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Social Media and Democracy
Course Description

Widespread concerns about the impact of social media on democracy has ledto a rapid increase of scholarly research on this topic and the emergence of a new field. Initially, the internet and by extension social media was perceived as the “liberation technology” which had the potential to disrupt non-democratic regimes and promote freedom around the world. Recent events,including the 2016 presidential elections in the United States and the Brexit referendum,revealed the worrisome susceptibility ofsocial media for political manipulation, foreign election interference, online disinformation, hate speechand political polarization. The Covid-19 pandemicand concerns about Covid-19 related misinformation has ledto new rapid developments in the regulation of disinformation. These developmentsadd another layer of challenges on liberal democracy –the risk of free speech violations. This course explores the role of social media in politics, with a particular focus on how social media influences liberal democracyand aims to provide awide overview of the most recent research on this topic.The course starts with an introduction to mass media and its role in elections and democracy and then shifts the focus on social media. Here we willcover central topics on disinformation,political participation, protests, polarization and echo chambers, hate speech, political advertising, bots and computational political propaganda, and the changing landscape for journalism and mass media. Besides scientific analyses of the recent developments in social media and its influence on liberal democracy, we will also coverrecent policy developments and talk about laws and rules which aim to regulate social media content. Here we will discussrecentmeasures to correct misinformation, reforms of intermediary liability rules for platforms, media regulation and transparency measures.

Learning Outcomes

With the help of the course the student should acquire the ability to:1. understand basic concepts in the study of social mediaand democracy2. understand and competently describe the challenges social media poseson liberal democracy as well as current approaches to mitigate these challenges3. critically read contemporary research 4. generate new ideas for own research (e.g. MA thesis)6. and will practice academic writing


The required readingsprovide an overview of the most-recent developments in the realm of social media, misinformation,and democracy. A big part of these readingsincludesscientific analysis relying on quantitative data. Previous experience with(or interest in)quantitative methods is of advantage,but not a requirement. The completion of thecourse on “Introduction to Public Opinion, Political Communication and PoliticalBehavior” prior to this class is encouraged, but not a strict requirement.

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