Haunted by Specters, Surrounded by Spectators: Law, Technology, and The Fragmentation of Identity Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 20, 2019
  • Rysavy, Wayne
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Communication
  • Haunted by Specters, Surrounded by Spectators explores the pervasive nature of digital media and the social web in challenging the ways we understand self, other, society, and the world around us. Juxtaposing the histories of public and private, both as terms and conditions, to contemporary understandings and communicative practices we enlist, this project considers the ways digital media and the social web fundamentally alter how we relate to each other through visuality at a distance rather than experientially, empathetically, and interpersonally. Exploring three pertinent case studies that highlight the fragmentation of identity when imagery is taken as the totality of those depicted, this project illuminates the process I call “Crowdsourced Morality” whereby individuals actively enlist imagery and physical and psychological distance to decontextualize, devalue, shame, and torment those depicted in visual content. So distanced from those captured in visual content, context becomes constituted in the mind of the viewer who visualizes the content and imbues it with his or her thoughts, beliefs, and values as he or she shares it across connective media with little to no regard for the person(s) depicted. As a consequence, individuals not only engage each other as information to be disposed of, which aids in the reduction of personal accountability for the actions they take against one another, they further perpetuate “visuality as reality” in denying the embodied, corporeal form of those depicted in visual content and those associated with them. Supplanting experiential engagement for vision, such nuanced practices of communication online not only drive us into further physical isolation from one another they contribute to greater selection and confirmation biases that encourage “truthiness”—personal feeling over recognition and acknowledgement of others—as well as, in America and certain other Western societies, the growing divide between liberal and conservative ideologies.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Hillis, Ken
  • Alexander Craft, Renee
  • Olson, Mark
  • Striley, Katie
  • Rosenfeld, Lawrence B.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

This work has no parents.