Digital Ethics: Rhetoric and Responsibility in Online Aggression, edited by Jessica Reyman & Erika M. Sparby

Review by Bailey Poland

Digital Ethics and Classroom Practice

Several chapters of Digital Ethics address classroom practice—some of them explicitly, such as John R. Gallagher's chapter, "A Pedagogy of Ethical Interface Production Based on Virtue Ethics." Other chapters, like Megan Condis's, "Hateful Games: Why White Supremacist Recruiters Target Gamers," have more implicit connections to classroom practice, but connections that are worth drawing to the forefront. While all of the chapters in the collection offer food for instructor thought, a number of pieces stand out for their potential implications around teaching.

The ethical angle is present across the board in the collection and comes across especially clearly in chapters that touch on pedagogical concerns. Authors asked not only how we observe, understand, and study un/ethical digital practices, but also how we can begin "encouraging students to attend to the rhetorical and the ethical simultaneously as they engage in digital spaces," as Katherine DeLuca put it in her chapter on phronesis (p. 232). Chapters across the collection offered different strategies for bringing digital ethics into the classroom, in ways that range from analysis to production.

Ethics, Pedagogy, and Analysis

DeLuca's chapter on phronesis provided a compelling comparison between the practical wisdom and judgment of phronesis and the speed and virality of mĂȘtis. She argued that students can benefit from analytical frameworks that emphasize prudence and wisdom in addition to cunning and rhetorical velocity. She included a case study of mĂȘtis gone awry (the false accusations made by reddit users after the Boston bombing) and one of the power of phronesis (a Sikh student's response to a photo posted in order to mock her facial hair) as examples of the types of incidents students could analyze "as they consider what it means to be a good digital citizen" (p. 244).

Classroom applications appears on a blue background next to a network node and an image of a man at a desk

Similarly, Brandy Dieterle, Dustin Edwards, and Paul "Dan" Martin created a heuristic of circulation. Their chapter, "Confronting Digital Aggression with an Ethics of Circulation," concluded with a series of questions for scholars and students to ask before recirculating a given piece of writing. Dieterle, Edwards, and Martin argued convincingly that while sharing ordinarily "invokes positive, if not saccharine, feelings," recirculation is also a form of writing that can be used, even inadvertently, to amplify harmful texts (p. 197). This chapter's heuristic and DeLuca's emphasis on phronesis could lead to generative discussions about what is read, as well as what is shared and why.

Ethics, Pedagogy, and Production

Moving towards the production end of the spectrum is Condis's chapter on white supremacist recruitment of gamers. Although the chapter is focused on understanding how and why such recruitment has been effective, her conclusion lends itself to a consideration of white supremacist recruitment on college campuses and how we as teachers can help students navigate and respond to these incidents. As Condis argued, "We need to create our own memes and make our own games to teach others about how Nazis recruit and to push back against white supremacist rhetoric" (p. 153). While Condis primarily addressed scholars in this call to action, such work could also enter into the classroom space as we ask students to identify, analyze, and counter harmful recruitment rhetorics.

Gallagher advocated most openly for partnering the study of digital rhetoric with production of digital artifacts by students, as he drew connections between virtue ethics and the creation of interfaces. His chapter suggests ways for students to go beyond analysis of existing interfaces and pushes for revision, modification, and the creation of entirely new interfaces using a variety of tools. The lens of virtue ethics, with its emphasis on exemplars and community, provides a useful framework for ethical design practices (pp. 72–73).


Each of these chapters opens up new ways for scholars and teachers to think about the study of digital aggression and digital ethics, and how we can best bring these conversations into the classroom space. What knowledge and experience around digital aggression do students bring with them to our classrooms? How can we best prepare students to write and to participate in online spaces as writers, as individuals, as workers, and as citizens? What aspects of our pedagogy need to be expanded, refined, or replaced to make room for essential conversations about online life—including online aggression? Although the suggestions in these chapters are valuable for pedagogy, many other contributions to the text could have taken a similar focus; however, interested instructors will still find much to ponder in the collection. The chapters focused on here align well with thinking about classroom practice; however, they could also be aligned with discussions of academia more broadly and the digital world as a whole—as all chapters in the collection could.