Why Internet Culture Reporters are Bogeymen to Rightwing Internet

In defense of critical internet journalism and research

Jamie Cohen

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A screengrab from Tucker Carlson’s evening cable show. In the inset is a photo of Washington Post Journalist Taylor Lorenz. The screengrab is one of the many times Tucker has singled out Lorenz
A fearful man using the television to attack a journalist for doing her job

Ooooh — you’re gonna get canceled!” was the last thing I thought I’d hear when I discussed Mr. Beast’s YouTube work critically in my social media course. I teach college students how to read the internet and critique it because it is the largest force of cultural and societal change in our era. To criticize the internet means I delve deep into tech inequality, knowledge gaps, exploitation, white supremacy, and the grift market enabled by advertising and algorithms. My criticism of the beloved Jimmy “Mr. Beast” Donaldson had presumably veered into their territory – that was their content, not mine.

For over a decade I’ve been doing critical internet studies. From founding a new media college degree, to writing, to workshops and speaking engagements. Years ago, academics and journalists who did this critical work had to fight their way into legitimacy, arguing for validity only by comparison to traditional media structures like television and film. After the fracturing of mainstream media into streaming distribution and the rise of the television-to-meme president, it seemed as though many young, and especially perceptive and properly critical journalists were finally going to join the ranks of reporting on the esoteric nature of internet culture.

Taylor Lorenz is one of those who have been fortunate to bring internet culture to the A1 section of the New York Times and Washington Post. Comparably, Ben Collins, Brandy Zadrozny, and Kat Tenbarge of NBC News lift the digital world onto the screens of the basic television viewer. This is no easy feat considering the function of these traditional media institutional behemoths. But by doing so, Lorenz, Collins, and Zadrozny have also uplifted others in her field — and angered a lot of right-wing personalities.

Why has this happened? How did Lorenz and other reporters become the bogeymen to the right? Why does Tucker Carlson bring her up any…

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Jamie Cohen

Digital culture expert and meme scholar. Cultural and Media Studies PhD. Internet studies educator: social good, civic engagement and digital literacies