Whitney Phillips’s PhD

Whitney Phillip’s is an English graduate who did a PhD involving Internet trolling, titled, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Origins, Evolution and Cultural Embeddedness of Online Trolling“. She posted her PhD’s abstract on her blog. I will quote it verbatum:

Ethnographic in approach, this dissertation examines trolling, an online subculture devoted to meme creation and social disruption. Rather than framing trolling behaviors as fundamentally aberrant, I argue that trolls are agents of cultural digestion; they scour the landscape, repurpose the most exploitable material, then shove the resulting monstrosities into the faces of an unsuspecting populace. 

Within the political and social context of the United States, the region to which I have restricted my focus, I argue that trolls digest and often perform a grotesque pantomime of a number of pervasive cultural logics, including masculine domination (Bourdieu 2001) and white privilege (Dyer 1997). Additionally, I argue that the rhetorical and behavioral tactics embraced by trolls, including sensationalism, spectacle, and emotional exploitation, are homologous to tactics routinely deployed by American corporate media outlets. In short, trolling operates within existing systems, not in contrast to, immediately complicating, and often ironizing, knee-jerk condemnations of trolling behaviors.

Criteria for a PhD

Most universities require a PhD to be an ‘independent and original contribution to knowledge’. Phillip’s work from this abstract seems to be a re-run of my work, so not original. I will set out how below.

My 2008 Book Chapter

In my 2008 book chapter, titled, ‘Increasing capital revenue in social networking communities: Building social and economic relationships through avatars and characters‘ I presented a two-year long ethnography of two online communities. One a message board and the other Second Life. Phillip’s thesis, titled “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Origins, Evolution and Cultural Embeddedness of Online Trolling,” speaks about ‘white privilege’ in relation to her findings on the characteristic, whereas I made a similar finding – how online community sub-cultures follow Black stereotypes. Phillips talks about ‘masculine domination’, and I also found a type of sub-culture that was ‘Patriarchal’ in the avatars they used.

I found that a character called ‘The Snert‘ was more what Phillips has meant by “trolls” and I said so in a letter to the Daily Mail in March 2011 for which I won Letter of the Week. I found how this character would post sensationally offensive comments, especially one called JH, for which 60% of his posts were flames. I also found out how the ‘Troll’ which was a playful character used emotional manipulation. In this case a character called ‘Pussy Galore’ posted how she enjoyed ‘baiting’ me. That fact that Phillips also found this shows replication and not originality.

Philips makes links between the representations of this ‘white privilege’ and sensationalism etc. in the American media in her thesis, titled. “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Origins, Evolution and Cultural Embeddedness of Online Trolling.” Equally, in my chapter, I make links between the successful Black people in American and World corporations and the way they are reflected in online communities.

Phillips, in her thesis (i.e. ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Origins, Evolution and Cultural Embeddedness of Online Trolling’) concludes that trolling operates within existing systems, which is virtually identical to my conclusion that online communities can be viewed as a type of media and approached no differently to other media in terms of stereotypes for instance.


Did Phillips really make an original contribution to knowledge? Based on this abstract, I don’t think so!

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