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If you enjoy guessing what comes next in a mystery, or ever find yourself wanting to become a part of your favorite stories, then you will love unraveling the family mystery in June's journey June's journey is a hidden object mobile game where you follow June Parker as she embarks on a quest to solve her sister's murder and uncover her family's many secrets. The game is set in the s so besides feeling like I've got an escape room in the palm of my hands with all of these clues and secret hiding places, I also just love getting to see the luxury and glamor. And you can build and customize your island estate as you play. Whether this is your first case or you're a seasoned Sherlock, June's journey will keep you searching for hidden objects in every scene. And with new chapters added weekly, you'll never run out of clues to chase and suspects to interrogate. June needs your help, detective. So download June's journey for free today on iOS or Android, or play on PC through Facebook games.


Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. They can come from anywhere, the dark corners of your hometown, a past meant to stay buried, and sometimes from within. You, if you, like me, are intrigued by all the forms that monsters take, I think you'll enjoy undertow hi, this is Fred Greenholge, creator and host of Undertow, a collection of horror podcasts that bring you under the surface and into the weird and the wicked. Each season, we start a new story set in a twisted version of the great state of Maine, where I grew up, fed by the headwaters of great horror masters like Stephen King and Rick Hatilla. In Undertow, we'll be confronting ghosts from the past, battling werewolves in the present, wrangling with cursed artifacts, and through it all, doing our best not to forget our humanity. Undertow is available wherever you listen to podcasts or at Realm FM. Stay alert out there and enjoy your time in the Undertow.


Hi, I'm Perry Carpenter, one of the hosts of the digital folklore podcast, and this is digital folklore unplugged. Unplugged episodes are where we ditch all the fancy production and story elements and bring you the raw, or only slightly edited interviews with our folklore experts. On today's episode, my co host, Mason Amadeus, and I got to sit down with Dr. Andrea Keita.


I'm Dr. Andrea Keita. I'm a folklorist and I'm a professor at East Carolina University.


In this interview, Andrea provides her thoughts on the importance of being able to view world events and trends through the lens of folklore. We also hit on how both positive and negative forms of folklore arose during the pandemic. We look at folklore and public health, folklore and technology, and we also get to hear Andrea Keita's favorite urban legend. It's a fun and creepy twist on a classic. Okay, let's get unplugged.


What has somebody who's made their career folklore excited these days? How do you keep it fresh?


Oh, it's so easy because there's so many things happening. I mean, that's the beauty of the Internet, right, is that we get to see things happening in real time. So it's such sort of a hyperactive form of folklore that it's not just. I mean, it does happen still word of mouth as well, but it's so much driven by. Did you see this on the Internet, or did you hear about this in the. So I think we're excited about everything.


So there was an article or a book chapter that you, Trevor Blank, and Lyn McNeil did. Looks like it released about two years ago, which means it may have existed a long time before that. But specifically, getting others to take the discipline of folklore seriously, give some insight there, because there's that three word phrase that you mentioned, at least in the abstract that I read, which is, that's just folklore, which is a way of kind of dismissing stuff. What's the heart of that paper and what drove you to write that?


Yeah, I mean, the three of us were really passionate about getting other people to understand folklore, and we worked a lot of times in areas where people didn't know that folklorist is a real job or they didn't think it was something that you would have to get training to get. And we certainly welcome amateur folklorists, but we wanted to make sure, too, that people know that there is an academic discipline. Like, this is something you can go to school for, right? And you can get degrees in it and a phd in it, and all three of us have phds in it. So, yeah, we really wanted people to know that this is a real career path. If this is something you're passionate about, this is something you can do as a living. It's not just something you can do for fun or as a side thing that's not taken seriously. It's a real academic pursuit. And we want to be welcoming because we know that so many of us got into folklore through ways that maybe we're a little embarrassed by now. And I think that's the way most people get into it, is they're really passionate about mythology, and they find out.


Actually, mythology is a little bit different than folklore, or they're really passionate about ghost stories or something like that, and they don't realize that, oh, hey, I can actually do this. This is something I can do for a living and make money doing it.


Yeah. So you mentioned that there's interesting paths and that there's a lot of welcoming for people who just have a passion about this, that they're amateurs at the same time. There is a discipline for folklore and there's a need for rigor in some areas. And I've seen you and others be very proactive, like on Twitter, about correcting some of the amateurs who are a little bit sloppy, unintentionally sloppy every now and then. Can you talk about the need to do that and kind of help folks like us who don't necessarily have the opportunity right now to go do this academically? How do we have the right guardrails in the right mindset as we do this?


That's great. Yeah. And I'm glad that people want to do that. It makes me really happy because I want people to be involved, but it's so important because there's so much stuff out there that is using folklore for some pretty nefarious purposes. And I think that's one of the things you really have to be careful of. And one of the things, too. It's like, yeah, it might be just this cool little story, but there's a lot of context there. Like there might be meanings you don't know about or you're not aware of, or especially when we think about some of the folklore that's happening right now, a lot of it's anti semitic, and that's really problematic, right? To just pass these things on and think, oh, hey, look at this cool thing. Without knowing that entire context, that it might come from an older anti semitic legend, or there's a lot of other things as well. We want to be careful about what we're finding and not just being like, hey, look at this cool thing. Understanding that there's more than just that, and there's so many places to find this. There's actually a great resource called open folklore, which is entirely open, right.


It's completely free, and you can use it to find information. There's so many places know. I'm a huge fan of libraries and librarians. They're amazing people, and they can help you find things. The American Folklore Society is a great place to look for experts, but also to look for resources, too. They have a lot of great resources. Same with the Library of Congress, there's an american folk life center there, and they have some really great resources, too. So there's so many things out there that are free that you can use. And so many of the journals and folklore is really dedicated to trying to get things back to the folk. So we've been really proactive about making sure our stuff is accessible. And a lot of our books, even after so many years, are free. My book on contagion and contamination, I spoke to my publishers, who are amazing, and I said, hey, can we release something? Because a lot of it was about the pandemic. Can we release a chapter? And they were like, let's release the whole book for free. And I was like, okay, yeah, I'm in. All right. So, yeah, it got released for free not even six months after it was published.


So that was really readily accessible, and they were very open to doing that. So it's been so great to work with so many people that are really dedicated to having this content be free and not behind payballs. And there's a lot of times, too, if you email a folklorist and be like, hey, can I have your article? They will send it to you.


Please read my article.


Yeah, they're excited, right?


What then is like, if you were to give a pitch for people who are in a position to make a pivot, or they're early in their decision for what their career could be, and they're in the college age or maybe a midlife age where they can make a pivot, what's the pitch for doing this academically?


I think there's so many things you can do with it. I have friends that some of them are academic, some of them are public folklorists. So they go out and work with the public. They create content, they run folk festivals, they work in museums. There's so many things you can do with this. And that's part of what attracted me to it. I knew early on I wanted to be a professor, but I wanted to be able to do. We call it applied folklore. So I want my stuff to actually be used, so I want it to get out there. And I hope that I know there are a few medical professionals that read some of my stuff on contagion contamination. So I know that makes me so happy to know my stuff's being used. So there's so many different things you can do with it. And that's happened to me. I've even as an academic, I have given lectures every place, from a grand rounds at a university hospital to doing know, fun events where I've gotten up and been like, hey, I'm a folklorist and you're a bunch of people that like the supernatural.


And I'm going to talk to you for an hour. And that's some of my favorite stuff. One of my favorites. I did a lecture in London and it was for this big supernatural event and it was open to the public. And afterwards it was so funny because right before I went on, I was talking about Slenderman. All of these kids showed up and I was like, there's like all these teenagers here. And they straight up thought I was a celebrity. And it was like the best day of my life. And they wanted my signature. I've never been asked for my signature before. It was so great. But it was all like teenagers and I couldn't believe it that they had come to this open to the public but academic event just to hear about Slenderman. And I thought this is amazing. That's why I do this.


Yeah, so I mean, speaking of Slender man and our show, mainly trying to focus on the digital and the Internet culture aspects of folklore. I think Trevor Blank's book about folklore and the Internet was like a 2011 publication. It was a little bit long in the tooth now, but you read the introduction of that and what you sense is a frustration that folklores have been left out of conversations around and really kind of the shaping of how we think about online culture. Do you think that that's been rectified over the past twelve or so years?


I hope so. I think there are more people aware of it now. Although there can always be more. Right? I still run into too many people that don't know what a folklorist is. But yeah, there's so much that we have to offer that conversation and I'm so grateful that Trevor actually really got started. He started that conversation. So that's amazing. And there was that very brief period where some academics, especially some folklorists, didn't want to think of the Internet as having folklore. But those of us who were actually on it and saw what was happening was like, this is absolutely folklore. So once our discipline kind of was like, yeah, this is it. We get it now and we're all in. I think that really was so important to get everybody on board. And now of course, all folklorists really agree that there's folklore on the Internet. So yeah, I wish there's a little bit more people that knew about that, about what folklore can contribute to that. But I've done some amazing fun stuff with not just Slenderman. One year at my conference, I gave one of the keynotes. So it was a very serious talk on reflexivity and Covid and medical folklore.


And then I also gave a talk on jorts the cat.


That's amazing.


That's why I love my discipline so much. And they were both taken completely seriously. We had a whole panel on jorts. Like, just an entire panel. And I was like, this is amazing. I love this. And I love that I can do both at the same conference. And people are like, I went to both and they were both great.


So cool.


That rules.


Yeah. Let's take a turn and talk a little bit about the way that folklore manifests online. And what you talked about there was both serious and at least from the observation point of view, what might be frivolous expressions of culture online. You've done a lot of work around the memetic nature of transmission of information, and I think both how that can be a very positive thing and then also a very scary thing. Can you talk a little bit about your work in the public health space and how folklore can shape public policy?


Yeah, absolutely. There's so much that can happen. Folklores has so much to offer public health and vice versa. I think we can really work together really well. And I think one of the big things that folklorists really understand is community, and we understand transmission and how communities interact with each other. And that's, to me, one of the things I would love to be able to see more in public health. And I think they try, but it's hard. You can't come up with one universal message that's going to know, kind of stick with everybody. So doing that community based work, I think, is so important, and that's hard to do. Right. And that's why, of course, when you hear, like, the CDC put out something, they're making a general blanket statement and hoping at the local level, more local places will be able to do something with it. But I think that really that focus on the local and trying to figure out, okay, how do we explain to this particular community what's happening? How do we address their fears and their needs and figure out what that is? Because it's different for different people. And I definitely saw that in the pandemic, so many things.


And there's always to those moments, too, you're like, oh, no, I was wrong about that. So you have to be like, okay, I'm going to be flexible on this. And that's just it. To me, that's great. That's learning, right? Okay, I tried that theory and it didn't work. So let's try something else. And to keep working in that sort of way, I think it would be great to see public health and folklore come together a little bit more on that because we are able to do that on the ground work that maybe a lot of public health, they're kind of working up here with messaging and talking about those things, and I think the folklorers can kind of come in and say, okay, how can we make this messaging more apply to this community or this particular group of people? Or are we contributing to fear by mentioning this thing? Maybe nobody thought about that yet. Maybe we shouldn't say anything about that. We don't want to introduce fear. Right. So we don't want to give them something to be afraid of. We want to give them something that's going to hopefully help them understand, but also give a sense of, okay, I'm going to be okay.


If I follow these steps, I'm going to be all right.


Can you give some examples of over the past few years, with the pandemic almost kind of recently behind us, it's hard to decide where we really are in that thing, I guess. Let's go both sides. What was the most shocking thing that you saw about how folklore played a part in that, and then what was the most encouraging part?


Yeah, I think the most shocking. I shouldn't say shocking because I kind of figured it was going to happen, but still, seeing it is horrifying, was seeing the anti asian hate that came out of this, and that was horrifying to see. And I saw it even on a local level, and it was awful to see that, but I kind of knew it was going to happen because we heard everything first about China. So I knew there was going to be a lot of hate about that and a lot of stories always, and I don't know why we do this, but this is like such a classic urban legend thing. We always immediately go to what people eat as a way to define them as other. So it was like we went right to bat soup. Right. And that, I think it both horrified and amused me at the same time because the picture of the bat soup still makes me laugh every time I see. It's just like a little bat hung on the side of a bowl of wanton soup. It's just ridiculous. It's like the bat is parsley or something. It's just a garnish.


It was so like, oh, gosh, I think every folklorist just went, oh, not this again. Because we've heard that story so many times about sort of othering people by what they eat and how that's different than what we eat. And of course, we eat a lot of weird stuff, too to other people. That's kind of a universal. So I think that kind of stuff was the most horrifying to me during this. In additionally, sort of my initial reaction, and then, of course, once vaccines came out, seeing how many people were really antivaccine was personally frightening. I mean, it was frightening to me, both as a folkloreist and as an individual who was trying to survive the pandemic. Right. So that was also hearing and seeing that, but again, not shocking. I knew that was going to happen, but I was like, okay, well, what path is it going to take this time? What are we going to be afraid of in particular this time? So, yeah, that was the worst part. I think the best part, though, was all the different ways that people adapted and the things that we decided to make a thing.


We all got excited about making sourdough starters and making masks and all these little things that we all got excited about and ways that we adapted and changed and sort of pivoted and did these different things. And I think that to me, that was so inspiring because I was like, oh, hey, yeah, let's do a zoom happy hour. Let's clap or bang something together in support of people who are out there trying to keep us safe and keep us fed and all of those things. I saw that and I thought, okay, yeah, people are good. They're still inherently good sometimes. And, yeah, we're trying.


Yeah. Did you see memes and quick transmission methods playing a big part in either of those pieces?


Oh, yeah, definitely. There were so many. And I think that was another place, too, where I saw a lot of people, especially joking about their mental health. And I think there is even that sort of dark humor about your mental health is still in some ways healthy.




It's a way of talking about it. It's a way of kind of processing it. And so I see that as being really positive. But, yeah, I saw the other things as well, unfortunately, saw antiaging memes. I saw against masking against the vaccine, a lot of memes there. But then, yeah, you also get the joking about your sourdough starter failing, and you get all these other things where you're like, oh, yeah. And I think even now, talking to my students and everything, I'm like, do you remember in the pandemic when we did this? And they're like, oh, my gosh, I completely forgot that there was, like a week where we were all really into seashi aunties. I was like, yeah, we were, for some reason. So that kind of stuff, it makes you do feel pretty good. But, yeah, there's memes about that. There's all kinds of stuff out there. I particularly enjoyed some of the boat that blocked the Suez Canal, some of the memes about that. That was really funny.


Wow, that feels like a lifetime ago.


It does. It feels like so long ago. And yet that was like, we all got really into that for some reason, because what else were we going to do? So, yeah, I think we did some really cool ways of being together without physically being together. And I think that was really cool, how adaptable we were.


So you mentioned the kind of the.


Intersection of urban or contemporary legends with these kinds of things. Are there any from an academic standpoint or just an intellectual curiosity standpoint? Was there anything other than, like, using food to other people, examples that came out of that?


There are so many. I mean, we saw so much blame happening, and that's very typical during a pandemic. And in part, we blame people because if we look at somebody in their activity and we can say, okay, if I don't do that, I'll be safe. So that makes us feel good to blame other people, because it's a way to contain it for us and make us feel safer. It's not good, but unfortunately, it's what we do. But there was so much of that going around. I mean, we saw the antiasian hate. There was a lot of hate against large gatherings, even when that gathering was something important, like a wedding or a funeral or something along those lines, the super spreader events became a thing, and we got pretty judgy about what was a good event versus a bad event, like what you should have skipped versus what you should have went to. Not really recognizing that we were all participating in some form of risk. Right. We all took risks during these time. And for some people, that was important. Protesting was important. We saw the Black Lives Matter movement really just go out en masse and protest.


And some people critiqued that as being a super spreader event. But in the end, we found out most of those people were masks. It didn't turn out to be so bad. So there are so many things that we saw with that. Like I said, the blame also kind of extended. This is kind of a fun, local fact, if you remember. You might not. But in 2020, there was the story about a university that brought the students back, and they had a 400 person party, and that was my university. Yeah, of course they were doing what students do, right. If you take a bunch of teenagers and don't let them see their friends for months and then put them together, of course they're going to have a party. And we've all been to that party that got out of hand.




That started off it was only going to be a couple of people and somebody called somebody else, and next thing you know, the party's out of hand. And that's exactly what happened. And there was all this blame on the student instead of the administration for bringing them back or for. There's so many other things that we could have blamed in that situation other than the students. But they were the scapegoat kind of, in that. Should they have had a party? Absolutely not. Should we have brought them back to campus? Probably not. That was a little too soon, I think.


Yeah. Human nature kind of takes control in those situations. Communities want to do what communities do.


Exactly. Especially, and we're talking about people whose brains are not fully formed yet, and that's just what they're going to do. So it wasn't a huge surprise when it happened. So we saw that kind of stuff. We saw a lot of folklore about the origins of the pandemic and how it started. We're still hearing about that, the lab leak theory, all of that kind of stuff. So that gets into conspiracy theory, too, which is always fun. Well, it used to be fun. I don't feel like it's as much fun as it used to be back when we just thought there was no, they didn't land on the moon.


That was more of our interview with Dr. Andrea Keita after this.


There's something weird going on with influencers right now. I'm a little freaked out. They just get everything they want. Everything's a little too perfect. Their smiles are a little too straight. They're using filters I can't find anywhere. I know what I'm about to say might sound a little unhinged, but I think it might be witchcraft. At least that's what Jenna Clayton thought right before she went missing. We're excited to introduce a new show from realm. If I go missing, the Witches did it, starring Oscar nominated actress Gaboray Sidabay. When a black writer goes missing, a white podcast host with a savior complex takes up the cause of finding her and collides with a coven of influencers she suspects are responsible. This show is a little bit of the craft meets mean girls meets get out. Learn more about if I go missing the witches did it at Realm FM. And be sure to listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


Welcome back.


And I was one of the people, too, that was looking at all these health sites way before the pandemic and saying, hey, guys, I think we should pay attention to this, because they're putting out a lot of bad health information, and it's all clickbait kind of stuff. So they're getting the clicks, they're getting monetized, and that's why they keep doing it. And that's how this stuff kind of started with, I think, some people's real beliefs that certain things were good or bad. But then it got really out of control, and people realized, you can monetize this. And that's really when it kind of spun really out of control. But that's kind of led us with the modern antivaccination movement. Now. Now, we've always had an antivaccination movement. It looks remarkably similar throughout time, again, because of the Internet, it gets out there so fast, which it didn't in the past. That was stuff. You had to be on specialty lists, and you had to know the right people to know this stuff instead of being able to google it and find it in almost no time.


And then also, I think on certain platforms, you have the algorithmic encouragement of that as soon as you go to. One of the places that I saw it start to spread was Instagram, and with people that you wouldn't necessarily think would be conspiracy theorists or people that would be anti vaccine, they might be into exercise or something like that. And then it would spread into supplements again, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but then it would spread into something else, and then all of a sudden, it's full on every form of weird conspiracy you can think of, including QAnon and potentially.


Yeah, absolutely.


What does it feel like being somebody who studied this kind of movement and then just watching it online? Because you were talking and writing about vaccine conspiracy at least a decade before that, I'd seen.


Yeah, I started studying this in 2003. That's when I wrote my first paper on it. So it's been a long time. Yeah. I can't believe it's been 20 years. Yeah. So watching this kind of slowly unfold was. Yeah, it's sort of horrifying. It's sort of like watching a car accident about to happen and knowing there's nothing you can do about it. In some ways. In some ways, the car accident was already happening. Right. It was already in progress long before I started studying it. So that was really difficult. And knowing especially that we're talking about vaccines, which are one of those things that it's so hard to show that they're helping you. I don't know how many times I haven't gotten Covid, I just know how many times I've gotten it right, but I have no idea. I might be actively not getting the measles right now, and I have no idea because I'm vaccinated. So the success of vaccination has almost also been its failure, which is kind of sad. And for a long time I really believed that if people saw a disease, they would be less antivaccine. Turned out I was wrong.


Well, that's one of those places. And I mean, I was wrong and I was right because I think the people who really had personal experience with it, that had, unfortunately, a family member die, who ended up in the hospital, or had just even had a really bad incident of COVID a lot of those people did change their minds. They did see the disease as being worse than the vaccine, so they went and got vaccinated, but other people, not so much. And then with having a new type of vaccine, even though this was being studied for a long time, the mrna vaccine being new to at least the rest of us, that was, I think, especially scary to people. And I say this all the time. I'm like 50 years from now, we're going to be talking about how amazing the mrna vaccine, it's going to be finding antibiotics, right? It's going to be like that level of medical importance and we still really don't really recognize that. But I was so excited when I first realized this. Oh my gosh, they're going to bring out the mrna. This is amazing. I'm so excited for this.


But I knew that people were going to be scared because it's new and they'd be worried that it was untested, when in reality it had already been in testing for like ten years. Just pretty standard for vaccines. So yeah, knowing that, that was also hard, because I was like, oh no, people are going to be worried about this. But this is such a flexible way of doing this, and such an amazing way of doing it. And then of course too, when we had other vaccines coming on the market, so especially the J and J vaccine, which did not need the specialized storage, I was so excited about that because I was like, this is amazing. We don't have to have special ways of storing it and all the infrastructure that you need to have to have those things. But then I was like, oh, no, people are going to think of it as being like a second class vaccine, whereas it's not going to be as good as the other ones because it's going to be used in rural areas especially. And there's still this idea that when we don't treat rural areas as well as we treat other places.


Yeah, it seemed like there's a convergence of other interesting conspiracies at the same time. So it wasn't just the vaccine, it was that there might be a microchip in the vaccine and that Bill Gates and everybody else is involved and there's patents that have been filed decades ago. And at the same time, the 5G thing became a big deal, especially in the UK. What do you think contributed to that confluence of conspiracy? Just that we had more time on our hands because we're all stuck at home.


That might have been part of it. Yeah, for sure. I think maybe we were read because we were all reading, right? We were all reading and listening and trying to find out more. So I think, unfortunately, we found that information, too. But yeah, I think that's part of it. And I think anytime anything new is introduced, there's always going to be that little bit of fear about it where you're just like, okay, what? This is new. I don't know anything about this. Is this going to affect me in some way? Because you just don't know. So I think every bit of technology, there's always that little tiny fear and maybe it goes away really quickly. Like maybe you use it and you're like, oh, this is great, and you totally forget about it. But there is always that, and we've always seen that, too, throughout time. Every time DUa technology is invented and brought to the public, there's a little bit of anxiety about it. And I think we transfer the same legends to new tech, which I think is also hilarious. So the same way that you were probably, I was told, at least as a kid, don't just sit too close to the tv or it ruin my eyes and don't use the phone during a lightning storm and all that kind of stuff.


That's what we were heard about cell phones. And later I remember the same thing, like, oh, if you put your cell phone in your pocket, you'll get cancer. The same as sitting too close to the tv was going to give you cancer or their microwave was going to give you cancer. So it's all the same stories just applied to the new tech. So that's always interesting to see how that kind of works. Out. And in this case, it was. Yeah. We decided to throw in some microchips and some five g, and it just turned into this perfect storm of, well, why now? Why are these things there now? And it's like, oh, well, 5g really helped people stay connected, especially a lot of people who were in rural areas or that were in areas where the Internet was being used so much, especially for kids going to school. This was a great way for them to stay connected. So it was like, well, this is great. But not everybody saw it that way because it was all new, unlocked an.


Old memory of being told not to watch the microwave, which I completely forgot about.




All of those, don't stand too close to the microwave. Don't sit too close to the tv. Don't put your cell phone in your lap. You'll be sterilized type of thing. Yeah.


Something I would be curious about your opinion on, before we move too far past it, is when we were talking with Lyn McNeil, one of the things she brought up was how folklorists have kept a non interventionist stance in a lot of things and whether or not that might change and that that's sort of an identity crisis going on in the field. I was wondering what your thoughts were on that.


Yeah, so I'm on team. Let's go out there and support people and join in on these things, because I think regardless of when we study something, we affect it.




Just our presence there is going to affect it. So we've always been that way, and I think folklorists have been involved. We've been involved in labor movements, in the. We've been involved in civil rights. We've been involved in this stuff all along. It was just. We weren't supposed to talk about it. Right. But we were all doing it. So I think folklore has been really progressive in that way, and that it supported these people as it also studied them in some ways. So we've got a long history of looking at labor song and all this other kind of stuff, so we've always been there and we've always been supportive. We just haven't talked about it. And that was hard, especially for me, because I really wanted to understand people who don't vaccinate, so I didn't want to alienate them in any sort of way. And I kind of felt like I could do that.




Like, I could do that by accident, just by saying that I was pro vaccine, and I've always been pro vaccine. So I just kind of, like, didn't say much. I listened, and I did the things I was taught to do. Right. But the fact is, I always had a stance, right? I just maybe didn't talk about it. And then I also realized because of that, everyone hated me. Absolutely. It was so funny because a lot of pro vaccine people thought I was giving these people too much of a voice. I wasn't giving them by via trying to understand them, that I was validating them, which was not my goal. And then the people who were antivaccine were like, well, why aren't you saying the vaccines aren't safe? That's not what. Yeah, so I kind of got hated by everybody, which involved a lot of bad things on Twitter, but, yeah, so I kind of realized even before the pandemic, I was like, I need to take a stance on this. So I started doing it with my flu shot. I started taking pictures of myself getting my flu shot and saying, here it is. Here I am, somebody that does this work and is getting vaccinated.


And it was funny because I was told by someone that I was just getting injected with saline and I was faking the whole photo and all this stuff, and I was like, oh, God, I cannot win. Yeah, that's kind of when I realized there was really no way to win. But it was funny, too, because a lot of times I think in that place, being a folklorist actually worked in my favor because especially when I wanted to talk to medical professionals, because they were like, oh, yeah, that's why you're studying it, because you're a folklorist and you study things that aren't true. And I was like, well, that's not 100% it. That gets back to that triviality idea. I was like, but for them, that was like, oh, that makes sense. So I was like, all right, I'm going to work with this. Doing that kind of work, I think, has become increasingly important, especially because we've realized and we've seen how bad these things can get. So it's not just the fun conspiracy theories, which were never completely safe, but they seemed more harmless, and they probably weren't, but they seemed that way. And I think we kind of thought of them as this sort of, like, almost sideshow kind of thing.




They were not the dominant narrative. We weren't worried about them. And I think now we need to be worried about them. So I think that's also part of it, is that we've entered a world where we have to take a stand. We have to say, hey, that's anti semitic, or, hey, your resources aren't the best. You might want to look at these books. Right. And I think that's what I try to do is guide people. I'm like, hey, yes and no. Here's a great resource. Try this out. So I try to be positive, but because if you're negative, especially in a place, know, an online forum or Twitter or any place like that, people aren't going to respond well. But if you respond with positivity, people sometimes listen. Right. And they don't always, but sometimes it makes a difference.


So I'm interested in over the past several years, have you had any observations over the way that different folk groups work or coalesce on different platforms and what the output of that is Twitter versus Reddit versus four chan versus Facebook?


Yeah, that's an interesting question. There's definitely some differences in how people interact and what happens. I look a lot at comment sections on news articles, which a lot of times now are being shut off. So I was like, oh, probably best for society, but terrible for my research.


Those are some of the most wild west comment sections.


Yeah. The stuff I have seen on there, I'm like, what is even happening right now? But, yeah, they get pretty wild. So, yeah, that was definitely a place where I think the Wild west is a great metaphor for. Yeah, I mean, what happens on Twitter, how people feel anonymous in these spaces when they're really not, I think, is really little bit, a little part of me has kind of a little bit enjoyed when people get called out for saying and doing things they shouldn't be doing, especially on, like, I was pretty active on Twitter for a while and, yeah, that was one of those places where especially I got so many death threats and I knew I was getting like a 10th of what other people were getting. I'm still not like, I'm one of the main people that get called. People are still discovering folklore. So I'm not first on the list. Those people are getting nonstop death threats, whereas I just get a few. I think I haven't gotten death threats on any other platform, which is kind of interesting. I'm not terribly active on some other platforms, but I was on Facebook for a long time, never got a death threat being on Facebook.


I got people disagreeing with me, and that was fine. And I'm fine with that. People are allowed to disagree with me. But, yeah, I really saw that some places could become really toxic places really quickly. Twitter was unfortunately one of those places, and it's not gotten better over time. Yeah. And sometimes you get on, like, a Reddit forum and it's going good, and then all of a sudden it gets really bad. So, yeah, I think that potential is out there, and you have some people that are doing it because it is their conviction, and then you, of course, get bots or people that are just doing it for the lulls and those kind of people that are out just spreading chaos and not realizing that this affects real people. Right. That they're actually causing real damage and real harm. So that's scary.


Do you think there's a link to, I guess, the health of the culture or the positivity of the culture on a platform that is sort of shaped by that platform's actual user interaction? In terms of how easy it is to make accounts content, you create, the affordances the platform has for remixing and reusing content, things like that?


Yeah, I think so. I think certain platforms do lend themselves more to being able to make a really easy fake account.




And if you can make a really easy fake account, you're going to get a lot of people that are using those for not good reasons. So I think if you can have some way of backing this up, making sure it's a real person, some way of verification other than just like an email or something like that, I think you can have a better discussion. I think people will have real world consequences. Right. A platform that makes you use your real name, it would definitely be, I think, a totally different place. So, yeah, I think there are things that platforms can do to make these things better. Are they doing them? Not necessarily, because some people don't like that, but, yeah, there are ways that I think platforms can certainly do a better job at these things. But I also think they're an interesting insight, still into culture. Even when they're bad, they're still an interesting insight. And this is one of the things I've actually said about bots, is I think even if it's a bot, it's still programmed by a human.




And that human still knows folklore. Yeah, some of them are just throwing some stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks, but they still know what to throw at the wall. Right. So there's still that human element, even in a bot. Now, what the bot does after it's been programmed sometimes is chaos and disorder. But, yeah, there are different ways to look at these things and see, okay, well, what is the culture afraid of? I think is the best, clearest thing we can get out of all of this is finding out, okay, this is what people are worried about. And in a public health situation, that's a great thing to know. Right? That's super useful. But in other situations, oh, gosh, the hate that comes out is sometimes really bad.


After the break, the conclusion of our interview with Dr. Andrea Keita. Welcome back.


I'm really interested in, as somebody that's a professional folklore, like, what is your favorite contemporary legend?


Oh, that's a good question. I like a lot of the ghost.


Stories, so maybe talk about one of those and then talk about what makes that significant, either to you or to what's the cultural mirror that that's trying to bring out?


One of the ones I really like. And I do love a good ghost story. I love the vanishing hitchhiker legend. So that's the picking up. The hitchhiker finding out they died ten years ago on that night. I love that one. And I think part I love it is for a super nerdy reason. It's one of the ones that we can trace back. And we have versions of it, not only on horseback, but on people walking next to each other. And they are walking. And a lot of times in the older version, it's like they're walking past a graveyard and this thing happens. My favorite version, though, is a horseback one. It starts off with this guy sees a woman outside of a cemetery. She looks desperate for attention. He is on horseback, and she says, well, I need to get to this town. He's like, well, that's where I'm headed. So he picks her up and puts her in front of him on the horse. And key assumes she falls asleep because she kind of becomes heavy. And then as he rides through the night when the sun rises, he realizes that she's a good.




Yeah, that's a variation of that I haven't heard.


Yeah, I like that. That's a great variation. I love that one. Yeah, because it's just so creepy. All the other versions, she just disappears.




But this one, she's alive, but then her corpse is like, there, you see? I could make anything dark.


There's always some kind of undercurrent of why this thing emerged. Why do you think that that one emerged the way that it did?


Its obvious one is don't pick a hitchhikers. Right, right. So that was kind of like telling you that. But I think there is something there, because we've all had that moment where we're like, should I stop for that person? They look like they need help. Should I stop? And that tension, I think we feel not only driving and seeing a hitchhiker, but we feel that tension even when we see someone start choking? Or you're like, am I supposed to do something? Right? So it speaks to that tension of, is this the moment where I step in? And you never really know because there's always that part of you that's like, maybe somebody else knows better, is better at CPR than I am, and they should be here. Maybe there's a doctor here, right? So you always have that moment where you're like, am I supposed to do this? Is this safe, too?




And there's also that issue of safety, especially stopping for somebody. But I think it also reflects in other ways that we help people. It's like, is this the right thing to do, or am I going to put myself in danger by doing this? So I think it speaks to that tension of not knowing what to do in that particular situation. Do I stop and help somebody that looks like they need help, or is this going to end up horribly for me? And this is like a story about how it ends up horribly for you, where you're psychologically damaged but not necessarily physically harmed. So it also lets you know, too. And I think this is so true, especially when you're a kid and hearing these stories. When I was a kid, I was told, like, don't go out in the woods by yourself. You're going to fall and hurt yourself. And of course, as a child, I was like, I'm not going to fall and hurt myself. But if you told me if there was, like, a witch out there or something, I'd have been like, oh, don't go in the woods.




That seems so much more real when you're a kid. And I think that's part of why that story is told is it's not just like, you're going to get murdered. Heard you're going to meet a ghost and this parrot, like, you're going to be scared and all these terrible things are going to happen. So it's like, even though it's the least likely scenario, it's the one that sticks, right? It's the one that you're like, oh, I'm not going to forget that.


I love that. I've not heard that horse one with the actual corpse.


Yeah. I also have a really good one. I actually collected years ago from somebody who thought they had picked up an angel and had told this really interesting. Like, the angel had asked them what they had been worried about, and they had talked about them with it, and they actually felt better afterwards. And right after, they were like, okay, I'm getting out here. And they went back to look for them, and there was nobody there. This is another good one, too. They also had a backpack, so it's like a physical item, too, that they threw in the back of the truck and picked back up. So it was like there was this physicality to the legend, too, that it wasn't just your imagination. This thing really happened. Great story.


Something I'm interested in, and we talked briefly about it with Lynn, too, was AI, and folklore that's emerging around AI, because Loeb was, I think, one of the most prominent examples we've seen of that. But there's obviously a lot of societal anxiety around artificial intelligence, and I think that might be something we end up.


Touching on in season two. Right, Perry?


Yeah, I think so. We have a lot of things around those types of topics that we're tentatively wanting to explore, if we can find a good treatment for it.


So is that something that has piqued your interest or come on your radar at all?


Yeah, AI has been really interesting, especially as a professor, because, of course, that's the big thing we're worried about. Right. So the students writing their papers that way, every time anybody starts being like, the Internet's terrible, I'm always like, whenever they think about it in those terms where people say, AI is terrible, I'm always like, AI is a tool, right? We can use it for good or bad. It's us that is good or bad, right. Not the thing itself.


Yeah. AI is neutral. People are terrible.


Yeah, people are terrible. So what we put into AI, it reflects us, right? So, yeah, as a professor, it's something we've always thought about. So I always try to think, okay, what's the opposite side of this? And it's a good way to start writing. For a lot of people, especially who have anxiety about writing, it gives them a paragraph to start with and to edit and to do something with, and it takes about that anxiety. And I thought, oh, my gosh, that's a great way to use it in the classroom also. I've used it to be like, look how wrong it is. I pulled up, I was like, write a bio for me. And it listed all these books. I did not write all this other stuff. And I was like, yeah, see, guys? I didn't write that. That's not me. That's not where I was born. This is just wrong. Try it for yourself. See if you get anything. And they were like, oh, my God, this is so wrong. And I'm like, yes. So this is what this teaches you, that this is not always the best thing so if you choose to use it, you have to realize, and you have to look this stuff up.


It might be easier to just write your paper. And also, I think you can design assignments around this kind of stuff. I have people interview people. So I was like, well, guess what, you're doing it on camera now. There you go. That's what we're going to do. And they were excited about it. I'm like, but that's the way I know it's not AI. So I think there's ways we can use it. And, yeah, I think there's a lot we can do with it in positive ways. And I think the thing that bothers me the most is when it creates art. I love, on a personal level, I love how uncanny some of that art is because some of it is just like, oh, wow, that is messed up. Why does that thing have that many fingers? That kind of stuff. But for me, I worry about that for artists because I know artists already have trouble making a living. I want to support them in that way. So that kind of stuff, especially when they feed an artist's art into AI, I'm like, well, that's pretty unethical, that kind of stuff. Again, though, that's all people, right?


That's not the thing. So, yeah, I think it can be used for good and for evil, right? So, yeah, I think we need to be conscious about it and we need to think about ways. Like, as a professor, I just need to think about, okay, well, how can I use this? How can I show people? These are its strengths and weaknesses. This is what it does. So, yeah, maybe it's useful in some ways, but it's not going to be useful in others.




But if you need help getting started or something like that, you can use it, but you have to double check everything, right? And it's going to get better over time, but you're still going to have to double check things. Like, you can't just put out something. Can you imagine a journalist just writing something in AI and submitting it? It would not work, at least in some places. But then, yeah, this might be a new way for people to write more content for clickbait. That's a possibility as well. So we have to be careful.


Yeah, I'm sure that's happening now. But you mentioned some interesting things so that the AI hallucination, just where it states supposed facts with confidence. There was OpenAI, their own safety team did a report on Chet GPT four, and it was really interesting, some of the findings that they had in that because they were actually able to trick it into tricking a human into giving CaPtcHa responses. So they basically took some of the parameters off and then said, your objective is to do x. And some of that was, like, behind a paywall, and they gave it access to funds, and it contacted somebody on one of these, it's like a fiver site, and said, I need you to do x for me because I'm visually impaired. So can you bypass this caPtcha? And then it got the resources that it wanted. And so their own safety team is saying, we need to find boundaries for these things. At the same time, anytime you put a boundary up, all you have to do is craft your prompt a little bit differently. The interesting thing, I think, from an AI art perspective, and I understand the ethical dilemmas in all of that, but I think it also unlocks an entirely new era of disinformation and misinformation.


We saw how good the pope in the puffy white jacket looked about a month ago, and before Trump's arraignment, they had the AI generated pictures of Trump being arrested. And that tricked a lot of people as well. And there are those telltale, uncanny valley types of things. If you zoom into the background, you can tell faces are distorted, and you can tell that there are some people with six fingers instead of five, or their arms are the wrong length. But at a cursory glance with a headline and just that picture, and the fact that most of us only look at that stuff for, like, five or 10 seconds, it's probably good enough to pass and really shape public opinion. Do you have any thoughts about that?


Yeah, that kind of stuff scares me. The deep fakes, all that kind of stuff. The fact that we can manipulate video to look and make it sound like somebody said something, that is scary. And this is the stuff I worry about, because nobody ever uses this for good reasons. Right? Like, you don't do it to make a birthday message for your friend or something like that. Most of the time, it's used in this way to trick people, and that is very concerning. And I think we're going to see more and more of that. And it's funny, I think we're going to have to go to a point where we really do have classes on digital literacy, and we start treating people from a very young age on this. And I've thought that for a long time. I'm like, you know what? As someone who sees how easily it is to get tricked into these things, like, oh, my gosh, it's happened to me, it's happened to all of us, right, where we've looked at something and been like, wait a minute, what? And then we have, hopefully we do more research, but some of us don't because it's not important.




The thing at the time seems not important, but then that just lets you keep doing it, right? You start to get used to that. And I think that's where it gets really dangerous, is when you stop fact checking. You stop fact checking in a lot of other places, too, right? You start to just accept things, especially when they're being told by someone you trust. And actually, you mentioned Lyn McNeil. She has an article on this and it's really great. And she talks about how people trust the people they know. So if your friend posts something, you're more likely to believe it because you trust that friend, you know that person. Right. That is also problematic because we're also expanding that network out, right.


For folks like us who are doing podcasts and others that touch on the folklore space, any words of guidance or what would your hope as a professional academic folklore be for the folks like us who are just kind of trying to figure it out as we go? How do we put the right parameters on that?


Yeah, I think definitely look at what you're reading, where it comes from, just like you would with anything else that we've talked about today. But I also think ask people. Ask a folklorist. We're all out there on social media. The American Folklore society is there. Most countries have their own folklore societies, so ask those people. They're going to be willing to help. And yeah, reach out. Folklore are always so excited to hear that people know about us. So we're still very excited to hear that people are interested in what we have to say.


Thanks so much for listening, and thanks to Dr. Andrea Keita for spending time with us.


Be sure to check out the show.


Notes for tons of links and references.


To and about Andrea's work.


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Season, hit us up. We'd love to hear from you.


Digital Folklore is created and produced by 8th Layer Media. That's all for now. Thanks for listening.


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