dense conceit that at the core of our interaction are bodies that have become embodied: upcycled, translated, and communicated in some socio-corporeal manner (Bratta and Sundvall; Bates et al.; Johnson et al.). 

Using this storied invocation of my body (and, really, yours too), I demarcate a conceptual aperture and advance two heuristic axioms that underpin this conversation piece. First, I highlight the material conditions of our meeting here amid this cluster in Peitho to foreground a methodological stance toward digitally mediated settings, accounting for complex human identities, technologies, and practices, as well as their commensurate effects on our work as internet researchers—in essence, the ways we collect each other through storied interactions in online settings. Second, I foreground the idea that identity and technology are co-imbricated amid the respective imperial and anticolonial projects of humanness (Brown)[1]. With this techno-identive interplay, I argue for refreshed research practices that account for “digital bodies, [that] either virtually produced or augmented, complicate traditional perspectives of embodiment” (Bates et al.).  

To account for embodiment in research methods, I offer a methodological approach to doing digital cultural rhetorics research called slow coding, a qualitative research practice of better attuning ourselves to the intersectional internet, a term used by Brendesha M. Tynes and Safiya Umoja Noble to indicate “an epistemological approach to researching gendered and racialized identities in digital and information studies. It offers a lens, based on the past articulations of intersectional theory, for exploring power in digital technologies and the global Internet(s)” (“Introduction” 3). In so doing, I contend that we square our analytical potency as internet researchers driven by feminist ethics against white supremacist configurations of research as a practice and the humans we research as a colonially marked, epistemological category. Such a move resonates with Jennifer Sano-Franchini’s call for more research on online spaces that focuses on the everyday rhetorical-relational work of foregrounding community in relation to marginalizing forces that accounts for and disrupts such forces. Disruption, then, serves as the modus operandi for slow coding across the full breadth of this article. 

 I therefore advance slow coding as a research practice grounded in the intersectional internet, affording researchers an approach to working ethically in the ebbs and flows of oppression while allowing for meaningful engagement with the effects of colonization on precarious groups of people. Slow coding as a qualitative research practice adheres a slow, deliberate intentionality at the pre-coding and coding stages of a research project (Saldaña), actively centering the oppressive context that led to the data itself (in my case, tweets) and configuring analysis to disrupt the identified oppression. Given that it comprises the pre-coding and coding stages, slow coding consolidates these stages and facilitates the researcher reviewing their data while they collect it and shortly thereafter, creating analytic memos that respond to the colonial context of the data, reviewing any accompanying meta-data to understand the geographic history at the fore of oppression, learning the identive particularities of the people who comprise the data as a departure from a typified research subject wherein anonymity is whiteness. Perhaps most importantly, slow coding requires particular research questions that are attuned to the settler colonial machinations of how oppressions are wrought, particular stances grounded in anticolonialism, and the time needed to do meaningful work beyond the publishing timeline that entraps many of us.  

In what follows, I outline how research as practice has been wrought from colonial enterprise (Absolon; Tuhiwai Smith), with commensurate epistemological implications in the ways we research people using technology (Benjamin). These humanistic configurations in turn inflect a typical internet-based research project via our methodologies, including what the site can be, who the participants are, and what the data comprise (Gallagher). To fully articulate slow coding, a research practice that works in relation and opposition to these colonial conditions, I share my own research experiences illustrating the deep care required of working with marginalized communities, starting with respectful observation, moving toward ethical engagement and gathering, and then culminating in antiracist analytic strategies that allow the data to story itself and tying online life to the offline oppressions. In this way, I offer suggestions for each step of the multilayer process that stacks into a research project: who the participants are, where the research site is, what the rhetorical-relational data comprise, and the other ingredient strands that mesh into such a project.  

Researching on the Internet: Colonial Contexts and the Need for Anticolonial Options 

Colonial conditions set the stage for both our meeting on your screen and the array of practices that led to this moment. Research, despite our best intentions, comprises the colonial conditions by which research as a practice emerged, perpetuates, and now functions (Absolon; Tuhiwai Smith). Indeed, research hinges on “maintaining the status quo and supporting the evolution of societies that reward some people and inhibit others. Research can be used to suppress ideas, people, and social justice just as easily … than it can be used to respect, empower, and liberate. Good intentions are never enough to produce anti-oppressive processes or outcomes” (Potts and Brown 260). That said, I follow the lead of cultural rhetoricians whose purview constellates across the colonial tensions within digital studies (Edwards; Haas) and embodiment (Johnson et al.). Slow coding thus proceeds from the simple conceit that research is a sticky consolidation of inquisitive acts derived from the history and now nefarious machinations of settler colonialism as it shapes both research and the internet, combined in the form of internet-based research projects (Powell).  

Homing in on digital technologies, the internet itself is a colonial project (Amrute; Simmons). For all the good it can and does foster, the internet today comprises a corporatized, platformed architecture that actively suppresses marginalized groups of people: “everything from representation to hardware, software, computer code, and infrastructures might be implicated in global economic, political, and social systems of control” (Tynes and Noble 6). Notably, Nicole Marie Brown highlights the algorithmic nature of the assembling, so-called objective computational forces that “expose how power in decisioning is being organized within the social world” (56). In this way, the very algorithms that organize the data researchers collect—especially white researchers—perpetuate whiteness. Further, beyond the function of the internet, digital infrastructure itself serves mainly as settler colonial expansion for colonial metropoles, with communicative thresholds expanding across the world and worsening climatological conditions (Edwards; Haas).  

However, I do not want to wallow in the saturnine conditions of research and the internet in this piece, as doing so performs a disservice to the kinds of questions we might ask within our purview as internet researchers. Moreover, as mentioned above, to perform slow coding is to ask preemptively the kinds of research questions grounded in anticolonial intent that work in contradistinction to colonial purpose. Amid the above considerations that underpin slow coding, an attunement to happiness, joy, well-being—community—serve as a critical departure from colonial research practices; in other words, rather than generally asking, “How is harm being perpetuated to this marginalized community?” we might ask, “How is this community keeping itself safe in the face of harm out in the world—and what can I do to foster better care?” In pivoting to this question, the slow coder must attune to communities that bring the fullness of their lives—the struggles and triumphs—to digital spaces in a manner that resonates with the offline oppressions that weave together a daily milieu; in other words, we must configure our projects to operate on the intersectional internet.  

Asking Anticolonial Research Questions: Researching on the Intersectional Internet 

Considering the flattening effect of conducting research on the internet (that is, the identive baseline that casts a datapoint as a mere utterance with little lived context), the use of social media as a force for good reveals a schema for revising the internet as an intersectional network through which the on-the-grounds work of identity politics might be enacted (construed from the lineage of Black feminist thought; Collins; Tynes, Schuschke, and Noble). For Tynes and Noble, digital intersectionality is a concept at the juncture of potential and control “in the form of both analytic strategy and critical praxis, as a resource grounded in the offline and online subjectivities of participants” (26). The intersectional internet instills an attunement to Black life on the internet via Black feminist thought (Collins) and Black feminist technology studies (Noble, “Future”), revealing cracks in the hostile, algorithmic terrain of the internet wherein marginalized users upcycle the tools at hand to meet and to counter both their oppressors and oppressions. As an analytic strategy, digital intersectionality foregrounds identity and all of its import, especially for Black users of the internet; as critical praxis, it requires attuning research projects to the concept of the intersectional internet.  

 The intersectional internet serves as a mutinous framework, revealing how Black and other people of color live, play, and organize online around and against the offline violence they face and the online violence that are the algorithmic forces that center whiteness. It also serves as an antenarrative of the internet, which becomes a tool for empowerment despite colonial histories. Indeed, “from its earliest articulations, intersectionality has not only been used in scholarly work and teaching but has also been used as analytic strategy and critical praxis directed at social and political intervention” (Tynes, Schuschke, and Noble 35). In this way, slow coding as an approach to asking anticolonial research questions departs from the colonial research configuration and attends to “individuals’ intersectional vantage points on topics allow for a fluid exchange of ideas and beliefs” (Tynes, Schuschke, and Noble 36). For me, slow coding was an emergent practice I developed via perspectives in Indigenous methodologies (Gaudry; Tuck and Yang), my own intention on centering the needs of my community as a queer Chicano, and time afforded to me at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, I created my dissertation project—an interrogation of the social media practices of queer and trans BIPOC on Twitter—by first asking research questions steered in part by the considerations I outlined above. In other words, I posed research questions that could be used to craft a project contingent on social justice that squared the focus of the project against the oppression itself, while also attending to the commensurate work via my disciplinary training and my intent on taking my time (a luxury, to be sure, but one I was afforded because of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

My research questions were: What are the rhetorical practices of queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who tweet about their sexual health practices online? How might these practices be ethically integrated into public health outreach?I spotlight identity and community enrichment with these questions, each serving as a framework for building the actual research project itself. In creating a research project, the slow coder must ask an anticolonial research question that highlights the context of the digital spaces in which research is conducted. To that end, I highlight the anticolonial utility found within the concept of the intersectional internet. Given that the intersectional internet as concept upcycles a cadre of critical perspectives on digital technologies, sociotechnical processes, digital-material labor conditions, and the identive capacity of social media platforms, research questions that allow for slow coding must function in contradistinction to colonial configurations of internet-based research. In this way, slow coding becomes a solution—and I stress the indefinite article here—to conducting research on a data set that comprises groups of people using the internet in a manner consistent with anti-oppressive research (Potts and Brown). 

Collecting, Pre-Coding, Coding: Slow Actions and Deliberate Capture 

 After creating research questions that facilitate slow coding, we can proceed to the construction of the project, the ethical considerations, the data collection, and then the interpretive framework (with the latter two components comprising slow coding as a practice itself). In essence, slow coding represents an attention to the fact that digital expressions of life are not merely communicative instances, but rather extensions of life online. Thus, we can use methods of capture and interpretive frameworks to understand the stories the data are saying; that is, we can investigate how the range of human experience translates to takeaways that matter to the questions we pose in the first place when conducting research. To that end, I offer an example of building a substantive research project that was my dissertation, offering salient examples and considerations that springboard from slow coding as a methodological approach. I detail the actual methods of enacting the project to the act of parsing the data and then coding it.  

In working on my dissertation, I followed Heidi McKee and James Porter in The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process and “Digital Media Ethics and Rhetoric,” taking a multi-stage approach to research: 1) data collection, 2) pre-coding, which involved slowly reading through the tweets in an extant archive (gathered using methods below), excluding those that were retweets and from organizations, clinicians, providers, or other public health officials (i.e., applying exclusion criteria), and pre-coding those relevant to the research project to derive thematics; and 3) coding them to establish three case studies based on these themes that reveal how users showcased their own sexual health literacy in relation to the topics at hand. 


 Using an insurgent appropriation born from Indigenous methodologies (Gaudry; Tuck and Yang), I adapted internet- and social media-based methods for gathering and analyzing the data. Thus, tweets were gathered as data using an automated, self-populating Twitter Archiving Google Sheet (TAGS), a system developed by Martin Hawksey that uses Google Sheets’ functionality and Twitter’s then-open API to conduct a keyword search across public Twitter users. This search began fall 2018 and continues, refreshing every hour until I am locked out. The keywords used were the hashtags #PrEP and #Truvada, and these were used to attune the data collection to users talking about their sexual health in relation to ongoing changes surrounding medication, culture, and health. These keywords were also selected because they have been prominent in the cultural milieu of queer and trans people of color since the advent of new HIV-prevention medication. Tweets collected through the TAGS system were aggregated in a Google Sheets document, along with usernames, user-made bios, timestamps, avatars, and locations (when available). For the hopeful slow coder, proceeding from data collection continues to attend to a research project’s dimensionality, adhering epistemic parameters to standard protocol in the follow ways: understanding that research is a practice mired in colonial processes (discussed above), responding to how anonymized data defaults to whiteness because of the manner by which a human user of the internet is construed, and attending to the organizing algorithms of the internet (which privilege white sensibilities).   


My collection methods captured much meta-data for the datapoints gathered—perhaps too much, which initiated my slow approach and led me to cohere this process as slow coding. I was therefore able to use the meta-data to cross-check that the cultural content that users generated and frequented in their discrete Twitter feeds related to the topic at hand and their identity (i.e., checking to see who the user is and what they talk about online—learning who they are and what their life is about; though, of course, information associated with Twitter accounts is not always accurate). In creating slow coding as a digital cultural rhetorics methodological practice, I made the important but complex decision to not anonymize the data collected; identity is integral to internet and technology use, as I touch on above, and anonymizing the data would lead to poor conclusions regarding my research questions because cultural and racial identity is vital to answering the research questions in the first place. 

That said, I presented the data in the dissertation—and subsequent publications—in a manner that only recounts identive aspects of users as derived from contextual elements, including general locations (e.g., Atlanta featured heavily in my data as it is often called the Black queer capital of the world), other tweets, biographic information, and photos that were not of the user but posted (typically memes). I did not nor will I ever use Twitter usernames, show avatars, or use any other identifying information in my writing, stewarding users’ data by using password-protected hard drives to store data gathered. The stewardship I enacted requires, again, the creation of a project that cannot function without care and deliberation in mind. In this way, I was able to approach the necessary messiness of approaching consent when working with semi-public data, users who did not respond to direct messages, and the general unwieldiness that accompanies social media platforms as research sites. Of course, no approach will ever be perfect, especially regardless of IRB approval (as in my case, wherein my project was deemed exempt)—but again, care and deliberation and substantive protection protocols must be derived.  

Because my data collection was self-populated as users’ generated content, I created a copy of the overall archive and effectively ended data collection for the dissertation in June 2020. From this document, I began pre-coding by following my inclusion/exclusion criteria, focusing solely on non-specialist posts in the data collection (i.e., posts from non-medical experts). To conduct pre-coding, with a collection of about 300 individual tweets and relevant posts and media after culling, I carefully read through each, highlighting ones that sparked an interest and were seemingly related to the research questions. During this stage, I also expanded on some tweets, delving into the conversational context in some cases and storing these tweets for further investigation. I also included analytic memos left in the form of comments on specific cells containing interesting tweets, and they were later factored into analysis. When this stage was completed, included tweets and their accompanying meta-data were compiled in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and manually entered into Dedoose, a qualitative coding software.  


Slow coding entails a close attention to intersectional theory as it pertains to online life, and in pushing against the textual notion of anonymized data—which voids those meaning-rich cultural expressions of daily life online—I used pre-coding to lead into more comprehensive coding in line with constructing grounded theory. Following a two-cycle approach (Saldaña), I derived three overarching themes across the data that showcased three contextual factors that garnered the most attention on Twitter. Following Johnny Saldaña, and as part of the first cycle of constructing a grounded theory, holistic coding was used as it “is applicable when the researcher already has a general idea of what to investigate in the data . . . [which can be] preparatory groundwork for more detailed coding of the data” (119). In this round of coding, then, I analyzed the selected tweets and accompanying meta-data, which I construed as experiential data that fleshed out the tweet given that they formed contextual vignettes for conveying information. As such, in this initial coding stage, I derived initial codes such as HUMOR, EDUCATION, and CRITICISM, among others, based on an assumed purpose of the tweet in relation to the colonial conditions writ large. With these initial codes, I then moved to the second round of coding. 

With axial coding as the second cycle, I prioritized “properties (i.e., characteristics or attributes) and dimensions (the location of a property along a continuum or range) of a category” (Saldaña 159). As the follow-up to the first cycle of coding, axial coding allowed me to dwell in those “components [of] the conditions, causes, and consequences of a process—actions that let [me] know ‘if, when, how, and why’ something happen[ed]” (Saldaña 159). In other words, axial coding affords an interconnected approach to data, including parsing through tweets related to the specific utterances gathered in the finalized data set and then constellating them amongst each other and the broader forces at play that led to the specific instance of the tweets. Thus, through this round of coding—which I spent months doing to fully flesh out the case studies I eventually derived—I was able to derive codes based on the contemporaneous events, cultural complexities, and oppressive forces tied to them that led to the tweets themselves. With the coding and memos, I derived three thematics (i.e., community health practices wrought during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s, ad hoc networks for sharing information on insurance and healthcare providers, and countering capitalist biomedical systems), which were then used to construct the case studies comprising the project. I was only able to create these case studies by taking my time, and how I went about collecting the data and coding them might take more time than it would otherwise, but this deliberate slow research was necessary to facilitate my commitment to anticolonial research within a digital environment.  

Conclusion: The Ethics of Slowly Learning an Internet Life 

 The researcher and the research subject, site, and project intermingle histories of colonial violence that demand more, slow, thoughtful attention from us. As such, slow coding entails a deliberate approach to building the project itself, including the ethics underpinning the work itself. In my case, I grounded my work in a relational ethics tied to a theoretical framework grounded in Indigenous concepts of relationality, which steered my analysis of tweets amongst broader forces of oppression, directly shaping the remainder of my methodological considerations (Arola; Riley-Mukavetz; Wilson). I also followed the Association of Internet Researchers’ ethics of internet research (franzke et al.), asking myself how data would be traceable and if it could be potentially harmful to the Twitter users when published and whether identifying information was required. Thus, relational ethics set the parameters by which I stayed with the data, simmering in the complex lives of people taking to social media to talk about a critical facet of their lives. Then, via slow coding and the layers of considerations above stacked up on one another, I set out to learn about online lives and let them story my dissertation project. 

 Here, at the end of this piece, I foreground this centrality as a deep, epistemological requirement of slow coding as a practice. If you cannot build a project made for slow coding, then build a different project. I will say, though, that much of what I have found in the data via this process is joy—the bliss of queer and trans people of color being in community despite everything in the world, including the technologies that bring them together, tearing them down. This joy is precious and requires much of us as researchers. I hope that what slow coding offers is a glimpse into working in the ebbs and flows of the liminal spaces that lets community be what it is—joyful work that rescinds the wickedness too often central to how the world works. 

Works Cited 

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Amrute, Sareeta. “Tech Colonialism Today.” Data & Society, 25 Feb. 2020, https://points.datasociety.net/tech-colonialism-today-9633a9cb00ad. 

Arola, Kristin L. “A Land-Based Digital Design Rhetoric.” The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Rhetoric, edited by Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, 1st ed., Routledge, 2018, pp. 199–213. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315518497-20. 

Bates, Julie Collins, et al. “Emphasizing Embodiment, Intersectionality, and Access: Social Justice Through Technofeminism Past, Present, and Future.” Computers and Composition Online, 2019, http://cconlinejournal.org/techfem_si/03_Bates_Macarthy_Warren_Riley/. 

Benjamin, Ruha. “Introduction: Discriminatory Design, Liberating Imagination.” Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life, edited by Ruha Benjamin, Duke University Press, 2019, pp. 1–22. 

Bratta, Phil, and Scott Sundvall. “Introduction to the Special Issue: Digital Technologies, Bodies, and Embodiments.” Computers and Composition, vol. 53, Sept. 2019, pp. 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2019.102526. 

Brock, André. “Beyond the Pale: The Blackbird Web Browser’s Critical Reception.” New Media and Society, vol. 13, no. 7, 2011, pp. 1085–1103, https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444810397031. 

Brown, Nicole Marie. “Methodological Cyborg as Black Feminist Technology: Constructing the Social Self Using Computational Digital Autoethnography and Social Media.” ​Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, vol. 19, no. 1, Feb. 2019, pp. 55–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/1532708617750178. 

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2000. 

franzke, aline shakti, et al. Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0. Association of Internet Researchers, 2020, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf. 

Gallagher, John R. “A Framework for Internet Case Study Methodology in Writing Studies.” Computers and Composition, vol. 54, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2019.102509. 

Gaudry, Adam J. P. “Insurgent Research.” Wicazo Sa Review, vol. 26, no. 1, 2011, pp. 113–36, https://doi.org/10.1353/wic.2011.0006. 

Haas, Angela M. “Toward a Digital Cultural Rhetoric.” The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Rhetoric, edited by Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, 1st ed., Routledge, 2018, pp. 412–22. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315518497-39. 

Johnson, Maureen, et al. “Embodiment: Embodying Feminist Rhetorics.” Peitho: Journal of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric & Composition, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 39–44. 

McKee, Heidi A., and James E. Porter. “Digital Media Ethics and Rhetoric.” The Routledge Handbook of Digital Writing and Rhetoric, edited by Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes, 1st ed., Routledge, 2018, pp. 401–11. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315518497-38. 

—. The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process. Peter Lang, 2009. 

Noble, Safiya Umoja. “A Future for Intersectional Black Feminist Technology Studies.” Scholar & Feminist Online, vol. 13, no. 3, 2016, https://sfonline.barnard.edu/safiya-umoja-noble-a-future-for-intersectional-black-feminist-technology-studies/  

Noble, Safiya Umoja, and Brendesha M. Tynes. “Introduction.” The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online, Peter Lang, 2016, pp. 1–18. 

Opel, Dawn S. “Ethical Research in ‘Health 2.0.’” Methodologies for the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, edited by Lisa Melonçon and J. Blake Scott, 1st ed., Routledge, 2017, pp. 176–94. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315303758-10. 

Potts, Karen, and Leslie Brown. “Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.” Research As Resistance: Critical, Indigenous, & Anti-Oppressive Approaches, edited by Leslie Brown and Susan Strega, Canadian Scholars’ Press/Women’s Press, 2005, pp. 264–86. 

 Riley-Mukavetz, Andrea. “Towards A Cultural Rhetorics Methodology: Making Research Matter with Multi-Generational Women from the Little Traverse Bay Band.” Rhetoric, Professional Communication and Globalization, vol. 5, no. 1, 2014, pp. 108–25. 

Sano-Franchini, Jennifer. “Cultural Rhetorics and the Digital Humanities: Toward Cultural Reflexivity in Digital Making.” Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities, edited by Jim Ridolfo and William Hart-Davidson, The University of Chicago Press, 2014, pp. 49–64. 

Simmons, Anjuan. “Technology Colonialism.” Model View Culture: A Magazine About Technology, Culture and Diversity., no. 27, 18 Sept. 2015, https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/technology-colonialism. 

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “R-Words: Refusing Research.” Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities, edited by Django Paris and Maisha T. Winn, SAGE Publications, Inc., 2014, pp. 223–47. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781544329611. 

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 3rd ed., Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 

Tynes, Brendesha M., et al. “Chapter One: Digital Intersectionality Theory and the #Blacklivesmatter Movement.” The Intersectional Internet: Race, Sex, Class, and Culture Online, edited by Safiya Umoja Noble and Brendesha M. Tynes, Peter Lang, 2016, pp. 21–40. 

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 End Note

[1]Here, I mean to render the human as conceptual parameters by which we cohere history, culture, whiteness, colonialism, and cisheteropatriarchy to what we think of as the prototypical human user of the internet (Brock). Indeed, André Brock highlights how the internet functions as “a social structure [that] represents and maintains white, masculine, bourgeois, heterosexual and Christian culture through its content” (1088). The internet, then, amid the varying tales that comprise its cultural import, is a mirror to the project of humanness—a conceit I intermingle within the critical vantage of my thinking in this piece.

Cluster Editors’ Introduction: Defining A Feminist Approach to Internet Research Ethics (Again)

Entering the Conversation

In 2018, Kristi and Melissa submitted a research article to a feminist media journal. We thought that our study on live tweets accompanying the 2017 Women’s March on Washington was an exigent analysis of affect in hashtag feminism. However, we received a scalding review that criticized our research ethics. Our anonymous reviewer was appalled that we included tweeted images in our analyzed findings and thus did not protect our study participants. We were surprised and hurt; we were trained in research methods and included images to allow the feminist activists to represent themselves in their own words. But we swallowed our pride and dug deeper into Internet research ethics. Upon talking with other scholars and reading interdisciplinary research, it was clear why we were confused. Standards varied across disciplines and institutions. Articles modeled different practices throughout publication venues. Ultimately we published our piece in another journal (McDuffie and Ames) with greater protections on images, using suggestions outlined by Amy Bruckman, and this experience inspired us to create more conversations around Internet research ethics in order to improve other scholars’ experiences. This cluster conversation therefore presents a variety of approaches to Internet research ethics through a feminist lens, beginning with this introductory piece that outlines best practices in feminist Internet research ethics. 

After this introduction, our cluster conversation continues with a piece by Cam Cavaliere and Leigh Gruwell, “Developing a Feminist Mentorship Praxis for Digital Aggression Research,” which serves as a model for the type of mentorship we are advocating for. In this article, both the mentor and mentee address the challenges that digital aggression research poses to researcher safety and offer suggestions for feminist mentorship practices to enhance our emotional and physical well-being. 

Next, in “Researching on the Intersectional Internet: Slow Coding as Humanistic Recovery,” Wilfredo Flores draws attention to the problematic colonial conditions of traditional research practices and offers a revised methodology that allows for more care when working with marginalized communities. Flores details a strategy called slow coding, a multilayered process that allows more space for antiracist analytic strategies to be drawn upon throughout the research process. 

The next three pieces in this cluster conversation build on Amber Buck and Devon Ralston’s “Heuristic for Reflective Research/Data Collection” by extending the framework to new spaces or mediums to continue challenging ourselves as ethical researchers of online spaces, communities, and texts. Hannah Taylor’s contribution, “Beyond Text: Ethical Considerations for Visual Online Platforms,” discusses her research experiences with two image-based social media projects (the online conference Braving Body Shame and the sexual health education Instagram page The Vulva Gallery) in order to reflect on her own research practices and demonstrate a feminist research ethic of self-reflexivity. In “Towards Best Practices for Podcasting in Rhetoric and Composition,” Charles Woods and Devon Fitzgerald Ralston examine the research methods of re:verb: A Podcast about Politics, Culture, and Language in Action podcast. They offer guidance towards best practices based on feminist principles and methods for podcasters podcasting in rhetoric and composition. In the final work in this triad, “A Private Conversation in a Public Place: The Ethics of Studying ‘Virtual Support Groups’ Now,” Nora Augustine explicates ethical quandaries that arose from one agency’s attempts to implement a Zoom-based confidentiality policy in its support groups during Covid-19, showing how rapid uptake of this platform introduced new ethical conflicts. Combining the apparent privacy of face-to-face group meetings with the ambiguous publicness of online communication, she argues that Zoom support groups illustrate the extent to which our understandings of “virtual support groups” have changed since scholars first started researching human subjects on the Internet—and therefore how much our ethical considerations must change, too.

Our cluster conversation closes full circle with a piece that returns to traditional mentorship – but from the very initial stages: the classroom. Gabriella Wilson’s “Teaching Digital Feminist Research Methods: Polluted Digital Landscapes and Care-ful Pedagogies” explores how instructors can use feminist methodologies in teaching digital research methods, especially in an era of contaminated rhetoric and disinformation. This piece discusses pedagogical best practices and approaches to teaching ethical digital feminist research methods in the first-year composition classroom and beyond.

Best Practices in Feminist Internet Research Ethics

To provide a foundation for these thoughtful pieces interrogating research ethics from a feminist perspective, we present several norms that have emerged through Internet research discussions over the past years. It has been difficult to identify consensus within Internet research ethics because online practices (and the study thereof) remain dynamic spaces for legal, business, academic, and personal jurisdictions. Furthermore, different disciplines approach Internet research ethics from various epistemological stances. Also contributing to a lack of consensus is the delay of institutions, such as IRB and graduate schools, in updating to keep up with contemporary practices in online research. Therefore, we take this space to outline best practices as a set of agreed upon norms that primarily emerge in writing studies, rhetorical theory, and feminist media studies, to set a foundation for scholars doing related work. These practices can be used concurrently with heuristics that are outlined by the Association of Internet Researchers (Ess and AoIR; franzke et al.; Markham and Buchanan) and scholars such as Buck and Ralston. As opposed to these heuristics which are questions that researchers can use to guide their decision-making on particular projects, this list is meant to orient researchers toward current thinking in feminist Internet research ethics.

IRBs Provide Insufficient Guidance for Internet Research

Although Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) have governed academic research for decades–along with legal concerns like copyright, FERPA, and HIPAA–IRBs provide insufficient guidance for Internet research. Elizabeth Buchanan, for example, explains that her early inquiries into Internet research ethics “problematized standard notions of respect for persons, justice, and beneficence”; because these principles were originally based on a biomedical model of research, they “do not transfer easily to internet research” (Buchanan et al. 271-272). IRBs have largely been concerned with physical and emotional harm that arrives through interactive and private information-based research, and thus have not taken ownership of research using public data online. Such research is either treated as exempt or waived. 

The feminist Internet research community, however, demands a higher standard. Amber Buck and Devon Ralston explain that sharing “social media data (public or not) outside of its originally shared context may bring with it potential problems,” especially for communities of color (3). Rosemary Clark-Parsons similarly claims that “just because a user consented to publishing a message publicly on Twitter does not necessarily mean they have consented to having that message published in other contexts, such as an academic journal or news story” (Buchanan et al. 266-267). Research asking online users about their preferences supports these findings: James M. Hudson and Amy Bruckman found that “individuals in online environments such as chatrooms generally do not approve of being studied without their consent” (Hudson and Bruckman 135). 

Despite this knowledge, there is no easy way to implement this advice; it is often impractical to obtain informed consent in online environments (Hudson and Bruckman 135). Implementing feminist principles of care and situated knowledge (franzke et al. 66-67) will help researchers balance their research goals with the personal agency (Clark-Parsons in Buchanan et al. 266) of their research participants. 

Online Data Is Human Subjects Research, Not Textual Research

Although online research data sets are more and more often being treated as “big data,” defined in innumerable ways, feminist Internet researchers demand that online information be treated as human subjects research rather than textual research. Textual research—whether it’s one piece of writing or thousands of discrete data points—is still data composed by or about humans. Research must be built from a feminist practice of situated knowledge (franzke et al. 67) and cannot be excised from its context. Morrow, Hawkins, and Kern write that official guidelines to Internet research often treat “online users and researchers as disembodied and disconnected from places and relationships” as if “researchers can somehow ethically categorize the subjectivity and vulnerability of online users” (536). Understanding online research as human subjects research maintains that material connection to both participants and researchers.

Furthermore, feminist Internet research ethics maintains that online users should maintain rights over their information and online productions, including having a say in how it might appear in a research context. Rosemary Clark-Parsons often studies marginalized populations and aims to give her research participants agency and ownership over their personal information (Buchanan et al. 267). Stephanie Vie agrees and advocates for asking research participants about their level of comfort with identification and other options in a research project (Buchanan et. al 275). When it is not possible to obtain consent and consult with research participants, however, these conversations turn toward minimizing harm.

Feminist Internet Research Contests Traditional Notions of Public and Private Spaces

Although feminist Internet research ethics contest the notion that online public posting equals consent to research, Internet research complicates the very definition of “public.” Here are a few ways that thinking about “public” Internet research has evolved.

  • Researchers have long since studied online communities where the researchers themselves were active participants. This is mostly based on (historically face-to-face) ethnographic principles that researchers get to know the communities they are studying. But when extended to online spaces, this practice can be a privacy violation because they are studying spaces where they have unique access due to their own interests, histories, or identities. In these instances, transparency and consent become concerns because the data is not, in fact, public. Similarly, researchers should not assume that they have the right to research in spaces where they have gained access to an online space that was not otherwise open-access (i.e. requires logins, paywalls, group membership, etc.; see, for example, Haywood’s decision to not study a Facebook group after contacted (32)). It still may be prudent to conduct such research, but with more forethought and justification to address such privacy measures (see, for example, Dadas’s approach to studying Facebook groups). 
  • Researchers study ephemeral data and it is not always clear what rights they have after an initial collection period. For example, researchers may not be aware that some social media sites require researchers to delete posts if they are deleted by the users. Ultimately, a feminist approach to Internet research ethics that prioritizes research participant agency undoubtedly creates more labor in refreshing data sets.
  • Defining research participants can be challenging. For example, in Lauren E. Cagle’s work on strangershots, she defines the research participant as the person who appears in the image, not the person who took the photograph or video. It may be difficult to identify that person, let alone contact them, and a similar situation may arise in a quoted tweet or other type of social media. Yet other types of data may have no identifiable author at all, such as memes. Given the wide range of privacy issues here, a situated approach is even more important to these authorship challenges.
  • Accuracy is difficult to verify in public spaces. William L. Wolff interrogates the viability of conducting online research when so many spaces are overwrought with bots, fake user accounts, and misinformation. He asks, “what expectations of privacy do bots, trolls, and racists have?” (Buchanan et al. 264). Although Internet research ethics has traditionally encouraged caution, Wolff explains that in the current AI landscape, researchers may need to be more concerned with whether their data was even written by real humans (Buchanan et al. 265). Internet researchers will thus need to balance accuracy in their data sets with participant privacy.

Feminist Internet Researchers Should Protect Participant Identities

When it is not possible to obtain informed consent and ask for participant preferences, researchers should protect participant identities to the furthest extent, and especially through publishing practices. This guideline is a part of a feminist research ethic of care (franzke et al. 66; Dieterle), which outlines that an ethic of care toward participants, researchers, and affected communities should guide feminist research practices. An ethic of care in research means going beyond minimizing harm to actually taking responsibility for how our research might affect our participants (Dieterle 8), and seeing the research process as a reciprocal relationship. 

Although informed consent is preferable, there are situations where it is not plausible or practical (for example, hundreds of users who contributed to a widespread Instagram campaign would be unlikely to respond to requests through Instagram about a research study). In these cases when there is still justification for doing the research, scholars have outlined a number of strategies for protecting participants, such as using pseudonyms, blurring out identifying features in images, altering quotes to reduce reverse searchability, and even only representing data in aggregate (Bruckman; Buchanan et al. 274-274, 280; Dieterle 6). Researchers can balance these options with the situated context of their studies and an ethic of care. For example, in our edited collection on hashtag activism (Ames and McDuffie), a number of contributors chose to include the identities of popular, verified Twitter users because they were already public figures. Researchers also agree that protecting participants’ identities is even more vital when the subject or the participants themselves are more at-risk.  

It is possible that hiding participants’ identities can reduce their agency. For example, Bassett and O’Rierdan worried that anonymizing LGBTQ participants was an act of further marginalization and silencing (244), and we similarly worry that hiding the activists we study dishonors their intentions. Nonetheless, the current consensus in feminist Internet research studies is to conceal participants’ identities without explicit consent to disclose identities in research publications, especially in an online culture rife with abuse. 

Feminist Internet Research Ethics Call for an Interrogation of Researcher Positionality

It is now a common, and even vital, practice for researchers to consider their own relationship to the data that they collect and analyze (from anywhere, and especially online) (Morrow, Hawkins, and Kern 533). Throughout past studies, a scholar may or may not have discussed how they relate to their research depending on the context of the study. Perhaps a researcher explained how they came to be a part of a particular online community, or disclosed what inspired their commitment to a cause. Now, however, this kind of interrogation is expected in order to understand how our own positionalities–and the positionalities of our research participants–frame our studies and impact the outcomes. Interrogation is particularly important when a researcher seems distant from the study or when a research population is vulnerable. 

Engaging in relevant theories can help with examining positionalities and power dynamics. For instance, Constance Haywood theorizes how Black feminist values can be applied to research methods to create a Black feminist ethic of care to enact community values, recognize participants’ activism, and minimize harm when studying Black online communities (41). Another example is Caroline Dadas, who enacted transparency about her own identity in a queer methodological framework for studying the discursive construction of marriage equality on Facebook. 

Interrogating researcher and participant positionality helps us be reflective researchers, which is an important feminist value (Morrow, Hawkins, and Kerns 533), and this reflexivity extends to reciprocity. Rosemary Clark-Parsons advocates for feminist practices of reciprocity toward research participants, such as making research results publicly accessible to participants so that the research benefits participants and related communities, in addition to researchers and academic institutions (Buchanan et al. 267). Stephanie Vie extends reciprocity to the co-creation of research projects when possible, including co-authorship of research publications (Buchanan et al. 275). Interpreting and innovating reflexivity and reciprocity are likely areas of growth for feminist Internet research ethics. 

Feminist Internet Research Ethics Protects Researchers

An ethic of care in feminist research includes protecting scholars who are at a risk of harm by conducting their research. Brought to the forefront by happenings such as GamerGate, digital aggression research (research that examines problematic happenings, such as homophobic or racist discourse online) opens up researchers to being targeted, such as through flaming or doxxing. These researchers might already be at risk, as they are more likely to be female-identifying and experiencing emotional duress from the content of their studies. In response to this risk, Derek M. Sparby argues that “it is an ethical obligation for us to protect ourselves as researchers and humans” (45), and that this feminist ethic of care toward researchers should be considered early in the research process (51). 

In our edited collection (Ames and McDuffie), we saw an ethic of care realized when an author chose to be published as Anonymous so as not to risk the unwanted attention of a known Twitter bully. Sparby makes suggestions for enacting self-care as an act of self-preservation, such as using a flexible research timeline (54), as well as enacting self-protection, such as making intentional decisions about publication venues, citation practices, and online identities (56). In this cluster conversation, Cam Cavaliere and Leigh Gruwell build on this framework and their own experiences conducting digital aggression research to describe mentoring practices that can help protect researchers who do this work.

Supporting Each Other

While it will always be difficult to derive precise rules for any particular Internet research project, especially when a feminist approach prioritizes the context of the research and being responsive to participant and researcher needs, the best practices outlined here present shared norms as identified by feminist Internet researchers in recent literature and our own experiences. Furthermore, heuristics outlined by other scholars provide a variety of questions that researchers can use to guide their decision-making processes as they go (see franzke et al., Buck and Ralston; and Taylor, Woods and Ralston, and Augustine in this cluster conversation). 

In addition to providing more transparent conversations on feminist Internet research ethics within writing studies, rhetorical theory, and feminist media studies, we also argue for more mentoring and training of such ethics, particularly within editorial practices. For example, we endeavored to provide developmental and supportive feedback to contributors without assuming prior knowledge about these best practices. In our edited collection on hashtag activism (Ames and McDuffie), we developed and shared our intended standards for ethical research methods and related publication practices, and we provided editorial feedback intended to guide and protect scholars and their participants. We also listened to our authors about their choices and supported them, such as advocating to the press to include certain images. In turn, we learned from our contributors and enacted their findings and recommendations in our own work. Some scholars will think our protections unnecessary, while others will think that we did not go far enough. Nonetheless, we aimed to balance participant confidentiality with our social justice research goals to amplify online activism. And we did our best to protect our authors from criticism, although that will surely come. Most importantly, we tried to treat our fellow scholars with the kindness and respect at the heart of a feminist ethic of care that should be extended to each other as scholars, as well as research participants and relevant communities. While standards for a feminist approach to Internet research ethics will continue to evolve, a feminist ethic of care to training and mentoring for Internet research ethics should be at the forefront of these discussions.

Works Cited

Ames, Melissa and Kristi McDuffie, eds. Hashtag Activism Interrogated and Embodied: Case Studies on Social Justice Movements. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2023. 

Bassett, Elizabeth H. and Kate O’Riordan. “Ethics of Internet Research: Contesting the Human Subjects Research Model.” Ethics and Information Technology vol. 4, 2002, pp. 233–247. 

Bruckman, Amy. “Studying the Amateur Artist: A Perspective on Disguising Data Collected in Human Subjects Research on the Internet.” Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 4, 2002, pp. 217–231. 

Buchanan, Elizabeth, Rosemary Clark-Parsons, Stephanie Vie, William L. Wolff, and Kristi McDuffie. “Capturing a Moving Target: Ethical Research Practices for hashtag Activism.” Hashtag Activism Interrogated and Embodied: Case Studies on Social Justice Movements. Ed. Melissa Ames and Kristi McDuffie. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2023, pp. 260-283.

Buck, Amber, and Devon Ralston. “I Didn’t Sign Up For Your Research Study: The Ethics of Using ‘Public’ Data.” Computers and Composition, vol. 61, 2021, pp. 1–13. 

Cagle, Lauren E. “The Ethics of Researching Unethical Images: A Story of Trying to Do Good Research without Doing Bad Things.” Computers and Composition vol. 61, 2021, pp. 1–14. 

Dadas, Caroline. “Messy Methods: Queer Methodological Approaches to Researching Social Media.” Computers and Composition vol. 40, 2016, pp. 60–72. 

Dieterle, Brandy. “People as Data?: Developing an Ethical Framework for Feminist Digital Research.” Computers and Composition, vol. 59, 2021, pp. 1-10.

Ess, Charles, and the AoIR Working Committee. Ethical Decision-making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee. Chicago: Association of Internet Researchers, 2002. https://www.aoir.org/reports/ethics.pdf 

franzke, aline shakti. Feminist Research Ethics, IRE 3.0 Companion 6.3, Association of Internet Researchers, 2020, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf

franzke, aline shakti, Anja Bechmann, Michael Zimmer, Charles Ess, and the Association of Internet Researchers. 2020. “Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0.” AoIR, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf

Haywood, Constance. “Chapter 10. Developing a Black Feminist Research Ethic: A Methodological Approach to Research in Digital Spaces.” Methods and Methodologies for Research in Digital Writing and Rhetoric: Centering Positionality in Computers and Writing Scholarship. Ed. Victor Del Hierro and Crystal VanKooten. vol. 2. The WAC Clearinghouse, University Press of Colorado. 2022, pp. 29–44. https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/positionality/chapter10.pdf 

Markham, Annette, and Elizabeth Buchanan. “Ethical Decision-making and Internet Research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (Version 2.0).” AoIR, December, 2012. http://www.aoir.org/reports/ethics2.pdf

McDuffie, Kristi and Melissa Ames. “Archiving Affect and Activism: Hashtag Feminism and Structures of Feeling in Women’s March Tweets.” First Monday, vol. 26.2, 2021. https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/10317 

Sparby, Derek M. “Chapter 11: Toward a Feminist Ethic of Self-Care and Protection When Researching Digital Aggression.” Methods and Methodologies for Research in Digital Writing and Rhetoric: Centering Positionality in Computers and Writing Scholarship. Ed. Victor Del Hierro and Crystal VanKooten. vol. 2. The WAC Clearinghouse, University Press of Colorado. 2002, pp. 45–64. https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/positionality/chapter11.pdf 


Teaching Digital Feminist Research Methods: Polluted Digital Landscapes and Care-ful Pedagogies


After the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, scholarship on disinformation, misinformation, and fake news exploded in rhetoric and composition (Cloud; McComiskey; Skinnell). With journals like Enculturation publishing special issues on the subject, offering ways of meeting the chaos and toxicity online, it’s clear the field feels a responsibility to address fake news. Much of the scholarship has focused on media and information literacy as key tools for mitigating the influence of disinformation and misinformation (Lockhart et al.). However, as more scholarship turns its attention to disinformation, misinformation, and fake news, it’s become evident that these manipulative rhetorics have always existed and been used to further white supremacist, racist, ableist, and sexist claims (Boler and Davis; Kynard; Mejia et al.; Dolmage). Given the material and discursive power that disinformation and misinformation hold and the way that they reflect “a system working exactly as designed” to further capitalist and white supremacist aims, this article will explore how feminist methodologies offer one way of teaching students to traverse the “polluted landscape” of digital information (Phillips and Milner 6).  

 A growing concern in digital rhetorics over nefarious uses of technology and the weaponization of digital spaces highlights the importance of teaching students about the broader context behind disinformation and misinformation claims online (Ridolfo and Hart-Davidson). The saturation of disinformation and misinformation within public discourse across historical periods suggests the need for pointed awareness of information disorder and material analysis of its broader context in the writing classroom (Mejia et al.).  As manipulated and fabricated information, disinformation and misinformation represent what I refer to as polluted information throughout this article. Polluted information is information that has been manipulated, fabricated, or exaggerated in some way; this can be intentional or not. I use polluted information because it moves away from considerations of intention inherent in analyses of disinformation (fabricated information spread intentionally) and misinformation (fabricated information spread unknowingly), allowing students to focus more on the digital circulation and ethics of polluted information. Like many others in the field, I view this political and cultural time as a “rhetorical watershed moment in two ways: first, there has been a shift in the way that powerful people use unethical rhetoric to accomplish their goals; and second, there has been a shift in the way that public audiences consume unethical rhetoric” (McComiskey 3). Given that polluted information can be traced throughout history – especially as it has been used to disenfranchise marginalized peoples – Bruce McComiskey’s discussion of the shift highlights how digital rhetoric plays a role in the circulation of polluted information today, emphasizing the virality of disinformation and the ease of spreading misinformation on social media sites.  

Over the last few semesters, I’ve taken time to hone and design an introductory research methods class taught in a writing department with an inquiry focus on disinformation and misinformation, creating activities to break down the process of engaging in feminist digital research. Hoping to draw students’ attention to the ways that polluted digital information intersects with larger ideological beliefs, I stressed the necessity of ecological approaches to research that accounted for messy processes and listening for gaps and silences. I asked students to engage in reflexive writing about their research and research process; I also asked students to interrogate their positionality and how it informed the kinds of biases and situated knowledge that informed their understanding of the world (Haraway). Most of all, to counter the neoliberal nihilistic energies circulating, I was intentional about centering care in the classroom through spatial design and the ways that I asked students to engage with information and material (Brown; Motta and Bennett). In what follows, I will provide examples of the ways that I used feminist research methods and methodologies to engage students in thinking about disinformation and misinformation. 

In many ways, and as the vast scholarship about disinformation and misinformation suggests, writing studies is already primed to provide students with the tools necessary to navigate the polluted landscape of digital information (Carillo; Duffy; Lockhart et al.). There is also notable scholarship about how feminist methods and methodologies offer ways of teaching students to trek through contaminated and polluted rhetoric (Roher; Ringrose; Burke and Carolissen). This article explores how instructors can use interdependency, reflexivity, transparency, and unlearning when teaching digital research methods to encourage students to assess “the impact of the broader context within which objectionable phenomena such as ‘fake news’ are occurring” (Braidotti 57). Further, feminism’s attention to emotions and affect offers students material ways of exploring the current “context of polarized emotionality and the crisis of truth characterizing current U.S. politics” (Boler and Davis 76). Informed by this scholarship, this piece explores pedagogical approaches to teaching ethical digital feminist research methods.

Polluted Information and Digital Ethics 

While various terms such as disinformation, misinformation, fake news, post-truth, and malinformation have been used to frame the current false, misleading, manipulated, and fabricated rhetoric circulating online today, as noted above, I rely on the term polluted information to discuss manipulative rhetorics after Whitney Phillips and Ryan Milner. Phillips and Milner argue that polluted information “allows us to…focus instead on how the pollution spreads, why it was allowed to spread, and what impact the pollution has both at the initial waste site and, later, downstream” (5). Shifting to a focus on polluted information creates space for students to think ecologically about how “the material conditions of which these social forces [polluted information] are a part can help to ‘explain why certain views, and not others, gain social currency’” (Mejia et al. 112). Considering how, why, and the impact of circulating polluted information creates space for students to acknowledge the various digital influences, like algorithms, within digital landscapes that shape the dissemination of disinformation and misinformation and allows for exploring and analyzing the ideologies and emotions undergirding and supporting the circulation of fake and misleading claims. It also encourages students to consider the deeply held beliefs and ideological frames that support various disinformation and misinformation campaigns while paying attention to the ways that this information is strategically conveyed through misleading and false claims tied to larger racist histories. For instance, I’ll often use anti-CRT (critical race theory) campaigns to demonstrate to students how the manipulative, misleading, and false information propagated about critical race theory is steeped in deep stories about white supremacist ideology, revisionist history, and anti-blackness that spreads through social media and influences education policy.  

It’s imperative to approach digital polluted information through a nuanced perspective that acknowledges the root social narrative undergirding manipulative and misleading rhetoric; this nuanced perspective must note how emotions are tied to the deep stories people believe. Jason Vincent A. Cabañes uses Arlie Hochschild’s conception of “deep stories” to think through how digital polluted information propagates social narratives that dictate “the stories that people tell themselves about who they are, what values they hold, and, ultimately, what their place in society is” (437). Considering the intertwinement between deep stories and personal belief, deep stories evoke intense emotions that are easily manipulated by crafted rhetoric designed to shock and anger and are bolstered by algorithms and bots specifically designed to elicit emotional responses from users. As Megan Boler and Elizabeth Davis note, while emotions have always played a pivotal role in politics and media, “there has been a shift in awareness of emotions as a determining factor,” especially regarding the ways digital technologies manipulate emotions (italics in original 75). Yet feminist rhetorical practices and ethics have always been aware of the role and centrality of emotions in rhetoric, suggesting that feminist methods and methodologies are primed for navigating disinformation and misinformation. 

Attention to the ideology and emotions behind polluted information, its circulation, and its material impact is important for understanding the broader influence and interdependent relationship between polluted information and its circulation across digital spaces.  Stressing that a feminist ethic of care would acknowledge that people are more than digital data, recognize that data/claims require “attention to human meaning-making, context-specificity, inter/dependencies, temptations, as well as benefits and harms,” and contextualize one’s perspective as situated knowledge, a feminist ethic of care offers ways of contending with ecological understandings of disinformation and misinformation (franzke 70). Drawing on a history of scholarship about feminist ethics of care, “Feminist Research Ethics” in IRE 3.0 makes a case for ethically engaging in digital research. The authors stress that an ethic of care centers on situated knowledge, relationality, reciprocity, and interdependency. Importantly, an ethic of care acknowledges a broader, interdependent context by analyzing digital research from an internal and external perspective as well as through the “relationships between the research project and the subject community that is involved” (franzke 69). 

Feminist Methods and Digital Research 

In what follows, I reflect on the overarching digital feminist ethics I emphasized in an introductory research methods class with an inquiry focused on disinformation and misinformation. This was the second course required in a two-part introductory writing class sequence. Through various assignments and lessons, I asked students to think seriously about disinformation, misinformation, and fake news in various genres and forms. The main assignment asked students to compose written and multimodal projects that they would include in a portfolio reflecting their research process. Students were asked to identify a conspiracy theory or piece of polluted information, compile and analyze sources connected to the polluted information, trace the circulation of information across various primary and secondary sources, and reflect on their research process. The portfolio assignment was meant to help students develop a comprehensive research process they could use during academic research and when confronted with information online. I encouraged students to view research as a messy and iterative process requiring transparency and reflection and emphasized the interdependent webs constellating various networks to circulate polluted information. While I’ll review some of the activities I created to teach students about digital feminist ethics through an ecological perspective, I want to take a moment to reflect on how feminist pedagogical approaches are central to teaching students in our current context. Given feminist pedagogy’s attention to countering neoliberal individualism (Stenberg) and imperial desires (Ahmed; Chatterjee and Maira), feminist pedagogy offers “a tool to understand and stop the violence while building toward a liberatory politics” (Rohrer 578). Feminist pedagogy’s attention to systems of oppression and its adherence to moving beyond traditional notions of objectivity and authority demonstrate why it offers a way to contend with polluted information. 

Teaching students about disinformation and misinformation using a feminist pedagogical approach opens space for students to think critically about knowledge production, interdependency, and emotions as valuable assets. Encouraging students to interrogate knowledge production and reflect on the pedagogical decisions structuring their education, feminist pedagogy attempts to renegotiate power dynamics in the classroom, giving students more autonomy and agency over their education. This is beneficial when teaching students about polluted information because it allows them to think critically about individualism, expertise, and power structures. Students can interrogate whose knowledge is deemed legitimate, disrupt notions about elitism, question institutional authority, and claim their own expertise and situated knowledges (hooks). Moreover, feminist pedagogy’s attention to emotions in the classroom encourages students to consider the ways that emotions function as “part of what makes ideas adhere, generating investments and attachments that get recognized as positions and/or perspectives” (Micciche 6). This view of emotions as generative sites of inquiry motivates students to consider how emotions and situated knowledge influences the reception of polluted information. Drawing on the personal, students can grapple with the ways that emotions influence the ways they understand and grapple with knowledge. This is especially central to helping students navigate polluted information, given the ways deep stories are enveloped in larger interdependent webs marked by deep, emotionally charged beliefs.  


Feminism’s commitment to the personal in research necessitates reflexive writing encouraging students to consider their identity, beliefs, and values in relation to their research. Heidi McKee and James Porter explain that feminist research methodologies must be critically reflexive “about one’s own position, gender, and status,” transparent about “making the process and constructed nature of research visible to multiple audiences,” and flexible about making “adjustments in the project, to modify a project protocol as needed to make it more careful, reflexive, dialogic, and ethically rigorous” (155-156). These practices easily translate to conducting ethical digital feminist research, as evidenced by various articulations of feminist digital research that include feminist principles like reflexivity, interdependency, messy research, transparency, and an ethic of care. 

Reflection plays a key role in negotiating disinformation and misinformation because it gives students the time to consider a broader context and perspective in addition to grappling with how their positionality and biases might influence their perception of certain claims. Incorporating reflective prompts and questions into research assignments and activities that asked students to consider their research process and methods, I taught students about research processes using Gesa Kirsch and Jacqueline Jones Royster’s idea of strategic contemplation. Kirsch and Royster argue that strategic contemplation encourages deliberately “taking the time, space, and resources to think about, through, and around work as an important meditative dimension of scholarly productivity” (21). Throughout the course, the reflective questions I posed asked students to consider their biases and how those perspectives may shape how they understand information. To encourage students to reflect on their research critically and to emphasize that “reflexivity [is] a process, [and not] an isolated event,” I asked students to complete research journals (see Figure 1) as they engaged in in-depth research regarding the polluted information they identified (Gruwell 89). Pushing students to consider their positionality, bias, and process, I asked them to consider their emotional responses to polluted information and think critically about how they analyzed the information they viewed in their journals. As Judy Rohrer points out, “historicizing our locations and relations is antithetical to neoliberalism’s flat pluralism and post-truth populism’s singularly aggrieved (mostly white) victimhood” (585). By asking students to reflect on their emotional responses and thoughts throughout the research process, I hoped to illuminate how emotions and situated knowledge can shape the ways polluted information circulates.  

Students affirmed that engaging in active writing about the process of research helped them to think more critically about the kinds of sources they were using and the deep stories circulating within and through their sources. Using research journals to trace process and emotional responses throughout proved generative for students who found themselves easily persuaded or manipulated by misleading polluted information. Students who found themselves convinced by polluted information identified moments where they were easily persuaded or manipulated and could dive deeper into the beliefs informing their responses as a result. This allowed students to interrogate their experiences and bias and consider how polluted information relies on emotions.  

Figure 1: Research Journal Assignment Sheet Excerpt. Image description: a screenshot of a prompt given to students that reads, “4 Research journals, organized in whatever way works for you. Submit them as one document entitled “Research Journal Unit Two” • These journals should combine all of the planning, data collection, reflection, and analysis you have done for your specific topic of inquiry throughout the unit. You should map the steps you took during your research and any reflective thoughts that came up during your research. Remember that emotional responses to research are valid and should be included in the research journal. Each journal should be about 100-200 words. These can be bullet point lists or summaries of your research. You should submit at least 4 research journals. They don’t have to be fully fleshed out, formal writing pieces. But they should reflect your research process and reactions/emotional responses to information.

One student even used this information to create a social media campaign countering polluted information on social media, using various sounds, filters, and effects on Tik Tok to compose a video that refuted a particular conspiracy 

Messy Research 

Feminist methods and methodologies also embrace messy research, unlearning, and failure as key ways to navigate “seek[ing] knowledge in [a] social world where things are often elusive and multiple” (Luka et al. 28).  When approaching research about polluted information, then, I encouraged and modeled for students messy research practices that required constant revision and citation mining, encouraging them to research across genre and medium (see Figure 2). I demonstrated various stages of the research process for students, actively reflecting and tracing research dead ends, ineffective keyword searches, and my emotional responses as I modeled. For instance, researching various primary sources circulating around the PizzaGate conspiracy theory offers generative sites of analysis for considering digital research with students. Given that PizzaGate is an older conspiracy, some original sites of analysis around the conspiracy have been removed from the internet. Language and social media rhetorics around the conspiracy have also changed and evolved, meaning that hashtags that once worked to identify conspiracy rhetorics around PizzaGate may no longer contain relevant information. Exploring the evolution of conspiracy rhetorics around PizzaGate emphasized for students how failure and dead ends in the research process can be used generatively. Ultimately, how I modeled the research process through conspiracies like PizzaGate encouraged students to recognize that digital research necessitates flexibility and an appreciation of picking apart messy threads that span temporal frames and public/private divides.     

Digital spaces are constantly in flux–posts are deleted every minute, trending pages update by the second, and algorithms use your location to construct search results–so students must account for these intricacies and complexities as they research. Given the instability of digital research sites, I emphasized messiness over clarity with students to reflect the intricacies of digital research. I didn’t want “students to imagine they must always be clear; [rather, I] want[ed] them to imagine what is possible–and that they are possible” (Holmes and Wittman 35). To help students think deeply about their research engagement, I asked them to reflect on their research and writing process in their assigned research journals, where they analyzed and discussed their process and emotional responses to research. Afterwards, I designed an in-class activity providing space for students to intentionally reflect on their research and refine their practices as they researched based on failures they encountered, as reflected in the image to the right.  

Figure 2: Activity Reflecting on Research Sources. Image description: a screenshot of a prompt given to students. It reads, “Let’s discuss…Gaps Now that you have evaluated your sources, take a moment to consider the gaps and trends that you notice. After you’ve taken a deeper look into each of the sources. Take a look at the notes that you’ve compiled—notice any trends? Are all of your sources from the same publication? Are your sources written by authors coming from similar positionalities? Are all of your sources categorized under the same grouping/functioning in the same way? Taking a pause is important when researching, I encourage you to intentionally revise and substitute your sources based on the information you’ve now compiled about the research you already have.”

Creating space and designing activities for students to reflect intentionally on their process encourages them to dive deeper and to “counter faith in a naive and transparent social world, to work with empirical material in a way that pays attention, simultaneously, to language, bodies, and material conditions, to present a mix of interpretations versus seeking consensus, both finding patterns and opening up closures, [and] to show the problems with all efforts to represent reality” (Lather 10). In turn, students are more attuned to listening to the gaps and silences that might exist in the research, allowing them to identify the broader context and pay attention to the harm caused by polluted information about marginalized communities that are often not given a dominant voice in digital spaces or research. In fact, many students discussed how intentionally pausing and revising their research process and sources enabled them to dig more deeply into the materials they found and pushed them to consider their topic from different perspectives. Asking students to engage deeply with a localized and contextualized research process and methods creates ways for them to consider the specific material and discursive influences shaping particular digital claims, creating space for students to consider ideological truth claims that hold material power (see Figure 3) 

Figure 3: In-Process Ethical Research Questions to Employ. Image description: a screenshot of a prompt given to students. It reads: Important Ethical Questions to Consider when Researching 1. Who/what communities are impacted by this research and/or research question? In what ways are they impacted by this research and/or research question? 2. Who are the stakeholders involved in this research? How are each of the stakeholders impacted by this research and research question? 3. What are the political, social, cultural, or historical implications for this research and/or research question? How do various political, social, and cultural factors impact the authors or participants goals within the research and/or research question? Consider who is centered in the research and/or research question and whose experiences exist in the periphery. How does this centering and decentering impact the research and/or research question? 4. What assumptions are made by the research agenda and/or research question? What does the author/researcher take for granted? 5. How does or doesn’t this research take into account its responsibility in representing others within their research? 5. What are the limitations of the research being presented? What bias might the researcher hold or what bias might be implicitly or explicitly present in the research agenda and/or research question?

This allows for contemplation of the ways that “lively– rather than simply [messy]– data, involve[s] ongoing negotiations of power relations” (Luka et al. 32). This is especially generative for students considering disinformation and misinformation because it enables them to explore polluted information from different perspectives to understand its persuasive effect on different audiences better.  

Situated Knowledge 

Situated knowledge can help students gain an approach to digital research that considers a broader context of practices and interdependent networks that bolster polluted information. Situated knowledge is central to developing a feminist ethic of care when approaching internet research because it “insist[s] on the embodied nature of all vision and so reclaim[s] the sensory system that has been used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere” (Haraway 581). Before asking students to engage in research, I encouraged them to consider their research stance and positionality and its role in their research process. Developing a research stance that considers the research process and ethical research practices emphasizes identity’s role when processing information. Asking students to pay attention to the situated knowledge shaping polluted information draws attention to “identity relative to a constantly shifting context, to a situation that includes a network of elements involving others, the objective economic conditions, cultural and political institutions and ideologies, and so on” (Alcoff 148). Attention to situated knowledge and positionality is central to contending with disinformation and misinformation because it illuminates the ways that polluted information is contingent on deep beliefs held by individuals that hold material force and cause material harm (Hochschild). 

Figure 4: Considering the Impact of Research Stance. Image description: a screenshot of a prompt given to students. It reads, “Research Stance Now that you’ve garnered a good understanding of the research process, ethical questions to consider when conducting research, your own research habits and evaluation methods, and crafted a collage to describe your research passions, it’s time to develop a research stance. Your research stance is a statement that you abide by as you engage in any kind of research. From the posts you see on Instagram to the articles you’re assigned in your courses, how do you intend to approach research through an ethical and ecological framework, in line with Phillips and Milner. As an example, my research stance might read something like the following: ‘When I conduct research I will intentionally seek out diverse perspectives, check my sources for accuracy, and consider who is impacted by my research. To enact these principles, I will read more than two sources on a topic, I will look at how an author’s positionality/standpoint might impact the research agenda, and I will consider the larger sociopolitical and sociocultural impact the research may have.’”

In my class, I continually asked students to reflect on their positionality and situated knowledge; we engaged in various reflective and embodied writing assignments that asked students to consider their values and how their positionality may influence those values. I also encouraged students to think deeply about the kind of content they watch, read, and hear throughout the day, noting how that content influences their beliefs and knowledge. One of the first major assignments that students completed was a strategic reflection. The assignment asked students to think about their positionality and how their identity and experiences may influence their way of seeing the world. To prepare students to write their strategic reflection, I designed various lessons that defined positionality and standpoint while asking students to respond to reflective writing prompts about their lived experiences, identity, and values to better understand how they assess information. I framed this assignment through Milner and Phillips’s conception of a “you are here” sticker that would enable students to more critically consider new information they encounter in light of the information and knowledge they already possess. I provided students with guided free write prompts, as reflected in the image provided, to help students build their “you are here” framework.  

While drawing students’ attention to how their emotions, positionality, and situated knowledge influence the interpretation of polluted information, I also discussed ecological considerations of interdependence with students. To do so, I incorporated a conversation around Sandra Harding’s standpoint theory to reinforce ways of considering how students are positioned in the world and how that positioning “directly influences what’s visible to that person, which in turn directly influences what they know” (Phillips and Milner 20). With this in mind, I asked students to consider what kinds of frames they hold based on their standpoint, paying particular attention to the ways race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability might influence the kinds of frames that students believe to be true. We then expanded the discussion to consider how systems of power and oppression play a role in constructing these frames, drawing attention to the broader material-discursive and historical frames that shape how disinformation and misinformation are interpreted and supported. This attention to broader context especially helps students to understand how individual actors function within a larger interdependent web of networked human and more-than-human relationships.  

Figure 5: Scholarship & Questions to Guide Reflection on Positionality in Research. Image description: a screenshot of a prompt given to students. It reads: Linda Alcoff argues about positionality: ‘identity relative to a constantly shifting context, to a situation that includes a network of elements involving others, the objective economic conditions, cultural and political institutions and ideologies, and so on’ THINK: what is your situation? what roles do you embody? Whitney Phillips + Ryan Milner argues that standpoint, in line with Sandra Harding, is ‘a person’s relationship to power—the result of their race, gender, class, ability, the list goes on—establishes where they’re positioned in the world. This standpoint, in turn, directly influences what’s visible to that person, which in turn directly influences what they know’ THINK: what experiences make up your understanding? where do you stand? Marilyn Cooper, ecocomposition: ‘The metaphor for writing suggested by the ecological model is that of a web, in which anything that affects one strand of the web vibrates throughout the whole’ (Cooper 370) THINK: what’s in your ecosystem?


Given polluted information’s adherence to broader racial and capitalist histories, it’s particularly important that students are taught to examine and analyze the material-discursive, human, and more-than-human influences that support disinformation and misinformation online. Through feminist methods and methodologies like teaching messy research, emphasizing reflective praxis throughout research, and valuing situated knowledge, writing instructors can contend with polluted information in ways that move beyond fact-checking and information literacy. Rather, attention to emotions and historical forces illuminates the intensity of polluted information online, where bots and algorithms bolster disinformation and misinformation. Teaching students about the broader context of polluted information and demonstrating the interdependent webs and relations enmeshed in these claims helps them understand the harm disinformation and misinformation causes, especially to marginalized people. In turn, this encourages students to reflect critically on their everyday actions and online interactions, especially because feminist ethics of care highlight the necessity of reflecting on how individual actions operate in a larger ecosystem, stressing the importance of interdependency and reciprocity for students.  

Future research on polluted information and feminist methods and methodologies might focus on how a feminist ethic of care can help to grapple with how bots and algorithms exacerbate and reinforce polluted information online. More work is also needed to determine how instructors might address far-right extremist views in the writing classroom as they navigate disinformation and misinformation. Feminist pedagogical theories on addressing differences in the classroom offer generative and potentially transformative theoretical frames for beginning some of this research. 

Works Cited 

Alcoff, Linda Martín. Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self. Oxford University Press, 2005. 

Ahmed, Sara. “On Being Included.” On Being Included. Duke University Press, 2012. 

Boler, Megan, and Elizabeth Davis. “The Affective Politics of the “Post-Truth” Era: Feeling Rules and Networked Subjectivity.” Emotion, Space and Society vol. 27, 2018, pp. 75-85. 

Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman knowledge. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019. 

Brown, Wendy. In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West. Columbia University Press, 2019 

Burke, Penny Jane, and Ronelle Carolissen. “Gender, Post-Truth Populism and Higher Education Pedagogies.” Teaching in Higher Education vol. 23, no.5. 2018, pp. 543-547. 

Cabañes, Jason Vincent A. “Digital Disinformation and the Imaginative Dimension of Communication.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly vol 97, no .2, 2020, pp. 435-452. 

Carillo, Ellen C. Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America. University Press of Colorado, 2018. 

Chatterjee, Piya, and Sunaina Maira, eds. The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent. U of Minnesota Press, 2014. 

Cloud, Dana L. Reality Bites: Rhetoric and the Circulation of Truth Claims in US Political Culture. The Ohio State University Press, 2018 

Dolmage, Jay. “Disabled Upon Arrival: The Rhetorical Construction of Disability and Race at Ellis Island.” Cultural Critique vol. 77, 2011, pp. 24-69. 

Duffy, John. “Post-truth and First-year Writing.” Inside Higher Ed vol. 8, 2017. 

franzke, a. S. “Feminist Research Ethics,” IRE 3.0 Companion vol. 6, no. 3, Association of Internet Researchers, 2020, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf 

Gruwell, Leigh. “Feminist Research on the Toxic Web: The Ethics of Access, Affective Labor, and Harassment.” Digital Ethics. Routledge, 2019, pp. 87-103. 

Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledge: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Theory Reader. Routledge, 2020.  

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. The New Press, 2018. 

Holmes, Alba Newmann and Wittman, Kara. “The Costs of Clarity.” Failure Pedagogies: Learning and Unlearning What It Means to Fail. Editors Allison D. Carr and Laura Micciche. Peter Lang, 2020, pp. 25-39.  

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, 2014. 

Kynard, Carmen. “Black Digital-Cultural Imaginations: Black Visuality and Aesthetic Refuge in the M4BL Classroom.” Enculturation, issue 33, 2022. 

Lather, Patricia. Engaging Science Policy: From the Side of the Messy. Vol. 345. Peter Lang, 2010. 

Lockhart, T., et al. Literacy and Pedagogy in an Age of Misinformation and Disinformation. 2021. 

Luka, Mary Elizabeth, Mélanie. Millette, and J. Wallace. “A Feminist Perspective on Ethical Digital Methods.” Internet Research Ethics for the Social Age, 2017, pp. 21-36. 

McComiskey, Bruce. Post-Truth Rhetoric and Composition. University Press of Colorado, 2017. 

McKee, Heidi A., and James E. Porter. The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process. Vol. 59. Peter Lang, 2009. 

Mejia, Robert, Kay Beckermann, and Curtis Sullivan. “White lies: A racial history of the (post) truth.” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 15.2, 2018, pp. 109-126 

Micciche, Laura. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, and Teaching. Heinemann, 2007. 

Motta, Sara C., and Anna Bennett. “Pedagogies of Care, Care-full Epistemological Practice and ‘Other’ Caring Subjectivities in Enabling Education.” Teaching in Higher Education vol. 23, no. 5, 2018, pp. 631-646. 

Phillips, Whitney, and Ryan M. Milner. You are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape. MIT Press, 2021. 

Rickly, Rebecca. “Messy Contexts: Research as a Rhetorical Situation.” Messy Contexts: Research as a Rhetorical Situation. Hampton Press, 2007, pp. 377-397. 

Ridolfo, Jim, and William Hart-Davidson, eds. Rhet ops: Rhetoric and Information Warfare. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. 

Ringrose, Jessica. “Digital Feminist Pedagogy and Post-Truth Misogyny.” Teaching in Higher Education 23.5, 2018, pp. 647-656. 

Rohrer, Judy. “‘It’s in the Room’: Reinvigorating Feminist Pedagogy, Contesting Neoliberalism, and Trumping Post-Truth Populism.” Teaching in Higher Education vol. 23, no 5, 2018, pp. 576-592. 

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist rhetorical practices: New horizons for rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies. SIU Press, 2012. 

Skinnell, Ryan. “Teaching Writing in the (New) Era of Fake News.” College Composition and Communication vol. 72, no. 4, 2021, pp. 546-569. 

Stenberg, Shari J. Repurposing composition: Feminist Interventions for a Neoliberal Age. University Press of Colorado, 2015. 

Developing a Feminist Mentorship Praxis for Digital Aggression Research

A researcher interested in the anonymous imageboard 4chan faces mental duress–loss of sleep, relationship difficulties, dejection–after spending time in a community that sees them as “subhuman” (Sparby 46). 


A PhD candidate, working on her dissertation studying women’s experiences of online harassment, experiences a flood of threats and aggression via email and Twitter while trying to recruit participants (Gelms, “Social Media”). 


A scholar seeking to understand the GamerGate[1] debacle finds herself reading through racist, sexist, ableist chat logs that feel “dehumanizing,” as they target many of the identities she herself inhabits (Kelley and Weaver 7).[2]

These are real experiences recounted by writing studies researchers studying digital aggression. Notably, at the time of these incidents, all were also women-identified and early-career. Digital aggression, which we define as a broad range of behaviors ranging from insults to sexual harassment to threats of violence, usually meant to silence and/or intimidate its targets, has become an increasingly critical issue for internet users, and researchers have accordingly worked to understand why digital aggression happens and how we might curtail it. Yet these researchers–particularly those with (multiply) marginalized identities– often find themselves the target of the very harassment they are studying. How, then, might we support researchers as they undertake this crucial, and sometimes dangerous, work?  

We have faced this question, together and separately, as digital aggression researchers. Leigh has been researching digital aggression since she began writing her dissertation in 2014. Since then, she’s explored how toxic digital publics can undermine public writing pedagogies as well as feminist research methodologies (Gruwell, “Writing”; Gruwell, “Feminist Research”). She’s also experienced harassment as a researcher (Gruwell, “Feminist Research”). Cam is just starting out as a researcher of digital aggression after feeling drawn into this important research from the mass amounts of hate they witnessed others face online during the pandemic and growing up with social media. After taking Leigh’s research methods class, they felt inspired to join the network of researchers like Leigh who are doing this work but didn’t know where to begin or the dangers involved. As Cam began their research, we both began to wonder how to ensure a safe and productive research environment. Mentorship, we realized, was a crucial tool in this process.  

In this article, we argue that the unique safety concerns and affective dimensions of digital aggression research necessitate innovative approaches to mentorship. Feminist mentorship practices specifically can provide a valuable framework for supporting digital aggression research. Because it values collaboration (Gaillet and Eble; Godbee and Novotny; VanHaitsma and Ceraso), seeks to undermine power inequities (Fishman and Lunsford; Kynard), and centers around an ethic of care (Ribero and Arellano; Sparby), we argue that feminist mentorship can be a powerful mechanism to help digital aggression researchers navigate a particularly challenging research environment. 

We will begin by defining digital aggression as a threat not only to internet users, but also to digital researchers. Although there are risks to doing this research, we insist that this work is necessary to work towards safer and more equitable online spaces for everyone. We will then argue that feminist mentorship can function as a resource to help sustain and support digital researchers. Drawing on our own mentorship relationship as more experienced (Leigh) and more novice (Cam) digital aggression researchers, we will provide considerations for both mentors and mentees and address the specific difficulties that digital aggression research poses to mentorship. We’ll conclude by suggesting that feminist mentorship practices in digital aggression research might offer the discipline an opportunity to reimagine research ethics altogether. 

Digital Aggression and the Threat to Researchers  

Digital aggression can be hard to define, and covers a range of behaviors from name calling, doxing[3], sexual harassment, and physical threats (Jane; Mantilla; Vogels). While 41% of American internet users have experienced some form of online harassment, according to a 2021 Pew report, the risks of digital aggression are especially amplified for women, people of color, queer people, and people with disabilities. These vulnerable users experience digital aggression more frequently and experience its most severe and violent forms (Gardiner et al; Lenhart et al; Vogels).  

These behaviors result in real harms: targets of digital aggression report experiencing sometimes intense feelings of emotional distress and danger (Lenhart et al; Vogels). Because it can happen in any online space from comment sections to social media to professional listservs, digital aggression also undermines efforts to build more equitable, inclusive digital publics. Digital aggression often elicits silencing and exclusion, as its targets self-censor and remove themselves from unsafe platforms (Cole; Gelms, “Volatile Visibility”; Lenhart et al). Users who are most likely to experience digital aggression–women, people of color, queer people–may simply choose to not participate in these spaces. The result, then, is that digital aggression often serves as a tool to enforce patriarchal, racist, and other exclusionary visions of the internet. 

No digital aggression researcher is immune from these threats, as the opening vignettes illustrate. Importantly, however, researchers’ identities matter when it comes to researching and experiencing digital aggression: because we know women, queer folks, people of color, and other marginalized populations experience digital aggression more often and more severely, researchers with these identities face additional risk. As a result, note Brit Kelley and Stephanie Weaver, “some research methods and practices will not be available for some researchers with regards to some researched groups, and in some cases, the researcher may be accruing personal risk in coming forward with their research” (6). Indeed these risks are present at every stage of the research process: as researchers’ experiences show (Gelms, “Social Media”; Vera-Gray), recruiting participants can invite harassment and threats. Analyzing or coding racist, sexist, and other offensive texts can also result in mental distress (Kelley and Weaver; Sparby). Researchers of digital aggression must also carefully consider where and how to publish and publicize their work. While researchers often hope their work will reach a wide audience, for researchers of digital aggression, this can lead to additional risk, as hostile readers may be able to locate their published work, which often includes institutional affiliation as well as email and mailing addresses and sometimes even social media handles (Gruwell, “Feminist Research”; Sparby).  

But why do this work if there are so many dangers in doing so? Despite its risks, we feel that digital aggression research is necessary to build online spaces that are safer for everyone, especially those with marginalized identities. This kind of research doesn’t just “call out” particular individuals on their bad behavior, it also identifies patterns of hate and aggression and the structures that support it. Abuse of any kind can lead to silencing of victims, and we as digital aggression researchers want victims to have a voice in both our research and in their own online spaces. Bridget Gelms (“Volatile Visibility”) discusses the importance of detailing the stories of victims of online harassment, writing: “ …when we…sanitize the experiences of the abused, we create a functional cloaking mechanism, keeping the realities of what women experience online out of sight” (182). By sharing the stories of those who have been harassed and abused, we let others know they aren’t alone and use real life experiences to inform our active choices about designing the kind of digital world we want to exist in. Even though we can’t control what happens online, we can help shift and scaffold the digital environment we would like to exist in. In order to do so, we need to report and take note of abuse online when we see it and carefully research the patterns, beliefs, and designs that drive digital aggression.  

Feminist Mentorship 

The obstacles presented by digital aggression create an especially challenging research environment for novice scholars and may ultimately dissuade them from undertaking this important work. Researchers are beginning to recognize the risks that researchers and participants alike may face, and have started to generate valuable methodological approaches that are attentive to digital aggression (franzke et al.; Gelms “Social Media”; Gruwell “Feminist Research”; Sparby). Yet these difficulties are still in many ways unique and unfamiliar to those outside this research area, necessitating more systemic support structures beyond individual methodological considerations. Feminist mentorship practices, we suggest, can ensure the sustainability of digital aggression research specifically because they so often center practices that can successfully combat digital aggression, including collaboration, awareness of power inequities, and an ethic of care.  

Writing studies has a robust tradition of feminist mentorship, even if we have seen little explicit evidence that it is being used to guide the work of digital aggression research. This scholarship has found that mentorship is especially critical in ensuring the success and safety of marginalized scholars (Ballif, Davis, and Mountford; Okawa; Ore, Wiser, and Cedillo; Ribero and Arellano). Mentorship, in other words, is perhaps most beneficial to those scholars most likely to be impacted by digital aggression. Indeed, this scholarship suggests that mentorship of women, BIPOC, queer folks, and others traditionally excluded from academia can work to transform the patriarchal, white supremacist foundations of the academy entirely. Instead of “shaping the scholar to the white dominant academy,” these approaches recognize the necessity of “transforming the institution into a space that values minoritized ways of knowing and being in the world” (Ribero and Arellano 337). Digital aggression researchers–most especially those who are minoritized in some way–face a particular challenge: academic and digital spaces are often hostile to their presence, yet their presence is necessary to ensure diverse and equitable spaces. Feminist mentorship can help alleviate this tension, creating not just much-needed support systems for digital aggression researchers but working to undermine the structures of exclusion that render them necessary in the first place.  

Traditionally, academic mentorship has centered around a hierarchical master-apprentice paradigm. Feminist mentorship, in contrast, seeks to undermine this authoritative model by encouraging more collaborative approaches (Gaillet and Eble; Fishman and Lunsford; and Ryan). Several researchers argue for the importance of seeking mentorship from peers, such as Pamela VanHaitsma and Steph Ceraso’s “horizontal mentorship” or Ana Milena Ribero and Sonia C. Arellano’s “comadrismo.” Beth Godbee and Julia C. Novotny describe the collaborative spirit that drives feminist mentorship as one that “privileges relational aspects [and emphasizes] mutuality” (179). These approaches are particularly well-suited for supporting digital aggression researchers, as scholars have emphasized the need for “[digital aggression] researchers to create community and belonging with others” (Sparby 54). Feminist mentorship seeks to develop mutually beneficial partnerships, working to create the “community and belonging” Derek Sparby argues is necessary to sustain digital aggression researchers.  

This emphasis on collaboration is not a naive one, however; it is rooted in an acute and constant awareness of power inequities. While many feminist mentorship relationships may emerge between peers (Morris, Rule, and LaVecchia; VanHaitsma and Ceraso), mentorship between differently situated scholars–such as a more experienced and more novice scholar–still presents important learning opportunities for all involved. Given the power inequities that mark many mentorship relationships (even among peers in an academic hierarchy), feminist mentorship seeks to explore these differences as important opportunities to learn from one another and identify shared values and beliefs (Madden and Tarabochia; Okawa). As Kathryn Gindlesparger and Holly Ryan note, “dialogues about conflict and tension in feminist mentoring relationships” can serve as “productive sites of transformation rather than ones of shame or guilt” (67).  Because digital aggression researchers often find themselves researching spaces or communities that are hostile to them (Gelms “Social Media”; Gruwell, “Feminist Research”), feminist mentorship’s constant interrogation and negotiation of power can equip researchers with the necessary analytic tools to construct ethical and responsible relationships with those they study while also remaining vigilant to potential risks. 

It is this attention to both power and collaboration that gives feminist mentorship its keen interest in care. Feminist theorists have long advocated a politics centered on an ethic of care, which sees political transformation and justice as an interpersonal project (Gilligan; Noddings). Care is a means of achieving solidarity under what bell hooks calls the “white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure” (18). In feminist mentorship, then, this ethic of care demands “support for both the personal and the professional” (Gindlesparger and Ryan 62), even as such support can entail significant (often institutionally unrecognized or supported) emotional labor (Madden and Tarabochia; Ore, Weiser, and Cedillo). Care is perhaps especially crucial for digital aggression researchers, given the risks this work presents to both their professional and personal lives. To counter these effects, Sparby presents a “feminist ethic of self-care,”4 which offers several important strategies to protect physical safety and emotional wellbeing. We suggest, however, that feminist mentorship can also cultivate the ethic of care necessary to safeguard digital aggression researchers.  

Feminist Mentorship in Practice: Supporting Digital Aggression Research 

Feminist mentorship practices, we have shown, are particularly well-suited to support the messy, often dangerous work of digital aggression research. But what might this look like in practice?  What, for example, should mentors know about how best to preserve the physical and emotional welfare of mentees? What kind of support might mentees request from their advisors, and how might they ask for it? What is the role of institutions in supporting these kinds of mentorship structures? How can mentors and mentees best attune themselves to the inequities that fuel digital aggression? Mentorship relationships emerge from the experiences and identities of each individual; each mentorship configuration is therefore unique and specific. Here, we present heuristic guidelines for digital aggression research rooted in our own experiences not because we believe these considerations to be universal or definitive, but in hopes they can serve as a model to support others who want to do this work within their own mentoring relationships. 


While I had grown up on social media and been witnessing digital aggression myself since I was a pre-teen, I was wildly unsure of where to start my research once the opportunity was presented to me. I had no idea that research like this existed, and I was constantly doubting my abilities and methods as a novice researcher. I was also concerned, as I was somewhat aware of the dangers of this research, but unsure of the realities of the situation.  While I was often thinking about the safety of the users of the various sites I was studying (Twitter, Instagram, and LMSs/other educational platforms), and was often thinking about ways to keep future participants safe, I was hardly factoring myself into the safety equation. 

Once I began fielding my questions to Leigh and seeking out her advice, and unknowingly to me, beginning a mentoring relationship that aligns with the history of feminist researchers in our field, I began to realize how precarious doing this research really was. As we continued to work together throughout my Master’s program, we both began to see a somewhat untrodden path in terms of mentorship for digital aggression researchers. The experiences that I had with Leigh have informed my guidelines that follow.  

  • Be realistic about the potential dangers (physical, mental, and emotional) of digital aggression work. The first thing that Leigh met me with in our mentoring relationship was honesty. Before I even began the work on turning an in-class proposal related to digital aggression on Twitter into a workable research study, she asked me to attend a CFSHRC panel in which she and other digital aggression researchers detailed their experiences doing this work. The panelists, including Leigh, Bridget Gelms, Vyshali Manivannan, and Derek Sparby, spoke to the negative and unsafe aspects that might come with doing this work, including being harassed, stalked, and mocked online for researching, calling out, and analyzing the abusive behavior of others online.  The dangers that one faces in doing this work are embodied in a physical, mental, and emotional sense. As Sparby notes, this kind of work requires researchers to think ahead, several steps ahead, at all times, in order to avoid harassment or abuse for our work, which still might not prevent abuse from happening.  
  • Emphasize the safety of the researcher before they begin drafting their research methods/projects. A researcher’s methods of data collection will greatly impact how the researcher should approach their safety methods, as Leigh advised me when I began my project. As I was attempting to solicit participants through my own, personal social media accounts, Leigh advised me to lock down and delete any private information about myself that might give away anything relating to my location or other highly sensitive information and privatize accounts that I wasn’t attempting to solicit participants through. Safety doesn’t just relate to data, however. As Sparby writes (54), digital aggression researchers need to keep in mind their own mental health and take breaks, if possible, when researching content that is mentally and emotionally taxing. Of course, not all researchers will have the privilege to fully retreat (for example, those whose identities make them a constant target for digital aggression or those who have little agency within productivity-centered institutional timelines), but creating boundaries around this kind of research is essential to ensure both physical and mental well-being.  
  • Real-life examples are the most helpful in priming researchers for what to expect. The panel that Leigh had me attend gave painfully realistic expectations of what can happen when one researches harmful online practices. Reading articles and keeping up to date on research in this growing subfield, it is easy to see that most doing digital aggression research take this work very personally and very seriously, often detailing their personal experiences and the effect of their positionalities on the research they do. The examples of this work (mostly done by marginalized people) have greatly impacted me and given me valuable lessons that I will move forward with when doing this work. While qualitative or narrative evidence is not always as respected in our field as quantitative evidence, to me, the stories of the researchers that came before me are extremely helpful and impact the steps I am taking into doing my own research.  
  • Mentees cannot be adequately mentored through one-size-fits-all methods. As every mentor and mentee are different, it is safe to say that all mentorship relationships are personal and specific. Other kinds of mentees who differ from me might have different concerns. As a white, queer person, I understand that I hold a place of privilege as well as precarity online. Other mentees, particularly those who are women of color or queer people of color, might have different needs due to the rates at which people of color are more readily harassed in online spaces.   


Despite my experiences with digital aggression–both as a researcher and a target– I felt unprepared to support Cam’s own research in this area. As Cam described their proposed project, I felt excited, because I knew how important this work would be in describing and curtailing harassment of queer women on Twitter. Yet, I also had concerns about Cam’s safety and wellbeing. Cam had taken a research methods class with me, which included significant attention to digital methodology, but little of this scholarship is attuned to the risks of digital aggression. As Cam began their project then, I found myself drawing on both my experiences of digital aggression as well as my knowledge of feminist mentorship practices to begin to define the values that drove our work together. The guidelines I’ve outlined here have grown out of our relationship 

  • Help researchers understand the risks at every stage, from data collection to publication and beyond. I was worried about how I could be honest and transparent about the challenges of this work without dampening a novice researcher’s excitement. I determined that being honest with Cam would enable them to best assess the potential risks they faced. I shared articles from digital aggression researchers about how to recruit participants safely and we discussed the future of the project. I asked Cam to consider how and where to share their work: do you want to publish in an Open Access space, or share your work on social media?  Indeed, some researchers of digital aggression have intentionally chosen to publish their work behind paywalls (Sparby 56), but even this measure doesn’t always protect researchers. While there are good reasons for choosing these kinds of options, they also carry additional risk. This transparency helped Cam make informed decisions about how to continue with their research. 
  • Point to protective practices and resources. As they began their work, I encouraged Cam to audit their digital identity to ensure it is as private and secure as necessary (Sparby 56-7). It was important for me to highlight the many community supports available to Cam, which is why I worked to introduce them to other digital aggression researchers and shared valuable resources for targets of digital aggression such as Crash Override and Speak Up and Stay Safe(r) in case Cam did encounter difficulties we could not address together. Finally, we discussed the possibility of seeking institutional resources as needed, such as a VPN for additional privacy or even alerting campus authorities and/or local police should any aggression escalate to credible threats (Sparby 60).  
  • Recognize how power inequities may shape your experience. I am a straight, cis white woman who has recently gained tenure at an R1 school: I know I possess a great deal of power (at least in the academy). I was quite aware of how unequally positioned Cam and I were, and I wondered how I could help them conceptualize and navigate potential risks while we inhabit different identity positions. I knew my experiences as a user and researcher of Twitter, for example, were very different from theirs. It was thus critical to acknowledge our differences and use them as a starting point for conversations about research plans. As our positionalities have changed over time, our relationship too has evolved, and this dynamic reflection helps us better understand each other and the different approaches we may take to digital aggression research. 
  • Build a flexible, rhetorical approach to research. While internet researchers have long argued for the value of a rhetorical approach to research (McKee and Porter), I knew, from both my own and others’ experiences, that digital aggression research often requires a flexibility beyond that of most research scenes. The unique circumstances of digital aggression research mean that methods may change (Gelms, “Social Media”), a researcher may need to step back for frequent breaks, or may need additional time to locate an appropriate publication venue (Sparby 55-6). While it is undoubtedly difficult to account for the messiness of digital aggression research, I still sought to help Cam develop a research plan that understood the kind of flexibility digital aggression demands and encouraged them to consider contingencies and anticipate possible delays. 

Our ongoing mentoring relationship has provided an important location for reflection on our ever-evolving scholarly identities. Cam feels that they have gained a stronger sense of self as a feminist researcher and are more aware of the importance of safety for all involved in the research process, including the researcher. Leigh, on the other hand, has more fully realized the transformative power of mentorship, which can foster new methodological approaches that work to create more inclusive digital spaces as well as diversify disciplinary knowledge-making practices. Together, we hope our experiences can prompt other researchers to explore the possibilities that mentorship presents for supporting not just digital aggression researchers but all researchers who navigate inequitable or hostile research scenes. 

Toward Sustainable Research Mentorship  

Many questions remain about digital aggression research, especially regarding mentorship structures and their relationship to research ethics. The reality is that such research introduces unprecedented challenges to mentorship practices broadly across our field. This work can actively harm researchers’ mental, emotional, or physical health and, as a result, mentorship centered around digital aggression research is precarious, forcing hard questions of individuals, the mentorship relationship, and the discipline as a whole. Digital aggression research, then, calls us to critically and carefully scrutinize the important, if often unexamined, ways that methodologies inform individual mentorship relationships and practices. We argue that feminist mentorship offers valuable principles to support digital aggression researchers, as its emphasis on collaboration, interrogation of power relationships, and interest in self-care helps researchers navigate digital research environments marked by exclusion, hostility, and danger. The guiding principles and suggestions we have offered here are meant to encourage other researchers to enter this increasingly important research area. 

Yet we hope our work here does not end with digital aggression researchers. While this work is in some respects uniquely dangerous, especially for marginalized researchers, we believe that nearly all meaningful research is risky in one way or another. We thus conclude by encouraging the field to reflect on its mentorship practices. Mentorship can not only alleviate the various difficulties and harms that individual researchers may face, but it can also reframe research ethics altogether, as it calls attention to how thoroughly questions of identity and power are woven into our research. Feminist mentorship is but one means to this end, and we remain optimistic about mentorship’s potential to support the kind of transformative research that will build not just a more equitable internet, but a more equitable world. 

Works Cited

Ballif, Michelle, D. Diane Davis, and Roxanne Mountford. Women’s Ways of Making it in Rhetoric and Composition. Routledge, 2010. 

Cole, Kirsti K. ““It’s Like She’s Eager to be Verbally Abused”: Twitter, Trolls, and (En) Gendering Disciplinary Rhetoric.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 15, no. 2, 2015, pp. 356-358. 

Fishman, Jenn, and Andrea Lunsford. “Educating Jane.” Stories of Mentoring: Theory and Praxis, edited by Michelle F. Eble and Lynée Lewis Gaillet, Parlor Press, 2008, pp. 18-32. 

franzke, aline shakti, Bechmann, Anja, Zimmer, Michael, Ess, Charles and the Association of Internet Researchers.“Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0.” 2020, https://aoir.org/reports/ethics3.pdf. 

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis, and Michelle Eble. “Re-inscribing Mentoring.” Retellings: Opportunities for Feminist Research in Rhetoric and Composition Studies, edited by Jessica Enoch and Jordynn Jack, Parlor Press, 2019, pp. 283-303. 

Gardiner, Becky, et al. “The Dark Side of Guardian Comments.” The Guardian, 12 Apr. 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/12/the-dark-side-of-guardian-comments 

Gelms, Bridget. “Social Media Research and the Methodological Problem of Harassment: Foregrounding Researcher Safety.” Computers and Composition, vol. 59, 2021. 

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 End Notes

[1] Gamergate, which erupted in the late summer and early fall of 2014, began with an allegation of unethical video game reporting: a female game designer was (falsely) accused by an ex of sleeping with a gaming journalist in exchange for publicity for her new game. These charges quickly morphed into an all-out attack on prominent female game developers and critics, who faced violent threats and public exposure of their home addresses (also known as doxing).

[2]We offer our thanks to these researchers, who provided permission to describe their experiences here. 

[3] Doxing” is when a user (or users) make others’ personal information (such as home address, employer, phone number, etc.) public, usually with the intent to frighten or threaten the target.