Algorithmic Dwelling: the Consequences of Ethos on Social Media Platforms

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Kennedy, Krista


algorithms, ecology, ethos, posthuman, social media

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Rhetoric | Rhetoric and Composition


This dissertation addresses recent trends in social media content recommendations that have led to increased political polarization in the United States and the proliferation of radicalizing conspiracy theories such as Qanon and #StoptheSteal. In analyzing algorithmic infrastructures, I explore how the technocapitalist priorities designed into social media platforms amplify more extreme content. Ethos's long-standing concern with trust, credibility, and expertise makes it uniquely suited to address how these platforms have weakened our democratic institutions. Drawing from algorithmic rhetorics, posthumanism, critical theory, decolonial theory, queer phenomenology, and indigenous materialism, I forward rhetorical tethering, an ecological conception of ethos that accounts for the intersectional connections between people, technologies, infrastructures, and spaces. While the first part examines numerous social media platforms including Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, the second part consists of a case study that utilizes algorithmic mapping, a digital method developed for collecting and rhetorically analyzing data from YouTube's content recommendation system. Through their algorithmic outputs, these social media platforms carry traces of their designers' assumptions and biases that influence the rhetorical practices afforded to users. This dissertation offers both theories and methods for addressing the (sometimes dangerous) consequences of algorithmic systems that blur the boundaries between online and offline spaces.


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