“Software agents and haunted media : the twitter bot as political actor"
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This report examines the rhetorical construction of Twitter bots as nonhuman political agents in press coverage of the 2016 U.S. election. It takes the rhetorical framing of “the Twitter bot” as a case study to argue that Twitter bots are a contemporary example of what media historian Jeffrey Sconce calls “haunted media” -- a communication technology that has been culturally ascribed an “uncanny” “agency.” First, this report provides a comparative close reading of two pieces from The Atlantic and The New York Times as examples of mainstream press coverage of bots shortly before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Second, drawing on Sconce’s analysis of nineteenth and twentieth century media ecologies, it argues that “the Twitter bot” has been rhetorically constructed as haunted media through discourses that are inseparable from larger political narratives. The third and final section speculates on possible theoretical frameworks to expand this project in further inquiries. This report aims to demonstrate that haunted media narratives predate and persist beyond a specific election cycle or medium, and to argue that the construction of “haunted media” occurs alongside constructed concepts of democracy in our technologically mediated society. In doing so, this report contributes to the field of rhetoric of digital technology by bringing it further into conversation with political rhetoric.
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