Amateur detectives have been trying to solve crimes through the Internet since its popular inception. But over the last few weeks, a few documentaries have been released that highlight the role of so-called “internet sleuths” and how their online conversations and clue-searching have material, offline implications.

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Netflix’s The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel and FX and Hulu’s Framing Britney Spears focus on the complicated personal issues and tragic circumstances of two very different women, but they both have one thing in common — how Internet sleuths latch onto the stories, dissect every publicly available piece of information, and even, at…


Today, Twitter unveiled its latest attempt at curtailing misinformation and disinformation. The pithily named Birdwatch program is a forum in which users will discuss and provide context for claims they believe are false or misleading. While initially separate from Twitter, the company hopes to ultimately include notes on Tweets themselves, based on the pilot program work of 1,000 US users. …


1/6 and Popular Culture: Some Reflections

I was eleven on 9/11/2001. It was a beautiful Tuesday morning, and my mom put me on the school bus like she did every morning. But it was on that bus, sitting right behind the driver and her radio, that I heard my first inkling something had gone terribly wrong. I can’t remember what made me start paying attention to the driver’s radio, but the distinct phrases I’ll always remember was, “Everyone is running around. People are trying to get out. It’s like a scene from a movie.” …


In case you’ve been living under a rock, Joe Biden is the President-elect of the United States, and people on the Internet ~have feelings~ about pets (specifically, dogs) being back in the White House come January 20. President-elect and incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden have two German Shepherd dogs, Champ and Major, and while Champ has spent time in DC before, Major was adopted by the Bidens from the Delaware Humane Society in 2018, which will make him the first rescued and adopted dog to live in the White House.

The Internet immediately took to Champ and Major, as…


Last week, Twitter made a temporary change that added an extra step to the retweeting option. Now, when clicking RT, users would be automatically taken to what was the former “Quote Retweet” option, which prompts the user to add their own comments in addition to the retweet. There was a workaround, however, and users could simply click “send” without adding their own commentary, and the post would function like a normal retweet. This decision was presumably made by the social media platform ahead of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, as the site said the change would last through Election Week.

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Recently, India banned 59 smartphone applications created by Chinese developers over security concerns. One of those 59 apps was TikTok, which has over 800 million active users worldwide, with 467 million downloads in India alone — meaning one-third of the video-sharing app’s downloads and users had once come from India. One week later, United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the U.S. was also considering banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps, noting concerns on compromised user data. How did the app of Old Town Road, e-girls, and viral dances become the latest nexus of cybersecurity and geopolitical…


Last week, The Daily Beast reported Pizzagate, something we thought was relatively behind us, was alive and well on the video-sharing social networking platform TikTok. Pizzagate, or the baseless conspiracy theory that claimed Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and other Democratic party elites were operating a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington D.C. pizza establishment, massively circulated ahead of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The lie had disastrous consequences — in December 2016, a crazed gunman drove from North Carolina to the D.C. pizza establishment in question and opened fired into a closet with an assault rifle.

So why…


A digital media researcher explains why it’s so tempting to spread fake animal news

A mother and baby elephant walking through a forest.
A mother and baby elephant walking through a forest.
Photo: paweldotio/Unsplash

A lot has changed in the past few months as Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, ravages the globe. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and humans — and their social media habits — have remained pretty much what they were like before phrases like “flatten the curve,” “Zoom meeting,” and, in my line of work as a professor, “continuity of instruction” became part of our daily vernacular.

Last week, National Geographic published an article titled “Fake Animal News Abounds on Social Media as Coronavirus Upends Life.” The piece mentioned many stories that…


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Narwhal the unicorn puppy (source: @macthepitbull on Instagram)

Last week, a unicorn puppy named Narwhal went viral on the internet. This week, the rescue organization taking care of him issued a statement on their Instagram: they were the real rescue organization, and fake organization Instagram accounts had cropped up and were using their photos to gain followers and/or donations. Also this week, the Pete Buttigieg presidential campaign used a stock photo of a Kenyan woman to promote the presidential hopeful’s plan for black Americans, all while passing the woman off as an American citizen. These are just two examples, but they are the latest iterations of online image…

Jessica Maddox

Professor of digital media studies and technology. Into all things internet and dogs.

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