1st Edition

Digital Media Metaphors A Critical Introduction

Edited By Johan Farkas, Marcus Maloney Copyright 2025
    190 Pages
    by Routledge

    190 Pages
    by Routledge

    Bringing together leading scholars from media studies and digital sociology, this edited volume provides a comprehensive introduction to digital media metaphors, unpacking their power and limitations.


    Digital technologies have reshaped our way of life. To grasp their dynamics and implications, people often rely on metaphors to provide a shared frame of reference. Scholars, journalists, tech companies, and policymakers alike speak of digital clouds, bubbles, frontiers, platforms, trolls, and rabbit holes. Some of these metaphors distort the workings of the digital realm and neglect key consequences. This collection, structured in three parts, explores metaphors across digital infrastructures, content, and users. Within these parts, each chapter examines a specific metaphor that has become near-ubiquitous in public debate. Doing so, the book engages not only with the technological, but also the social, political, and environmental implications of digital technologies and relations.


    This unique collection will interest students and scholars of digital media and the broader fields of media and communication studies, sociology, and science and technology studies.

    Table of Contents


    List of Contributors


    1.   Introduction: Why Digital Media Metaphors Matter

    Johan Farkas and Marcus Maloney


    Part I — Infrastructure


    2.   Cloud Computing: Infrastructure’s Alibi

    Mark Andrejevic and Zala Volcic


    3.   Platform: A Tapestry of Meanings and Metaphors

    Anne Helmond and Fernando van der Vlist


    4.   Frontier: Drifting Towards the Digital Commons

    Howard Scott and Montaser Motia Ujvari


    5.   Digital Town Square: From Participatory Culture to Free Speech Absolutism

    Anne Kaun


    Part II — Content


    6.   Filter Bubble: The Dumbest Metaphor on the Internet?

    Axel Bruns


    7.   Data as the New Oil: Extractivist Data Metaphors         

    Lisa Reutter


    8.   Rabbit Hole: Creating the Concept of Algorithmic Radicalization

    Becca Lewis


    9.   Information Warfare: The Blurred Boundaries of the Digital Trenches  

    Valentyna Shapovalova


    Part III — Users


    10. Toxic: Critiquing an Infectious Error

    Marcus Maloney and Judith Fathallah


    11. Digital Native: The Myth of the Tech-Savvy Youth

    Sharon Greenfield


    12. Troll: The Problem with Digital Tricksters and Monsters          

    Johan Farkas and Yiping Xia




    Johan Farkas is Assistant Professor in Media Studies at the University of Copenhagen. He is author of Post-Truth, Fake News and Democracy: Mapping the Politics of Falsehood (Routledge, 2019).


    Marcus Maloney is Assistant Professor in Sociology at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures, Coventry University. His most recent book is Gender, Masculinity and Video Gaming: Analysing Reddit's r/gaming Community (2019).

    “Ever since Lakoff & Johnson’s Metaphors we Live By, we are astutely aware of the shaping powers of metaphors. But the grand narratives of digital media are especially rife with metaphorical discourse: cloud, platforms, filter bubbles, rabbit holes, digital town squares, electronic frontiers, and more. Farkas and Maloney’s edited volume Digital Media Metaphors presents a collection of illuminating essays, each explaining how our lives are shaped by the ‘metaphors we click by’. A prime read for all students of media and digital culture.”

    - José van Dijck, Professor of Media and Digital Society at Utrecht University (NL) and author of The Culture of Connectivity and The Platform Society.

    “Reading Digital Media Metaphors is like drinking a hot chocolate on a cold winter day. There is something so sweet and delicious about thawing the metaphors that poke at us like icicles.”

    danah boyd, Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research. Author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.

    “Farkas and Maloney have curated an impressive roster of both established experts and emerging scholars, showcasing the significant impact of the metaphors we employ in shaping digital media and data infrastructure. From cloud computing to filter bubbles, this book serves as your essential companion in unravelling the pivotal metaphors that define our digital existence.”

    Emiliano Treré, Reader in Data Agency and Media Ecologies at Cardiff University. Multi award-winning author of Hybrid Media Activism, Data Justice and Algorithms of Resistance.

    “Metaphors for digital media are ubiquitous, so much so that we ignore their power. But metaphors are never innocent. They carry values, memories, and expectations. Farkas and Maloney have put together an impressive collection. Individually and collectively, the chapters offer a timely reminder to take words seriously. “

    Sally Wyatt, Professor of Digital Cultures at Maastricht University.

    Digital Media Metaphors offers a critical exploration of digital culture's prevailing metaphors, debunking oversimplified narratives like the 'filter bubble' and 'digital native' myth. The collection of essays caution against conflating metaphors with reality, urging us to reconsider their historicity, politics and emotional appeal when making sense of the Internet. Digital Media Metaphors is a must-read for scholars, students, and practitioners seeking a deeper understanding of technology's impact on society.”

    - Taina Bucher, Professor in Media and Communication at the University of Oslo.