Because Facebook: Digital Rhetoric/Social Media

Stephanie Vie & Douglas Walls, Special Issue Editors

Cat Meme: Friends Remembered My Birthday Because Facebook


We are excited to deliver our special issue, Because Facebook: Digital Rhetoric/Social Media. On one hand, we use this playful title to invoke the recent shift in the use of "because" as a preposition in the English language (Garber, 2013). On another hand, we invoke "because" as a nod to the explanatory and often unexamined power of social media as the cause of, or the solution to, any number of Writing Studies research or pedagogical problems. Do not be fooled by the playfulness of our title (or its seemingly narrow focus on Facebook). We have made an effort to engage all manner of digital tools in this special issue, selecting webtexts that focus on the production and circulation of texts within social media technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

And while social media technologies are often dismissed as idle wastes of time, the webtexts included in this special issue address the scholarly import and impact of such sites. Today, we are already seeing the impact of social media on our composing practices. We see this impact in the rapid circulation of Twitter tweets, Pinterest pins, and viral Facebook memes; we see it in the ease of "liking" or commenting on posts; and we see it in the rhetorical constraints of 140 characters in Twitter and the like. Indeed, as Stephanie Vie (2008) has earlier argued, in an age of nearly ubiquitous social media use, it is important for us to pay academic attention to these technologies with a specific eye toward the copious amounts of writing that are invented, composed, delivered, and read in social media. Too, it is important for multiple writing studies scholars to focus their research agendas on the new technologies that have so much influence in shaping and expressing our collective and individual worldviews. The greater the number of researchers studying these sites, the more powerful our collective conversations about social media's impact on writing will be. So, while our title is playful, there remains an underlying seriousness to our topic. The enormous amount of cultural influence social media plays in national discourses as well as international ones should not be underestimated. One needs look no further than the rapid circulation and national impact of hashtags like #WhyIStayed, #Ferguson, or #yesallwomen to recognize the power of social media to shift the focus of national attention, foster dialogue, and organize resistance (Penney & Dadas, 2014; Vie, 2014)—a concept that several of our special issue webtexts take up.

While Kairos in the past has included webtexts that deal with social media, such as Deborah Balhsizer et al.'s (2011) "The Facebook Papers"; Jennifer Swartz's (2011) PraxisWiki discussion of MySpace and Facebook; and David Coad's (2013) PraxisWiki piece on Facebook, among others, the journal has not yet hosted a large-scale conversation about social media research and pedagogy. Thus this special issue brings together a number of excellent webtexts that enact a conversation about the roles social media technologies can play in shaping ideologies, impacting writing studies, and changing composing and production practices. We think of this issue in terms of social media itself: the curation of a series of webtexts that examine how writing is both facilitated by social media and influenced by the affordances and constraints of social media technologies. The webtexts here represent conversational moments among authors that invite you, the readers, in to comment, to like, to share with friends, to circulate among your network. We think academic interest in the subject is strong, as evidenced by the number of conference session reviews featured in Kairos's CCCC Reviews sections each year that center on the subject as well as the number of panels we see at the Conference on College Composition and Communication as well as Computers & Writing on the topic. We do not think the scholarly conversation on social media has yet reached its zenith and hope that this special issue will be one entry point into this ongoing conversation.

When selecting the webtexts for our special issue, we wanted to emphasize different types of social media and social activities. While tools like Facebook and Twitter hold much popular attention, there is a tremendous amount of variety in social media, both in the choices of available applications and the possible rhetorical activities within and across such tools. We are particularly excited that many of our contributors' webtexts see social media sites as merely one part of a larger constellation of rhetorical "making" activities; similarly, several webtexts address the multiple forms of data triangulation made possible through social media technologies and the new approaches to research methodologies visible in their study. As well, multiple authors interrogate social media at the level of interface, questioning "the ways in which interfaces encourage us to see and also ask us to forget to see, or to overlook" (Walls, Schopieray, & DeVoss, 2009, p. 273). As social media integrates itself more into our lives, we see this focus on the larger rhetorical contexts surrounding social media as an essential shift that attempts to capture the distributed off- and online nature of social media activity.

We hope you'll find our issue has not attempted to define or limit the scope of what counts as social media but rather has tried to capture the variety of platforms and rhetorical possibilities that exist today within the limits of the special issue context. We invite you to peruse this special issue, to enter into conversations with the issue editors and webtext authors—especially via social media—and to extend this conversation, perhaps, with your own analyses of the impact of social media technologies on writing and literacy.

Chat with Stephanie Vie on Twitter and Facebook or read more of her work at (one of the more academically oriented social networks available currently).

Talk with Douglas Walls on Twitter or see his personal website here

In This Issue


Katherine DeLuca's "'Can we block these political thingys? I just want to get f*cking recipes:' Women, Rhetoric, and Politics on Pinterest" complicates our understandings of Pinterest as a gendered space. Using Pinterest as both a visual framework for her piece (which looks like a Pinterest pinboard) and site of analysis, DeLuca focuses on telling moments that may look mundane but are actually "a form of cyberfeminism" and "digital civic engagements."

In "MOAR Digital Activism, Please," Lauri Goodling engages current scholarly conversations regarding "clicktivism" and "slacktivism," ultimately arguing that we need to "reframe our narrow views of activism in this new, highly digital world." Rather than dismissing online activism as ineffective, Goodling highlights the power of digital activism and asserts that we must work together "to strengthen the skills—rhetorical, digital, organizational—of activists in order to make movements and campaigns more successful"—including those that occur in social networks and through social media.

Brian McNely's "Instagram, Geocaching, and the When of Rhetorical Literacies" asks us to move past simply examining the what and why of social media and expand our analyses through attending to what he calls "the when of everyday rhetorical literacies enacted in social media." With geocaching as his local example, McNely frames the question: "When does a particular photo-sharing opportunity emerge and what happens after it does?" His examinations of geocachers' literate activities provide literal snapshots of how composing practices and rhetorical literacies occur "before, during, and beyond the posts themselves."

Fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity will enjoy Liza Potts's "Can't Stop the Fandom: Writing Participation in the Firefly 'Verse," an analysis—drawing on actor-network theory—of how the familiar Jayne hat from the series reveals "narrative construction within an ecosystem." Looking to Twitter, Etsy, blogs, and other elements of the social web, Potts explores how a simple "cunning hat" connects to much larger conversations about intellectual property, copyright, fandom, and participatory action in social networks.

A second fandom study from Bill Wolff, "Baby, We Were Born to Tweet: Springsteen Fans, The Writing Practices of In Situ Tweeting, and the Research Possibilities for Twitter," asks us to attend to grounded theory as a methodology appropriate for studying fan-based composing activities; using the April 4, 2012 Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Wolff presents a coding strategy for tweets related to the concert that reveals how they are intertextual, mediated, and embedded within communities of practice.


Our Praxis webtext, from Elisabeth Buck, is "Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—Oh My!: Assessing the Efficacy of the Rhetorical Composing Situation with FYC Students as Advanced Social Media Practitioners," which reports on a study of 74 first-year composition students' uses of social media. Drawing on surveys and interviews and specifically focusing on visual-based social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, Buck argues that "new approaches to social media pedagogy should take into account how users negotiate rhetoric between these sites, and not simply confine discussion to the rhetorical viability of profile-based networks like Facebook." She offers a fine set of pedagogical activities that can be used in first-year composition or beyond.


In the Interviews section, we feature a collaboratively composed webtext from author Amber Buck and author/interviewee Hannah Bellwoar. "Crafting Online Spaces: Identity and Materiality: Interview with Hannah Bellwoar" explores Bellwoar's relationship with the social media site Ravelry, a place where knitters gather together and showcase their projects. Buck and Bellwoar focus on Ravelry as a local example of how Bellwoar weaves "together her personal and professional literacy practices in a way that demonstrates how social media can fuel, inspire, and drive diverse kinds of literate activity in new ways through outreach and contact with an interested community."

Book Reviews

We have six books under review in this issue, reviewed by a variety of graduate students and new assistant professors; we're excited to feature these emerging voices in the field and hope you will find their reviews beneficial.

Our six book reviews include: