Digital rhetoric

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A student using an online learning tool at her desk at home.

Digital rhetoric is a way of informing, persuading, and inspiring action in an audience through digital media that is composed, created, and distributed through multimedia platforms. Due to the digitally mediated nature of our contemporary society, there are no longer clear distinctions between digital and non-digital environments. This has led to an expansion of the scope of digital rhetoric as there is a need to account for the fluidity with which humans interact with technology.[1] Contrary to past conceptions, the definition of rhetoric can no longer be confined to simply the sending and receiving of messages to persuade or impart knowledge. Today, rhetoric encompasses all forms of discourse that serve any given purpose within specific contexts, while simultaneously being shaped by those contexts.[2] Because of these shifts in rhetoric and digital rhetoric, the relationship between writers and readers has changed immensely, and so have the societal implications of these digital interactions as a result; when people are threatened and there is violence online, it often moves offline in the same manner as well.

Existent scholarship in the field suggests that rhetoric and digital rhetoric hold various meanings according to different scholars.[3] Based on the individual values a scholar holds, digital rhetoric can be analyzed through many lenses that reflect different social movements. Technology has now been incorporated into every aspect of our daily lives that we can't even wake up without immediately reaching for our phones, which indicates the importance of fulling understanding the power digital rhetoric holds. Approaching this area of study through different social issues allows the reach of digital rhetoric to expand far beyond the individualistic encounters one has with technology.



The term digital rhetoric was coined by rhetorician Richard A. Lanham in his 1993 essay collection, The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts.[4] In 2009, rhetorician Elizabeth Losh[5] offered this four-part definition of digital rhetoric in her book, Virtualpolitik:[6]

  1. The conventions of new digital genres that are used for everyday discourse, as well as for special occasions, in average people's lives.
  2. Public rhetoric, often in the form of political messages from government institutions, that is represented or recorded through digital technology and disseminated via electronically distributed networks.
  3. The emerging scholarly discipline concerned with the rhetorical interpretation of computer-generated media as objects of study.
  4. Mathematical theories of communication from the field of information science, many of which attempt to quantify the amount of uncertainty in a given linguistic exchange or the likely paths through which messages travel."[7]

Losh's definition demonstrates that digital rhetoric is a heterodoxical field, one that relies on different methods to study various permutations of information: as code, as text, as visuals, as videos, and so on.[5]

Drawing influence from Lanham and Losh, Douglas Eyman offered his own definition of digital rhetoric in his 2015 book Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice: “... the application of rhetorical theory (as analytic method or heuristic for production) to digital texts and performances”.[8]:44 Eyman's definition demonstrates that digital rhetoric can be applied in two ways: 1) as an analytic method for digital texts, and 2) as a heuristic for production offering rhetorical questions that a composer can use to create digital texts.[citation needed][8]

Eyman categorizes the emerging field of digital rhetoric as interdisciplinary in nature, enriched by related fields such as, but not limited to: digital literacy, visual rhetoric, new media, human-computer interaction and critical code studies.[8]

Some scholars interpret this concept with greater focus on the digital aspect. Casey Boyle, James Brown Jr., and Steph Ceraso claim that "the digital" is no longer just one of the many different tools that can be used to enhance traditional rhetoric, but an "ambient condition" that encompasses our everyday lives. In other words, as technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, the lines between traditional and digital rhetoric will start to blur. In addition, Boyle et al. emphasize the idea that both technology and rhetoric can influence and transform each other.[9]

Scope of influence[edit]

As the power of technology grows, so do the uses and scope of digital rhetoric. These uses take form through schools offering online classes and test-taking, online news sources including scholarly journals and online editions of newspapers, and people searching for information online rather than consulting a more traditional means such as an encyclopedia. Teachers can use podcasts, YouTube videos, and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to facilitate discussions and increase students' interest in a topic. In addition, they can make use of distance learning modules as a form of online teaching.

In academia, online journals allow for information to be more accessible due to the use of digital rhetoric. Writers also have more opportunities to write in various formats instead of a traditional linear format.

Social Media[edit]

A woman catches up on the news while scrolling through Social media.

People come into contact with digital rhetoric by updating a Facebook status or by crafting a 280-character tweet. Similarly, people encounter visual rhetoric on platforms like Instagram or Pinterest. Different modes of social media allow people to connect through digital rhetoric across the globe. This connection through different modes allows one's rhetoric to influence and alter other peoples' viewpoints on subjects, subsequently impacting the ideology of collective identity vs. individual identity.[10]


Digital rhetoric is highly implemented in classrooms; a significant proportion of school administrations and instructors use laptops, computers, tablets, smart boards, online books, and more to aid their instruction. In universities, courses on digital rhetoric are taught at the graduate and undergraduate level as courses in English, Communication, and Media Studies departments. Courses in digital rhetoric study the interactions between users and digital texts, as well as how different backgrounds such as age, ethnicity, gender and more can affect these interactions.[11] By studying digital rhetoric in this way, students are able to better understand the uses and purpose of digital rhetoric in the modern world.

Some scholars actively support the inclusion of digital rhetoric in the classroom. Jeff Grabill,[12] a scholar with a background in English, education, and technology, encourages his contemporaries to find a bridge between the scholarly field of digital rhetoric and its implementation. Cheryl Ball[13] specializes in areas that consist of multimodal composition and editing practices, digital media scholarship, digital publishing, and university writing pedagogy. Ball teaches people to write and compose multimodal texts by analyzing rhetorical options and choosing the most appropriate genres, technologies, media, and modes for a particular situation. During her own education, Ball made significant advances in the digital rhetoric field by completing her school's first electronic and interactive thesis. She also received tenure at another university using the first all-digital tenure portfolio. In another approach, Douglas Eyman recommends a course in web authoring and design that provides undergraduates more practical instruction in the production and rhetorical understanding of digital texts. Moreover, he explains that web authoring and design for digital rhetoric instruction provides opportunities for students to learn fundamentals of web writing and design conventions, rules and procedures.[14] Attention to multimodality has also influenced Understanding Rhetoric: A Graphic Guide to Writing by Elizabeth Losh et al., which emphasized engaging the comic form of literacy.[15]

Digital rhetoric pedagogy has been further developed in tertiary education due to support at the university level. This allows for students to create and edit projects simultaneously through the internet. Collaboration is seen as one of the biggest advantages to digital rhetoric, as it gives students and teachers the ability to participate and critique anywhere anytime. Through education in various forms of technology, students are exposed to a more multimodal world, and teachers foster a more well-rounded learning environment. Through digital writing, students have a broader choice of composing to fit their needs. Students can display their work anywhere, which reflects the accessibility of social media that students are used to in their everyday lives.

Professionals in the Workplace[edit]

The increased variety and availability of technology has allowed for digital rhetoric to be utilized by professionals in the workplace. Anyone with access to digital platforms, from large companies as a whole to individual employers, political leaders, activists, and even professional athletes and entertainers, can make use of digital rhetoric to communicate their influence and opinions to others. Online news sources now have the ability to assert their influence through much more accessible online platforms, allowing the news to be spread to a larger variety of audiences at a global level.

Companies can take advantage of digital media to further their influence on potential consumers through their commercial branding and advertisements linked throughout the internet. Beyond reaching consumers, companies have also been given the means to advertise job availability. Additionally, as businesses create and influence e-commerce websites, they set new levels for competition as they are able to expand electronic communication with consumers and colleagues.


The increase in digitalization of media has amplified the importance of digital rhetoric in politics as it has introduced a new relationship between politicians and the citizenry. Digital communication platforms and social networking sites (SNS) are means of allowing citizens to share information and engage in debate with other people of similar or distinct political ideologies. The topics and ideas communicated through digital rhetoric have been shown to influence and predict the political behavior of individuals outside the digital world.[16] Politicians have been known to use digital rhetoric as a tool to communicate information to the citizens. Reciprocally, digital rhetoric has enabled increasing political participation among citizens. In 2008, the first wide scale political campaign through Twitter was utilized by presidential then-candidate Barack Obama. The campaign's success can be measured through the over half a billion dollars it raised through the internet. This use of social media has become a large asset for political candidates and is currently utilized by many. Accordingly, the 2016 United States elections brought social media to the forefront, and all presidential candidates utilized different forms of persuasion in their 140 character tweets. During the election cycle, candidates would post 5-7 times and would tweet 11-12 times a day.[17]

Theoretical research on digital rhetoric in politics has attributed the increase of political participation to three models: the motivation model, the learning model, and the attitude model.

  • The motivation model proposes that digital rhetoric has decreased the opportunity costs of participating in politics since it makes information readily available to the people.
  • The learning model established the increase in political participation to the vast amount of political information available on the internet which increases the inclusion of the citizens in the political process.
  • The attitude model extended from the previous two by suggesting that digital rhetoric has changed the perception of citizens towards politics, particularly by providing interactive tools that allow people to engage in the political process.[18]
President Barack Obama's Facebook post on Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The text was later reposted to Twitter.

Social media incorporates numerous characteristics of interactions between people in the public sphere. Social media is not characterized as an ideal public sphere because it fails to provide equitable access to information and participation for women and minority groups.[19] Nevertheless, social media has been shown useful for the propagation of digital rhetoric for political campaigns as shown in Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns in which digital rhetoric made its first successful appearance at a U.S presidential election — which marked a guideline for future elections.[20] The presence of digital media companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter has been well established in the promotion of digital rhetoric for political purposes. These firms have influenced the political process by providing strategic information about people demographics, behaviors, attitudes, and interests, all of which have increased the efficiency of political discourse — especially for political campaigns. In 2013, Twitter released a manual targeted towards politicians that outlined the main features of their platform and how they can be used to increase political communications. In 2018, Facebook devoted $62,500 dollars to create a space for politicians to learn ways in which they can use digital rhetoric in Facebook to increase the impact of their campaigns.[21] Steir conducted a study to analyze the different types of rhetoric that took place in social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter; during the 2013 election campaign for the German Bundestag, he found that the types of information that politicians share on both platforms varied — Facebook was found to be the preferred medium for campaign rhetoric, while Twitter was mostly utilized for rhetoric regarding political debates, infrastructure discussions, and law and order.[22]

Digital media has increased its domination of the political sphere, especially with social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have become a significant part of the political engagement process with regard to elections, campaigns, or elected officials trying to connect with their constituencies. Social media globalizes communication - especially that of political nature - fostering discussions and connecting communities as it reaches a significant number of people.[23] Amidst all of these outlets, Twitter is the form of social media that's primarily used by candidates running for public office, elected officials, and government agencies.[23]

Members of the United States Congress use Twitter and other forms of social media to connect with their constituencies. Members use social media to convey their stances on important issues and bills they have sponsored or have positions on. They use it to post about events they are hosting and the work they do in Congress. This includes meetings with constituents in Washington and back in their districts. According to former Representative George Miller, Twitter is a mechanism for him to answer questions from people in his district.[24] Conversely, Representative John Culberson said he uses Twitter to assist people in engaging themselves in their government.[24] Many of these sites provide features for people to connect with their elected officials. For example, on Facebook the "Town Hall" feature connects users with their federal and state officials. According to PEW Research center 20% of people who use social media have taken advantage of the fact that they can connect very easily with their officials by a simple “like” or “follow.”[25]

For candidates, social media brings publicity and enables them to communicate effectively to the voters[24], providing them with a platform to highlight their ideas and curate what they would like voters to see.[17] According to the PEW research center, 35% of users of social media have taken advantage of sites like Facebook in getting out to vote, making it a valuable tool for candidates.[26] In the 2012 reelection campaign for incumbent U.S. President Barack Obama, the campaign used over 15 different methods of social media to reach out to a broader audience.[17] As the prominence of social media has increased, candidates have found it increasingly appealing to take advantage of the political benefits of its platforms. In Romania, during the elections for Mayor in a town called Bacau only 3/10 candidates used Facebook in 2012. In 2016, all of the candidates engaged in the use of social media and Facebook.[24]

Social media also provides candidates with insight into predicting the outcome of votes, which are more accurate than normal polling methods.[26] Social media is a tool for campaigns as it provides an analysis as to the political climate, as well as the levels of engagement.[26]

For potential voters, social media is a way to get information. According to the PEW research center, 44% of the voting population surveyed used social media as a way to get information about the 2016 United States presidential election.[27] This was significantly more than print newspapers at the local and national level. Furthermore, 24% of those surveyed claimed that they directly got information about the election at the national level from the two candidates; Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton.[27]

Technological advancement has been significantly influential in the emergence and subsequent reliability of digital rhetoric in communication. Given the affordability of electronic gadgets, such as smartphones, tablets and computers, digital rhetoric has particularly thrived globally. The 2016 U.S. election and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom are some of the notable instances of the influence of digital rhetoric in the political front.


Image depicting prose with Hypertext.

Rhetoric to digital rhetoric[edit]

Rhetoric is defined as the art of discourse and is the root of digital rhetoric. Just as technology and its availability have changed over time, digital rhetoric has shifted from being only concerned with persuasion to also being concerned with self expression and collaboration with the purpose of building communities of people with shared interest.[28] While the five canons of rhetoric[29] developed for oratory print still apply, they are reconfigured to work in new contextual forms like the database, the hypertext, the cybertext, and other born-digital texts that restructure the current rhetorical situation. Invention,[30] arrangement,[31] and style[32] take on new meanings while delivery[33] is elevated to new importance, and memory comes to refer to textual forms like search engines,[34] archives,[35] and tags.[36] Although the rhetorical canon of delivery once referred to the oral/aural and bodily aspects of delivery, in the age of digital rhetoric, it refers to "Internet-based communication" and the mediums that are used.[33] While the study of digital rhetoric is not specific to any one technology or era of technology, ideas in digital rhetoric have evolved alongside new technologies such as smartphones, new and easy to use composing platforms like Storify, Pixorial and WeVideo, and techniques such as Ajax. One way of studying digital rhetoric is to trace the ways that the affordances and constraints of technology "support and enable the transformation of the old rhetoric of persuasion into a new digital rhetoric that encourages self-expression, participation, and creative collaboration".[37] More recently, digital rhetoricians have transduced the information through the digital that we regularly interact with and ultimately form our consciousness, knowledge, and habits of mind.[38]

Shift from print to digital[edit]

Dennis Baron states, "The first writing technology was writing itself." While previous writing technologies involved pencils and hieroglyphics, the evolution of communication technology now allows for online and immediate rhetorical conversations, and it also varies by culture.[39] Angela Haas discusses the technology and communicative methods of Native Americans extensively in her work. She denounces Western discovery claims to hypertexts and multimedia, and describes how Native Americans used wampum belts as hypertext technologies.[40] The origins of modern computing can be found in the techno-military context of World War II.[41] Just as the pencil was originally intended as a marking utensil for builders and is now used for writing, the computer was originally intended to compute advanced math problems, but is now used for word-processing and a myriad of other tasks. Technology continues to modify itself to meet the needs of people; in the case of digital rhetoric, technology has become more prevalent to match people's usage of the Internet and computers, which creates a technoculture. Another scholar who highlights the changing landscape from print to digital is Jay Bolter. He argues that the computer is the most significant development since the start of the alphabetic/print tradition and that digital texts will continue to move print to the "margins of literate culture."[42] However, while computers may be one of the most prominent means of producing digital rhetoric, Sean Morey notes that many other devices, including smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, electronic pens, graphic design programs, presentation software, and more can be utilized for the same purpose.[43] Digital rhetoric has moved beyond interactions with computer screens and has seamlessly been integrated into everything we do to the extent that it has become a multi-sensory. It informs knowledge beyond what can be visually seen on a computer screen, using other senses such as the oral and touch.[38]



Circulation theorizes the ways that texts and discourses move through time and space. Any kind of media can be circulated. Henry Jenkins "sticky vs. spreadable media" applies to circulation. A new form of communication is composed, created, and distributed through digital technologies. Explained by Henry Jenkins, there is a shift from distribution to circulation which signals a move toward an increasingly participatory model of culture in which people shape, share, re-frame and remix media content in ways not previously possible within the traditional rhetorical elements like print. The various concepts of circulation include:

  • Collaboration in digital rhetoric does not mean a co-authorship directly, even though this could be constituted as that as well, but collaboration looks more like an outlet that scholars can share their work and receive feedback as well. Instead of using solely the individual and their work, scholars use each other to spur on each other's ideas and build their concepts upon another. Collaboration takes on a much more broad meaning in terms of content on the internet. Not only does it offer the opportunity for scholars to collaborate with each other, but it also gives readers the chance to share their reactions with creators of content on the internet. In this way, digital rhetoric allows the audience to interact and work with creators of content. In Braun's book "Cultivating Ecologies for Digital Media Work: The case of English studies", she suggests a collaborative work by interdisciplinary scholars.[44] "This is scholarship", a digital article published in Kairos 12.3,[45] is an example of a collaborative multimedia text by Catherine Braun as a rhetorician and compositionist, and Kenneth Gilbert as an audio-technician. The shared authorship from this work is shown in the editorial process including writing, digital production, display, and design to produce a final piece of a scholarly article in the form of webtext.[44]
  • Crowdsourcing - Daren Brabham defines crowdsourcing as, "using an online, ... model to leverage the collective intelligence of online communities to serve specific organizational goals." As a concept within digital rhetoric, it is a utilization of modern technology to collaborate and create collectively. Companies and organizations use crowdsourcing to build creativity, by acquiring information other than what their immediate employees know. However, there are several concerns that come up when crowdsourcing tactics are used. Issues relating to intellectual property and copyright are some of the foremost problems when crowdsourced ideas are used for commercial problems. Because the business did not conceive the idea, terms of use must be clearly set while fielding responses. Ethical concerns have been raised as well when engaging in crowdsourcing without a clear set of compensation practices or protections in place to secure personal information.
  • Delivery - For the general scholar, the term delivery means the way in which a form of information is conveyed to a particular audience or group of people. These ideas of delivery could mean hearing information spoken at a conference or reading the newspaper. The forms can range from podcasts to videos, pictures to text, or even songs and newspapers. Delivery is the modem in which information is given in order for the topic to be best understood and related to. The term "delivery" is often aligned with the term "performance". The Forest of Rhetoric states that delivery is not only the fifth canon of rhetoric, but it is also a translation of the word "hypokrisis", or "acting". This Greek word was translated into delivery in the standpoint of spoken or recited information rather than newspapers or essays. Performance of plays, speeches, skits, etc. turns into the delivery of information in the piece being performed or spoken. This is the same as a piece of literature or rhetoric delivering its information through word choice, layout, and structure.[46]

"A number of scholars have seen delivery in networked systems as circulation of digital texts, following John Trimbur's (2000) argument that circulation should be re-introduced in writing instruction; however, his definition of circulation is as an element or result of delivery. Trimbur suggests that neglecting delivery has led writing teachers to equate the activity of composing with writing itself and to miss altogether the complex delivery systems through which writing circulates. By privileging composing as the main site of instruction, the teaching of writing has taken up what Karl Marx calls a "one-sided" view of production and thereby has largely erased the cycle that links the production, distribution, exchange, and consumption of writing. This cycle of interlocked moments is what Marx calls circulation. (190)"[47]

Critical Literacy[edit]

According to Kathleen Tyner, a researcher and professor at the University of Texas, critical literacy is a skill that allows people to thoroughly and rationally analyze texts based on the overarching social contexts in which they were created. Due to the fact that fake news, propaganda, and misinformation can be spread quickly over the Internet, scholars believe that it is important to carefully evaluate all types of digital rhetoric. Some misleading content can even be circulated by autonomous agents. For example, a study conducted at the Indiana University in Bloomington used algorithms to assess 14 million Twitter messages containing statements about the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and election. Researchers found that, from May 2016 to March 2017, social bots were responsible for causing approximately 389,000 unsupported political claims to go viral.[48]


Electracy is a term developed by Gregory Ulmer describing the emerging digital age.[49] Electracy is often discussed as being in transition, advancing along with digital rhetoric. Electracy explains the full communicative potentials of new electronic media. Electracy is embedded in the approach of digital rhetoric and covers a large paradigm of literacy which is enhanced through Ulmer's idea of 'electracy'. The recent decades observes a sound effect of 'electracy' in the field of digital media. According to Arrayo, "Participatory Compositions begins by exploring the apparatus of electracy in many of its manifestation while focus on the participatory practices found in online video culture. As research suggests the concept of 'electracy' has changed through the very idea of Ulmer who once articulated in the orientation of analogue video that serves rhetorical dimension of  'Teletheory'. But his vision of 'electracy' changed by bringing in a more broader literary concept that enterprise writing—coding, hypertext etc.[50][page needed]


In regards to digital rhetoric, interactivity can be defined as the ways in which readers connect to and communicate with digital texts. For example, readers have the ability to like, share, retweet/repost, comment on, and remix online content. These simple interactions allow writers, scholars, and content creators to get a better idea of how their work is affecting their audience.[43]

Ways communicators promote Interactivity consist of the following:

  • Mind sharing is a way to get collective intelligence—crowd wisdom that is comparable to expert wisdom. The methodology for this is simple. One would look for a consensus from the crowd—the answer that most minds are suggesting is the best answer. If it's a numeric question (like guessing the weight of an ox), it's a calculated average or median. If it's an open question (like "what car should I buy?"), it's the most common answer.
  • Multimodality means having several modes, modalities, or maxima—in simpler terms, it is a form of communication that uses multiple methods (or modes) to inform audiences of an idea. It can involve a mix of written text, pictures, audio, or videos. Online journals often embrace multimodality in their issues and articles by publishing works that use more than just written text to communicate the message. While the digital turn in rhetoric and composition has encouraged more discussion, theorization, and pedagogical application of multimodality and multimodal texts, the history of the field demonstrates a continuous concern with multimodal communication beginning with classical rhetoric's concern with delivery, gesture, and memory. All writing and all communication is, theoretically, multimodal.
  • Remix is a method of digital rhetoric that manipulates and transforms an original work to convey a new message. The usage of remix can help the creator make an argument by connecting seemingly unrelated ideas into a convincing whole. As modern technology develops, self-publication sites like YouTube, SoundCloud, and WordPress have stimulated remix culture, allowing for easier creation and dissemination of reworked content. Unlike appropriation, which is the use and potential recontextualization of existing material without significant modification, remix is defined in Kairos as "the process of taking old pieces of text, images, sounds, and video and stitching them together to form a new product." A popular example of remixing is the creation and sharing of memes.


Kairos, in the traditional rhetorical canon, is defined as catching the opportune moment. Traditionally, Kairos relates to rhetorical time (versus Kronos, or chronological time). It relates to the occasion and context when a text is written or a speech is given.[51] In other words, Kairos[52] refers to the elements of a speech that acknowledge and draw support from the particular setting, time, and place when and where a speech occurs. It is imperative that the speaker knows when and where to place the argument and, if it is appropriate. However, in the digital age, this is changing. Although Aristotle considers Kairos as related to ethos, pathos, and logos,[5] a more modern definition expands that view to include multimodal texts.[53] Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel offer an expanded definition of Kairos that asks rhetors to consider the ramifications of circulation, production and re-production, and distribution of compositions.[53] Kairos has been put on the rhetorical back burner, but has become more theorized in the digital age to discuss the ecology of multimodal texts. Digital scholars like Douglas Eyman, Jim Ridolfo, David Sheridan, Anthony Michel, Ellen Cushman, and Isabel Pedersen are on the forefront of reviving the concept of Kairos and applying its use in the classroom.[53]


Memory is one of the five traditional rhetorical cannons. "At first, Memory seemed to have to do solely with mnemonics (memory aids) that would assist a budding orator in retaining his speech. However, it clearly had to do with more than simply learning how to memorize an already composed speech for re-presentation. The practice of storing up information or other material arrived at through the topics of invention can be called for in a given occasion in order to redistribute information that is already known or given. The canon of Memory also suggests that scholars consider the psychological aspects of preparing to communicate and the performance of communicating itself, especially in an oral or impromptu setting. Typically Memory has to do only with the orator, but invites consideration of how the audience will retain things in mind."[46] In relation to Digital Rhetoric, Memory seems to be the preparations and considerations required to actually make work persuasive.

Rhetorical velocity[edit]

Rhetorical velocity is the concept of authors writing in a way in which they are able to predict how their work might be recomposed. With the advancement of technology, there is no limit to the speed and distance at which an author's work is able to travel. Digital rhetoric is often labelled using tags, for example, which are keywords that readers can type into search engines in order to help them find, view, and share relevant texts and information. These tags can be found on blog posts, news articles, scholarly journals, and more. Tagging allows writers, scholars, and content creators to organize their work and make it more accessible and understandable to readers.[43] Therefore, it is important for them to be able to predict how their audience will recompose their works. Jim Ridolfo and Danielle DeVoss first coined this idea in 2009 when they describe rhetorical velocity as "a conscious rhetorical concern for distance, travel, speed, and time, pertaining specifically to theorizing instances of strategic appropriation by a third party".[54]

Appropriation carries both positive and negative connotations for rhetorical velocity. In some ways appropriation is a tool that can be used for the reapplication of outdated ideas to make them better. In other ways appropriation is seen as a threat to creative and cultural identities. Social media receives the bulk of this scrutiny due to the lack of education of its users. Most "contributors are often unaware of what they are contributing.[55] which perpetuates the negative connotation. Many scholars in digital rhetoric explore this topic and its effects on society such as Jessica Reyman, Amy Hea, and Johndan Johnson-Eilola.

Visual rhetoric[edit]

Visual rhetoric relates to digital rhetoric because they can act together to communicate ideas in a way that is not bound by a linear format. Mary Hocks, a visual rhetoric scholar, states "the screen itself is a tablet that combines words, interfaces, icons, and pictures that invoke other modalities like touch and sound".[56] By manipulating the tools described by Hocks, a writer in the digital world has access to influence a broader audience, and an influx of modes to communicate their ideas. The use of visual images in rhetoric allows for a writer to convey an idea that may be so abstract that the written linear word will not suffice. Abstract ideas in rhetorical images, as Charles Hill states, are not only acceptably represented in images, but they are prominent; images "do not necessarily have to portray an object, or even a class of objects, that exists or ever did exist".[57] Images allow for the writer to depict the closest representation of their thought possible since they can blend abstract and tangible thoughts. Hill uses the peace sign, swastika, and the Confederate flags as examples of abstract ideas represented by images. Ironically the image of a peace sign, which seems to be universally accepted as a call from the 1970s 'hippie' movement, originated as an anti-Christian symbol. The original graphic was used to show an upside down broken cross symbolizing the despair of man and the crucifixion of the Apostle Peter. This shows how visual images can change over time and be adapted in such powerful ways that it actually changes the meaning completely. Images are versatile, and coupled with the motive of the author, can provide key components to an argument. By being informed on how visual rhetoric interacts with its different components, a reader/viewer can reduce abstract ideas to a more tangible state.

The concept of the avatar can also aid understanding of visual rhetoric's impact. James E. Porter defines avatar as a "virtual body".[33] With developments in technology, there are new ways to present oneself online visually. This online presentation of one's own identity is an avatar. While scholars such as Beth Kolko hoped for an online world without physical barriers, making it a "realm of ideas", there are still social issues, such as gender discrimination and racism.[58] Beth E. Kolko believes that an idealistic online world would be a "realm of ideas", without definitive factors such as gender, race, or age. Kolko argues that a non-gendered online world would not garner enough attention, because individuals could not relate to each other without gender identity.[58] Victoria Woolums found in a study of the video game World of Warcraft that the gender identity of the avatar affected behaviors of other characters, showing a bias even in a realm where gender identity of an avatar may not be physically accurate to its user.[59]


Digital rhetoric gives a platform to technofeminism, a concept that brings together the intersections of gender, capitalism, and technology.[60] Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw that recognizes the societal injustices based on our identities.[60] It is often challenging for women to navigate finding and interacting in digital spaces without harassment or gender biases.[61] There is an importance of digital activism for unrepresented communities, such as gender non-conforming and transgender folx of all races, disabled folx, and people of color.[61] In the journal Computers and Composition only five articles explicitly use the term intersectionality or technofeminism.[60] In addition, technofeminism and intersectionality are not as prevalent in upcoming technologies and research.[60]



Referred to as the digital divide, issues of economic access and user-level access are recurring issues in digital rhetoric. These issues show up most prevalent in computers and writing circles. Access can refer to inequality in the access of information, access to a reading public, and access to means of communicating. For those that teach digital rhetoric in schools and universities, student access to technologies at home and in school is an operative concern.[62] There is some debate about whether mobile computing devices like smartphones make technology access more equitable.[63]

Copyright issues[edit]

Copyright controversies in online and digital texts affect the way digital rhetoric is utilized. Many of these arguments deal with the problem of cost for the publishers and consumers of scholarly text. Copyrighting materials is an expensive task, especially when the materials can be translated into many other forms of digital sources that are freely found by the public. Because of this ease of transformation, copyright laws are undermined as scholars lose predication in their online materials through maneuvers as simple as copy and paste or translating hyperlinks. In James P. Zappen's piece "Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory", he refers to transferring material in ways that create misapplication of a work that a scholar has written. "A media database, for example, can produce an almost infinite variety of end-user objects, which can be customized for different users, manipulated through hyperlinks, periodically updated, and scaled upon demand." Zappen's statement of "infinite" is in no way subjective or an over statement. Many digital pieces are infringed upon, stolen, or misused by the avoidance of copyright. These many forms of copyright avoidance lend to the controversy of digital rhetoric and media as a whole.[37]

Open access has removed the barriers of fees associated with accessing a work and the restrictions of copyright and licensing. The matter of eliminating fees is most prevalent to digital rhetoric, because it allows for more access to works. Open access and digital rhetoric do not eliminate copyright, but they eliminate restrictions by giving authors the choice to maintain their right to copy and distribute their materials however they choose, or they may turn the rights over to a specific journal. Digital rhetoric involves works that are found online and open access is allowing more people to be able to reach these works.


One controversy that has been steady on the rise since the transition of utilizing digital rhetoric in social media is cyberbullying. An example can be seen in the TLC television series, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. Viewers have the opportunity to post their opinions and responses on sites such as Twitter and Instagram. The trend of people posting about the characters and their lifestyles reinforces the iconography of stereotypes (such as "hillbillies"), which is successful because of the way in which the rhetoric of difference is a naturalized component of the ethnic and racial identity.[64] The challenge with social media is that since there is a limited number of characters to convey the message, the digital rhetoric tends to be oversimplified and stereotypes flourish. Erika Sparby theorized that the ability to be anonymous and use pseudonyms or avatars on social media gives users more confidence to address either someone or something in a negative light.[10]


There is controversy regarding the innovative nature of digital rhetoric. Arguments opposed to legitimizing webtext are Platonically-based in that they reject the new form of scholarship—web text, and praise the old form—print, in the same way that oral communication was originally favored over written communication.[65] Originally some traditionalists didn't regard online open-access journals with the same legitimacy as print journals for this reason; however, digital arenas have become the primary place for disseminating academic information in many areas of scholarship.[66] Modern scholars struggle to "claim academic legitimacy" in these new media forms, as the tendency of pedagogy is to write about a subject rather than actively work in it.[67] Within the past decade, more scholarly texts have been openly accessible, which provides an innovative way for students to gain access to textual materials online for free, in the way that many scholarly journals like Kairos,[68] Harlot of the Arts,[69] and Enculturation[70] are already available through open access.

See also[edit]


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