Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Meredith Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elizabeth Metzger, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph Moxley, Ph.D.


Presidential Rhetoric, Social Networking Sites, Visual Rhetoric, Ethos


The purpose of this project is to examine the visual political ad hominem arguments used on Instagram during the 2016 presidential campaign. Using Walton’s (2007) five subtypes of ad hominem arguments, this study analyzes the “attack ads” posted on Instagram from five of the 2016 presidential candidates into each subtype. This project seeks to understand how ad hominem arguments within political rhetoric function when they are visual. This study uses Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2006) theory of modality and Rose’s (2012) compositional interpretation to analyze compositional structure of the image and parallels this analysis with ad hominem subtypes.

Findings reveal the abusive (direct) subtype as the most commonly used which aligns with traditional or popular uses of Instagram as a social networking site aimed at sharing personal events and stories. The abusive (direct) subtype is an ad hominem that attacks a respondent’s moral character, or ethos, rather than their argument or biases or inconsistencies. The visual abusive (direct) arguments used by the candidates largely targeted their opponents personally which parallels the popular uses of the medium Instagram.