The Dark Side of Media and Technology

A 21st Century Guide to Media and Technological Literacy

by Edward Downs (Volume editor)
©2019 Textbook XVIII, 324 Pages


The Dark Side of Media and Technology: A 21st Century Guide to Media and Technological Literacy is Herculean in its effort to survey for landmines in a rapidly changing media landscape. The book identifies four dark outcomes related to media and technology use in the 21st century, and balances the dark side with four points of light that are the keys to taking ownership of a media- and technology-saturated world. The text contains an impressive list of multi-disciplinary experts and cutting-edge researchers who approach 25 separate dark side issues with concise, highly readable chapters, replete with unique recommendations for navigating our mediated present and future.
The Dark Side of Media and Technology is grounded in theory and current research, but possesses an appeal similar to a page-turning dystopian novel; as a result, this volume should be of interest to scholars, students, and curious lay-readers alike. It should be the "go-to" text for anyone who is interested in learning what the research says about how we use media and technology, as well as how media and technology use us.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter One: Dark Matters (Edward Downs / Aaron R. Boyson)
  • Chapter Two: Propaganda’s Dark Shadow in History, Rhetoric, and Media (Michael William Pfau / David Charles Gore)
  • Chapter Three: Technologies of Mass Deception? War of the Worlds, Twitter, and a History of Fake and Misleading News in the United States (Nicholas David Bowman / Elizabeth L. Cohen)
  • Chapter Four: Agenda-Setting in the Age of Emergent Online Media and Social Networks: Exploring the Dangers of a News Agenda Influenced by Subversive and Fake Information (Anthony M. Limperos / Will R. Silberman)
  • Chapter Five: Understanding Corrosive Elements in the Political Economy of Media (Matthew P. McAllister / Lars Stoltzfus-Brown)
  • Chapter Six: Paparazzi, Drones, and Privacy (Kalen M. A. Churcher)
  • Chapter Seven: The Role of Media in Perpetuating Stereotypes (Meghan S. Sanders / Stephanie L. Whitenack)
  • Chapter Eight: The Dark-Side Gateway of Self-Objectification: Examining the Media’s Role in the Development of Body Dissatisfaction and Eating Disorders (Jennifer Stevens Aubrey / Lindsay Roberts)
  • Chapter Nine: The Bad Guys: Evil and Immorality in Media Entertainment (Mary Beth Oliver / Arienne Ferchaud)
  • Chapter Ten: Copycat Murder: Specious Mimesis or Natural Nemesis? (Aaron R. Boyson)
  • Chapter Eleven: The Dark Side of Social Networking Sites (Jesse Fox / Guanjin Zhang / Jessica Frampton)
  • Chapter Twelve: Love and Lies: Deception in Online Dating (Catalina L. Toma / Irene G. Sarmiento)
  • Chapter Thirteen: Image-Based Sexual Abuse: It’s Not Revenge and It’s Not Porn (Amy Adele Hasinoff)
  • Chapter Fourteen: Child Sexual Predators’ Luring Communication Goes Online: Reflections and Future Directions (Loreen N. Olson / Roy Schwartzman)
  • Chapter Fifteen: Cyberbullying: Consequences and Coping (Matthew W. Savage / Douglas M. Deiss)
  • Chapter Sixteen: Without Consent: The Dark Side of Ignoring the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of Social Media Services (Jonathan A. Obar / Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch)
  • Chapter Seventeen: Smart but Nosy: Gratifications of Ubiquitous Media That Threaten Our Privacy (S. Shyam Sundar / Andrew Gambino / Jinyoung Kim)
  • Chapter Eighteen: Dark Shadows in Video Game Effects: Concerns about Violence, Character Portrayals, and Toxic Behavior in Digital Games (T. Franklin Waddell / James D. Ivory)
  • Chapter Nineteen: Internet Gaming Disorder: Considering Problematic Internet Use as an Addiction (Rebecca J. Gilbertson / Kayla M. Walton)
  • Chapter Twenty: Mobile Devices, Multitasking, Distraction, and Compulsive Tech Use (Edward Downs / Jacquelyn Harvey)
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Dark Side of Augmented and Virtual Reality (Edward Downs / Cheryl Campanella Bracken)
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Leaks Are Forever: Information Security and Cybercrime (Peter A. H. Peterson / Charern Lee)
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Rage Against the Machine: Negative Reactions and Antisocial Interactions with Social Bots and Social Robots (Patric R. Spence / Autumn P. Edwards / Chad Edwards / David Nemer / Kenneth A. Lachlan)
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: The Killer App: Drones and Autonomous Machines (David J. Gunkel)
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: A Light in the Dark: How Literacy Illuminates the Dark Side (Edward Downs)
  • Contributors
  • Index

| xi →


Figure 8.1. Model of Media Exposure and Self-Objectification

Figure 14.1. Luring Communication Theory’s Cycle of Entrapment

Figure 21.1. The Reality Continuum

| xiii →


I used to think that writing a book was an absurd idea. Why would one spend so much time, researching, reading, and synthesizing information for an imagined audience—one who may not really care about the premise of the book anyway? Then I began teaching. As a professor, I prided myself on having read many books. I assigned books that I enjoyed to my students and passed on the knowledge of my favorite authors and scholars through their pages. Writing books in general wasn’t such an absurdity, I reasoned. It would just be absurd for me to write one.

One day after teaching a Dark Side of Media and Technology class, the class from which this book draws its inspiration, a group of students working on their final project asked if there was a Dark Side textbook that they could use as a reference. I mentioned that there were a number of relevant journal articles and book chapters that would be sufficient for their needs, but, unfortunately, no dedicated Dark Side book, per se. Uninterested in my response, and still wishing that there were one, comprehensive resource for this topic, they suggested that I should write one.

I quickly dismissed the idea. I brought it up again later to an academic friend for a laugh. “Why don’t you?” he asked. It was the first time I had really actually considered it. Sure, there were parts of other books and published manuscripts that were perfect for the class. But, there was not one single resource that brought all of the Dark Side topics that I thought were important to discuss together. ← xiii | xiv → Maybe it was time to write a book. Still, I had never written one, and there was this nagging issue of consistency. How could I write a book if I still thought it an absurd idea? I wrestled with this inconsistency for some time, and then one day, completely by accident, I stumbled across the work of the French philosopher, Albert Camus. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus waxes philosophical on an idea that he calls “living the absurd life”—or briefly, the conflicting human condition where we simultaneously search for meaning, yet, rarely find it.

Without getting too deep into Camus’ philosophy, two things about living the absurd life stood out to me. First, Camus recognized that the human condition was full of contradictions. As I applied this thought to society’s use of media and technology, I could see that even in the 21st century, he had a point. There are many examples in our daily exercises with media and technology that would seem absurd to Camus. For example, how is it possible that something called “social media” is responsible for so many incivilities and antisocial interactions each day? Or, how is it possible that a society that is always so busy, still manages to squeeze in more screen time than sleep time each day? And of course, one of my personal favorites, why is it that people drive their cars to the gym on nice days in order to use the treadmill?

My second observation had to do with Camus’ idea that in order to live the absurd life, that one could not have hope. Sisyphus, did not have hope. At the end of each laborious struggle to bring the rock to the top of the mountain, he knew he was doomed to repeat the process. For eternity. As a teacher and professor, I do have hope. I have hope that every student that enters a classroom will take away something that can make a difference. For me, writing a book on media and technology, even a Dark Side book, couldn’t just be about the negative. If I were going to write a book, it had to include some symbol of hope. Not just my hope that someone would read it, or that someone might even like it, but that some person or group of people would read it and see that with some minor modifications in their daily lives, they could make a positive change. Writing a book wasn’t absurd, it was an intellectual act of rebellion.

This was an Ah-ha! moment for me. As long as I had hope, then writing a book (more to the point, editing a volume), by definition, couldn’t be absurd. At least, not according to Camus. Absolved of my dissonance and grateful for French philosophy, I began work on a proposal. A fortuitous meeting at a conference with some friends and colleagues, and with an acquisitions editor from Peter Lang Publishing provided me with the support, materials, and of course, paperwork, to get the ball rolling. Game on!

What follows is the culmination of a year-and-a-half’s worth of work that stemmed from that proposal. This book is broken down into 25 chapters, each ← xiv | xv → covering one dark side topic. The first chapter details four dark outcomes related to media and technology. Twenty-three subsequent chapters spell out how some media or technological device or idea relates to the dark side of our nature. The final chapter discusses four “points of light” that can be marshalled against these dark outcomes.

All of the chapters follow a similar format, in that they begin by framing a dark side occurrence to provide the necessary context for discussion. They then define and describe the appropriate terminology necessary for understanding the issue, as well as detailing any theories, models, or history relevant to the topic of inquiry. Relevant literature is cited and discussed throughout. In some chapters, the dark outcomes are explicitly labeled, while in others, the dark outcomes are implied. Used as part of a course or group, students or participants can discuss and debate how many of the dark outcomes are relevant to a media or technology and at which levels. The end of each chapter culminates with recommendations for how to deal with, or cope with the designated dark side issue. The chapters are short and concise by academic standards, but were designed this way purposely, to maximize information for an increasingly on-the-go readership. Readers may choose to read this book in a linear fashion from front to back, or they may choose to skip from chapter-to-chapter as their curiosity dictates.

This book is unique in that the chapter authors hail from many disciplines and subdisciplines including: communication, rhetoric, political economy, media effects, health communication, journalism, psychology, criminology, interpersonal communication, telecommunication, media law and policy, new technology, and computer science. Authors were selected because they are considered experts and each has studied and published extensively in their respective fields. The book is also unique in that it does not privilege one particular methodological approach. Chapter authors were allowed the flexibility and autonomy to present their ideas using the appropriate reporting methodologies of their fields, so the book offers a unique blend of quantitative, qualitative, critical, rhetorical, and historical methods to discuss the various dark side topics.

Understand that even though experts wrote all the chapters in this book, that the chapters by themselves should not be considered the definitive treatise for any topic. Likewise, the recommendations for insulating oneself from potential threats and harms are not comprehensive, nor are they foolproof. Different groups and different types of people will consider themselves more or less susceptible to some occurrences than others, and readers will no doubt be able to think of other recommendations and solutions that work best for them.

For those who would consider using this book in their own courses, the short, concise chapters allow for flexibility in planning across a variety of class meeting ← xv | xvi → schedules. The book could be used as a standalone text for an undergraduate class, or as a primary text, supplemented with additional readings for a graduate-level seminar.

Outside of the classroom as part of a reading group, choose chapters based on need and interest. Use the chapters to help focus attention and to begin conversation. Allow group members to contribute their own experiences with the topics. Words in chapter titles can be used as keywords in search engines online to find members of the local community who can speak to the issues covered. Discuss the solutions provided to mitigate negative effects, and brainstorm what would work best in your community, your home, or your life.

Finally, for the individual reader: I encourage you to read this book with an open mind, and to read with hope. Anything less would be absurd.

| xvii →


There are so many people to thank when it comes to preparing a book, especially an edited text. I’d first like to thank Lindsey and Ivy, for giving me the necessary space to work on such a task, as well as for reminding me that there are more important things in this life than deadlines. To the contributing authors of this book, I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude. I cannot thank you all enough for your openness to my vision, and for sharing your expertise. I learned something new from every single one of you. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my doctoral advisor, Dr. Mary Beth Oliver, for helping to shape and mold my academic sensibilities. To my family, who have supported me over the years, I sincerely thank you. All of the late night chats around the fires, kitchens, and homes helped me to become the inquisitive person that I am today. To my academic family, thank you for the space (both literally and figuratively), course releases (Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Susan N. Maher), and support to complete this project. To all of my friends, your encouragement, support, interest, and check-ins over the past year-and-a-half have helped to provide the necessary motivation to see this through to the end. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a shout-out to Kathryn Harrison, Jennifer Beszley and the editorial assistants at Peter Lang Publishing. Thank you, for your professionalism and patience. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Aaron R. Boyson for conceptualizing the front cover art, and Darren Houser for ← xvii | xviii → the professional, artistic rendering of that idea. Last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank all of the students who were a part of the Dark Side of Media & Technology experience at UMD. I have always appreciated the conversations, insights, and perspectives that you shared. I trust that this is the book that you were looking for.

| 1 →

Dark Matters


I find your lack of faith disturbing.


Forty-six authors have produced 25 chapters, 297 pages, and approximately 118,000 words, all assembled into one book which seeks to shed some light on the darker matters of our relationship with media and technology. Nevertheless, let us get something clear upfront: “media and technology can do great things.” This may seem like an odd way to begin a book that plumbs the depths of our relationships with technological devices and media systems of all sorts, but it is important for the reader to recognize and understand that this book isn’t simply about media bashing. Many of the contributing authors owe their livelihoods to media and technology in some manner of speaking, and all contributors have immersed themselves in some facet of media and technology professionally, academically, and socially. We get it. But at the end of the day, this is a Dark Side book, and exploring all the positive contributions of media and technology wouldn’t make for a very interesting Dark Side chat, now would it?

Media and technology can do great things, but such an assertion, while commonsense and true, contains within it a fair amount of mischief. The word “great,” for instance, is thorny. The internal combustion engine was a great invention that continues to do great things for people. It is also contributing to our reliance on ← 1 | 2 → fossil fuels, to traffic gridlock, and a general decrease in air quality. As another example, the production of refined sugar has been great for culinary purposes yet contributes significantly to obesity and diabetes epidemics.

“Great” comes at a cost. Indeed, Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction (Kuehn, 2015). If we can extend this logic of physics and motion to media and technology, this law would imply that, at the very least, the valence of the outcomes of our interactions with technology exists somewhere on a continuum, both opposite and equal in magnitude. Do you, the reader, think of technological effects this way? Do you assume that the power of media and technology influence is (at least potentially) as harmful as it is helpful? Consider how you have eagerly folded some newly-adopted media technology into your life recently—does it suggest a lack of faith in the potential for harm?

It is more accurate to say that media and technology can do both great and horrible things for people. Such thinking usually gives rise to the “on balance” question: are media and technology better for us on balance than without? Before his passing, Stephen Hawking prodded this question during a Web Summit on technology in Lisbon, Portugal (Kharpal, 2017). In it he claimed that artificial intelligence “could be the worst event in the history of our civilization.” He is not alone in his conjecture. Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, shared this negative sentiment in a 2018 interview in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest technology conference. He opined that the development of artificial intelligence is more dangerous than that of nuclear warheads (SXSW, 2018). How prepared are we to heed their advice, either person-by-person or culturally? Can we even take such an alarm seriously? In order to do so we must first be able to process the potential for harm more clearly.

About That

The lead author of this chapter and editor of this collection teaches a class called The Dark Side of Media & Technology, the inspiration for this book. In that class a series of questions is posed to the students on the first day. The first is this, “How many of you previously have taken a media literacy course?” Out of approximately 40 students each term, generally three or four people raise their hands, rather anxiously. The next question is, “How many of you have taken a gun safety course?” Usually, a more confident 40–60% of the hands in the classroom will rise. With these two questions in mind, we then try to figure out how much time is spent, per day, doing either activity. After some discussion and debate, we arrive at the conclusion that the average college student spends about six hours per day with ← 2 | 3 → media. Among those who use guns for sport and recreation, the average amounts to about five hours per year, or, with some quick math, less than one minute per day. The final question almost asks itself, “Why do you suppose that given the disparity in times, so many more people take gun safety courses than media and technological literacy courses?” The most common and immediate student response is, “Because guns can hurt and kill people.”

Let that response sink in for a moment…

Did an estimated six million Jews not die in the Holocaust in part because of propaganda spread through technological mediums (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d.)? Do 10% (or more) of school-aged adolescents not suffer the negative effects of cyberbullying (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010)? Did almost 3,500 people not die, and were almost 900,000 not injured in 2015 on U.S. roadways because some piece of technology distracted a driver (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017)?

To their credit, when pressed on the issue, students quickly recognize that such a response is metaphorically picking the low hanging fruit. Of course media and technology can have a harmful impact on individuals and society, and working through that moment serves as both an awakening of their interest in the topic and a catalyst for discussion. Many acknowledge that they just never really thought about media and technology that way.

Perhaps then, it is important to spend a minute wondering about how people arrive at conclusions regarding media and technology in the first place. Our experience as media researchers and teachers tells us that there are three general orientations to thinking about media and technological effects. See where you fit as you consider them. First, there are anti-media people, often called Luddites, who are concerned about harm from technological change. They take a very austere position to adopting new technologies or simply may not adopt new technologies at all. This book has not been assembled to appeal to this group specifically, but these folks are, no doubt, relieved it exists. On the other side of the spectrum, are the technological enthusiasts who don’t like to believe that the dark side of media and technology exists, and are aggrieved whenever people inquire about its harmful effects. This group may feel a more worthwhile book to read would be called The Bright Side of Media & Technology. These two groups represent the extremes (Downs, 2017). A third, much larger and very diverse group, exists somewhere in the middle. This group may know a little about the pros and cons of some types of media and technology use, or may know nothing at all. Some may be completely indifferent and some may be confused—unsure of where to stand on the issues of media and technology. Still others in this group may be curious about media and technology but are unsure where to begin ← 3 | 4 → the literacy process. It is with this diverse group in mind that the contents of this book have been assembled.

Becoming media and technologically literate is difficult in the 21st century for a number of reasons. First, as a culture it appears that we are inclined to adopt technologies before considering the effects. Second, the Information Age has provided us with so many new technologies all at once, that it has been near impossible to research and document all of their effects. Third, new media and technology generally require the learning of new terms and processes in order to navigate and discuss their digital spaces. Because of these difficulties, the hard truth may simply be that we are neither prepared nor well-positioned to process the perils of media and technology. We cannot readily change our previous adoption patterns, nor are we likely to slow the number of technologies available to adopt, but we can change the third part. Each of the chapters in this book will give readers the necessary terms, theories, history, and real-world examples to understand our complex relationships with media and technology.

One media scholar who spent a career using this approach to understanding our relationships with media and technology was Neil Postman. He believed that the human relationship with technological developments is a sort of “Faustian bargain,” and that we should always expect that media technologies in particular, are just as likely to give as they are to take away (Postman, 1996). Media do things to us and for us, and they also undo things to us and for us. His book Technopoly (Postman, 1992) is a compelling argument that we are tilted toward the positive, biased toward what technology and media do rather than undo, and, that our lack of faith in what is undone is, quite frankly, disturbing. To that end, this book serves the purpose of providing a platform for which to discuss media and technology’s dark side.

We would like to imagine that Postman would have enjoyed this book. Each chapter is an effort to carefully explore one side of that Faustian bargain. That said, however, the book is not intended to get anyone stuck on the dark side. Instead, it is offered as a (hopefully) memorable rest-stop on the rapidly evolving journey through mediated life. We suspect that on some level most people today realize media and technology can have a harmful impact on individuals and society and are feeling it afresh. Some data help to provide a picture of mediated life these days: A recent Nielsen survey (2017) estimates that 119.9 million out of 136.2 million homes (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017) have television, on which the average person watches more than eight hours per day. Most U.S. households, 77%, (Ryan & Lewis, 2017) have an Internet connection, and an estimated 95% of U.S. adults have a cell phone—approximately 77% of which are smart phones (Pew Research Center, 2018). From these technologies, televisions, computers, smart phones, and other mobile devices, we access and generate some portion of the following: ← 4 | 5 →


XVIII, 324
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVIII, 324 pp. 3 b/w ills.

Biographical notes

Edward Downs (Volume editor)

Edward Downs (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is Associate Professor and Director of the Communication Research Lab at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is the recipient of the 2018 UMD College of Liberal Arts, Tenured Faculty Teaching Award. His research examines relationships between technology and learning, the psychology of the individual-avatar relationship, and how simulation experiences influence attitude and behavior change.


Title: The Dark Side of Media and Technology