Ill-Conceived Notions

An experiment in digital humanities

Surveys of many online communities are currently impractical and would be unlikely to achieve the authentic responses that are already observable on public platforms (Squirrell, 2018a; Miller, 2015). Online discourse is distinct from the pre-digital, and the same tools and methods of traditional ethnography cannot and should not be used, as they cannot capture “deeply entrenched and networked” landscapes that now exist (Farrell et al., 2019). The social cues that are removed by naturally occurring online engagement, such as adding content independently and a comfort that there are few consequences to one’s words (Suler, 2004), will be removed with the addition of an authority one knows is reading and assessing. For this reason, combinations of data mining and observational discursive analyses are optimal routes, and certainly the most popular. For example, Farrell et al. (2019) mined 6 million posts from subreddits the authors had identified as relevant to the interests of men’s rights activists. In contrast, Beers Fägersten (2017) selected only 3 videos from the thousands in PewDiePie’s repertoire to perform a discourse analysis on his swear word usage.

A researcher must make decisions to achieve a robust and representative sample, especially in studies of online media where there is a virtually infinite supply of data (Miller, 2015). In this spirit, the top videos of some of the most popular channels who self-identify with either right– or left-wing ideologies were selected, based on my own immersion and experience in these communities over the past year and a half. Deliberately “thinking hypermedia” at a time when Web 2.0 was in its infancy, Dicks et al. (2005) realised that others would not be familiar with some technologies, so their first step was in delineating the requirements of users to engage with their content. Likewise, now requirements of the audience must be delineated for researchers to communicate their work to benefit the masses who are showing a desire to engage. My goal is to make my findings accessible to average readers who are as concerned as I am with the state the political corner of YouTube we have found ourselves in. I will be using hypertext and reflective writing that describes my reasoning and motivations, and using what I find to be the most appropriate methodological approach to purely foundational research.

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