Image, Race, and Rhetoric: The Contention for Visual Space on Twitter


  • Michael DiBari Hampton University
  • Edgar Clayton Simpson Central Michigan University


Social Media, Twitter, Visual Rhetoric, Race, Public Sphere, Image and Identity, Cultural Landscape


This study examines photographs associated with the Twitter hashtag “ifiweregunneddown” through the lens of visual rhetoric, concluding that social media users engaged in a protest against mainstream media by using images of themselves to reassert their identity. The study examines and discusses identity within the context of photographic media portrayals of African-Americans, including the historical Emmett Till murder, in which image played a key role in the national discussion over race. Data from this study was examined through the theory of the public sphere, suggesting that societal members use information available to them to debate and determine meaning. Results found eight patterns in the photos associated with the hashtag: five were considered negative or undesirable, and three were considered positive or socially acceptable. This study also borrows theory from geography and the concept of contested space.

Author Biographies

Michael DiBari, Hampton University

Michael DiBari is the Scripps Howard Endowed Professor at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University.

Michael DiBari is a long-time photojournalist with years of experience and education. As a freelance photographer, he has taken pictures for publications such as The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chapel Hill News, The Osceola News Gazette and The Albuquerque Journal.

DiBari holds a Master’s degree in Visual Communications and a Ph.D. in Journalism from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Communication.

DiBari currently teaches Visual Media and Photojournalism.

Edgar Clayton Simpson, Central Michigan University

Ed Simpson has 20 years experience in the news industry, including stints as reporter and then bureau chief for United Press International in West Virginia, managing editor-content for the Tribune-Chronicle in Warren, Ohio, and editor of the Joplin (Mo.) Globe. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for spearheading an investigation into a local coroner that resulted in a murder indictment and 26 death rulings being changed. He has made 11 presentations at regional, national, and international academic conferences. His research has been published in the Newspaper Research Journal and Journalism History. He remains most passionate about the role of daily professional journalism in representative democracy, which encompasses both his teaching and research interests.


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