Digital Affect and the Rhetorical Situation After the Las Vegas Shooting

Andrew Ridgeway, University of Vermont


Scholars within and beyond the field of rhetoric have acknowledged how the advent of social media platforms like Twitter have restructured every aspect of communication theory, from notions of authorial intent to how we understand audience. While the rhetorical situations of social media have been widely studied, scholars of rhetoric have scarcely begun to theorize how Twitter radically changes how we think about affect and the rhetorical situation in the wake of a national tragedy like a mass shooting. The 2017 Las Vegas shooting illustrates how Twitter functions as a site where people come together to express feelings of shock, grief, and outrage, pray for victims, share stories of bravery, eulogize the dead, circulate outlandish conspiracy theories, assign blame, propagate calls for action, and come to terms with the implications of their own mortality. My research examines hundreds of tweets from October 1-7, 2017 (the week after the Las Vegas shooting) in the context of Lloyd F. Bitzer and Richard E. Vatz’s debate about the nature of the rhetorical situation to interrogate how Twitter users invoke affect and the idea of objectivity to identify and respond to exigencies, establish their emotional and political salience, and shape the rhetorical situations they inhabit.