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Research

Situated between the humanities and social sciences, Whitney Phillips' work draws from science and technology studies, critical theory, and media history to explore three interconnected themes: the collision of political communication, interpersonal communication, and information dysfunction; the cultural context and ethical consequence of mediated communication; and the ideologies, assumptions, and stories that shape and are shaped by mass media. The goal of Phillips' work is to help cultivate healthier information ecosystems and fits within broader collective efforts to protect pluralistic multiracial democracy.   

In early 2023, Phillips will be publishing her fourth book, Share Better and Stress Less: A Guide to Thinking Ecologically about Social Media (Candlewick Press/MITeen), for young adult readers. Co-authored with Ryan Milner, it draws on ecological, social justice, and storytelling frameworks to explain how and why information pollution - including distressing true information - spreads across social media, and offers strategies and tips to avoid causing accidental harm online. Grounded in the exploits of a cast of hyperconnected middle schoolers, the book also explores the relationship between stress, wellness, and social media sharing. 

Phillips’ current book project, co-authored with political science and religion scholar Mark Brockway of Syracuse University and technology reporter Abby Ohlheiser of the MIT Technology Review, explores what they call the shadow gospel: an amalgamation of decades-old, mass-mediated, highly conspiratorial messages born of cold war anticommunism and post-war fundamentalist Christianity. The shadow gospel obliterates the line between Christian and secular media, Christians in the pews and seculars who never step foot in church, and Christian political advocacy and secularized policy goals. It is central to understanding events like the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, the rightwing informational deluge surrounding the 2022 midterms, and more broadly, how the culture wars have been transformed into a holy war that doesn’t, in fact, need religion to fundamentally shape US culture and politics.