Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Daniel T. Durbin

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Eve Oishi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Paul Faulstich

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2020 Julianna Jeanine Kirschner


communication, content analysis, cultural studies, media studies, simulacrum, social media

Subject Categories



This dissertation critically assesses the social media posts that create, give life to and finally abandon trending topics on Twitter. Drawing on Baudrillard’s (1983) notion of simulacrum, the dissertation examines posts as performative discourse that reframes the trend within the personal simulacrum of the poster. Using digital humanities tools, a corpus of 102,532 tweets have been collected. A content analysis was performed to analyze themes and term frequency. Selected case studies indicated that posters persistently centered their online identity within content, reframing content as personal performance rather than dialogic engagement. The first case study examines social media posts responding to Je suis Charlie or I am Charlie, an online meme that itself responded to the terrorist attack on the offices of a French satire magazine. In this case study, the “I am” proclamation is the most distinct rhetorical strategy. The place study discusses social media responses to controversial postings from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, Germany. In this second case study, the self is visually represented in the form of photoshopped selfies and the process of public apology known as “undouching.” The political argument section surveys the social media battle surrounding Native American protests over a proposed oil pipeline through North Dakota. In this third case study, users manipulated their geolocational marker to indicate they were in Standing Rock, ND when they physically were not. The study found that social media content is represented through a series of performative poses. Rather than dialogic, as the term “social” media implies, the content on these platforms is monologic. The content may have been designed with a limited audience in mind: those that already agree with the author’s sentiment and/or the author themselves. The content that does become traditionally “viral” is due to preexisting celebrity, as Boorstin (1987) conceived of it. These celebrity figures increase sentimental echoes and contribute to these phenomena being designated as trending in their respective time. Performative poses are amplified through likes and retweets or what Alhabash & McAlister (2015) called electronic word-of-mouth or eWOM (p. 1318). Content on social media, whether it receives sentimental amplification or not, is left on a virtual bookshelf for others to find and use in the future. Even if nothing is done with them now, what is left behind in social media spaces should be considered by all who create and use social media. The dissertation provides suggestions for users, including methods for adapting in the ideological echo chambers they find themselves in and selecting the most empirically positive echo chamber for them. Social media creators should consider the algorithmic structure of their platforms, including a “catch up” feature from early Facebook and an opt-in function to allow users to see content that may have been filtered out from their view. Knowing the ways in which performative poses make up social media will benefit all involved, so the most can be made of these limited spaces.



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