COURSE: Social Media and the Politics of the Digital Age

Course content

Social networking sites (SNSs) like Facebook and Twitter affect virtually all stakeholders in the political process. Politicians and parties use social media to campaign, the media use SNSs to cover political news as it happens, and citizens use social media to read, share, and debate political issues. The new and evolving ways these different actors use social media to engage with politics is altering the traditional power relations between them. In recent history we have seen SNSs play a central role in organizing protests (Occupy Wall Street), launching social movements (#BlackLivesMatter), and even inciting revolutions (the Arab Spring). Still, some scholars argue that since social media activity does not directly influence formal policy making, the impact of social media on politics is minimal.

This course will provide students with the knowledge to critically examine the implications of social media for contemporary politics, as well as equip them with the methodological tools for collecting and analyzing social media data in their own research. Theoretically, we explore how social media is affecting traditional dynamics of political communication, media reportage, and citizen engagement with politics. We then dig deeper into the technological designs of various SNS (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube), in order to understand how the different technological designs of SNS influence user behavior online and consequently, political engagement. To put theory into practice, we then learn how to collect and analyze Facebook and Twitter data with R programming and Gephi, using the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and ‘Brexit’ as a case study.

The course is structured as follows:

 

1.   Introduction and Overview to the Course

2.   The Backdrop: Contemporary Trends in the Political and Media Landscape

3.   Social Media and the Public Sphere: New Technologies, New Dynamics

4.   The Supply Side of Political Communication: How Political Actors use Social Media during Election Campaigns

5.   Hybrid Media: The Relationship between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Media

6.   The Demand Side of Political Communication: Empowered Citizens?

7.   It’s All about Networking: The Logic of Connective Action and Protest Movements

8.  SNSs and Digital Architectures: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube Compared

9.   (Seminar) ‘R’ You Kidding Me, I’m Programming!? Social Media Data Collection with R

10. (Seminar) Computational Social Science: Mining your Data in R I

11. (Seminar) Computational Social Science: Mining your Data in R II

12. (Seminar) Network Visualization: A Gephi Tutorial

13. Big Data versus Thick Data: Approaches to Social Media Research

14. Conclusion and Reflections

 

Competency Description

This course helps students understand how new media technologies affect traditional power relationships between politicians, media, and the citizenry. The course further enriches students’ understanding of contemporary political processes as well the role of citizens in influencing them in the Digital Age. The course prepares students theoretically and methodologically to conduct their own social media research in relation to elections, media studies, and/or public opinion.

The course is useful for students aiming to work in political communication, public relations, journalism, or civil society organizations. The hands-on introduction to programming will aid students interested in using computational social science for their thesis, and some students may continue to develop these skills to increase their marketability in future job searches.

Education

Bachelorlevel: 10 ECTS
Masterlevel: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome

The objective of the course/seminar is to enable the students to:

  • Understand how social media is changing the ways politicians, the media, and citizens interact with one another as well as engage with polarizing political issues

    Identify the interactive networks and discursive frames that social media support

  • Compare the technological design differences between social media platforms, and critically assess how their influence on user behavior can affect politics directly and indirectly

  • Apply theories of social media to examine concrete cases, e.g. the 2016 US Presidential Election and the upcoming referendum on UK membership in the European Union

  • Collect and Analyze social media data using computational social science methods with R Programming and Gephi

  • Reflect upon the implications of social media for contemporary political processes, and democracy more generally, moving forward in the Digital Age

 

The course consists of primarily of lectures and student discussions, but will also contain four seminar-style classes. In the first, students will learn to use R programming software to collect Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram Data. In the second and third seminars, they will learn how to use R to mine and analyze their data. The fourth will introduce students to Gephi, in order to visualize the connections among social media users. The lectures will disseminate theoretical approaches to social media in relation to politics, as well as apply theories to primarily two empirical cases: the ongoing 2016 US Presidential Election and upcoming UK referendum on EU membership.

All course literature is available online via Rex. The course has two primary texts, supported by a number of secondary sources. The two primary texts are:

Coleman, S., & Freelon, Deen. (2015). Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., & Mahrt, M. (2013). Twitter and Society. K. Weller, & C. Puschmann (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang.

 

Introduction and Overview to the Course

Coleman, S., & Freelon, Deen. (2015). Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

  • Chapter 1, Introduction: Conceptualizing Digital Politics 1-17

  • Chapter 2, The Internet as a Civic Space 18-34

Trottier, D., & Fuchs, C. (2014). Social media, politics and the state: Protests, revolutions, riots, crime and policing in the age of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube

Chapter 1, Theorising Social Media, Politics and the State: 3-38 

 

The Backdrop: Contemporary Trends in the Political and Media Landscape

Kriesi, H., Bochsler, Daniel, Matthes, Jorg, Lavenex, Sandra, Buhlmann, Marc, & Esser, Frank. (2013). Democracy in the age of globalization and mediatization (Challenges to democracy in the 21st century). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

  • Introduction: The New Challenges to Democracy 1-17

  • Chapter 7: Mediatization as a Challenge: Media Logic Versus Political Logic 155-176

  • Conclusion: An Assessment of the State of Democracy Given the Challenges of Globalization and Mediatization 202-216

Mazzoleni, G., & Schulz, W. (1999). `Mediatization' of politics: A challenge for democracy?. Political Communication16(3), 247-261. (14 pages)

Social Media and the Public Sphere: New Technologies, New Dynamics

Risse, T. (2014). European Public Spheres, Politics Is Back (Contemporary European Politics). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Introduction, 1-25

Shirky, C.. (2011). The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change. Foreign Affairs90(1), 28–41.

Loader, B. D., & Mercea, D. (2011). Networking democracy? Social media innovations and participatory politics. Information, Communication & Society14(6), 757-769.

  1. The Supply Side of Political Communication: How Political Actors use Social Media during Election Campaigns

Coleman, S., & Freelon, Deen. (2015). Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

  • Chapter 8, Digital Campaigning 118-135

Cogburn, D. L., & Espinoza-Vasquez, F. K. (2011). From networked nominee to networked nation: Examining the impact of Web 2.0 and social media on political participation and civic engagement in the 2008 Obama campaign. Journal of Political Marketing10(1-2), 189-213

Hybrid Media: The Relationship between ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Media

Chadwick, A. (2013). The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power. Oxford University Press.

  • Introduction 1-8

  • Conclusion: Politics and Power in the Hybrid Media System 207-211

Freelon, D., & Karpf, D. (2015). Of big birds and bayonets: hybrid Twitter interactivity in the 2012 Presidential debates. Information, Communication & Society18(4), 390-406.

Jungherr, A (2014). "The Logic of Political Coverage on Twitter: Temporal Dynamics and Content." Journal of Communication 64.2: 239-59.

The Demand Side of Political Communication: Empowered Citizens?

Verba, S., & Nie, N. H. (1972). Participation in America. Harper & Row.

  • Chapter 1: Participation And Democracy 1- 23

  • Chapter 2: Citizen Participation: How Much? How Widespread? 25-44

Halupka, M. (2014). Clicktivism: A systematic heuristic. Policy & Internet,6(2), 115-132.

Cantijoch, M., Cutts, D., & Gibson, R. (2015). Moving Slowly up the Ladder of Political Engagement: A ‘Spill‐over’ Model of Internet Participation. The British Journal of Politics & International Relations 1-23

It’s All about Networking: The Logic of Connective Action and Protest Movements

Coleman, S., & Freelon, Deen. (2015). Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing

  • Chapter 11: The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics 169-198

Bruns, A., & Burgess, J. (2014). Twitter Hashtags from Ad Hoc to Calculated Publics. Hashtag Publics: The Power and Politics of Networked Discourse Communities. New York: Peter Lang. 1-22

Papacharissi, Z., & de Fatima Oliveira, M. (2012). Affective news and networked publics: The rhythms of news storytelling on #Egypt. Journal of Communication62(2), 266-282.

SNS and their Digital Architectures: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube Compared

Berg, M. (2014). Participatory trouble: Towards an understanding of algorithmic structures on Facebook. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberpspace8(3)

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., & Mahrt, M. (2013). Twitter and society. K. Weller, & C. Puschmann (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang.

  • Chapter 3, Structure of Twitter: Social and Technical29-43

Clark, L. S. (2016). Constructing Public Spaces| Participants on the Margins: Examining the Role that Shared Artifacts of Engagement in the Ferguson Protests Played Among Minoritized Political Newcomers on Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. International Journal of Communication10, 26 235-253

Bossetta, Dutceac Segesten, and Trenz (2016). “Transnational Civic Engagement through Social Media: The Factual, Ideological, and Moral Styles” in Social media and European politics: Rethinking power and legitimacy in the digital era, edited by Mauro Barisione and Asimina Michailidou, Palgrave.

(Seminar) ‘R’ You Kidding Me, I’m Programming!? Social Media Data Collection with R

 

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., & Mahrt, M. (2013). Twitter and society. K. Weller, & C. Puschmann (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang.

  • Chapter 5, Data Collection on Twitter 55-69

Jürgens, Pascal and Jungherr, Andreas, A Tutorial for Using Twitter Data in the Social Sciences: Data Collection, Preparation, and Analysis (January 5, 2016). Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2710146

(Seminar) Computational Social Science: Mining your Data in R I

Bruns, A., Burgess, J., & Mahrt, M. (2013). Twitter and society. K. Weller, & C. Puschmann (Eds.). New York: Peter Lang.

  • Chapter 8, Computer Assisted Content Analysis of Twitter Data 97-109

    Coleman, S., & Freelon, Deen. (2015). Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

  • Chapter 16, Computational Approaches to Online Politics Expression: Rediscovering a ‘Science of the Social’ 281-305

  • Chapter 24, Automated Content Analysis of Online Political Communication 433-450

  1. (Seminar) Computational Social Science: Mining your Data in R II

    Ekbia, H., Mattioli, M., Kouper, I., Arave, G., Ghazinejad, A., Bowman, T., ... & Sugimoto, C. R. (2015). Big data, bigger dilemmas: A critical review. Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology66(8), 1523-1545.

(Seminar) Networking Visualization: A Gephi Tutorial

Cherven, K. (2013). Network Graph Analysis and Visualization with Gephi. Birmingham, GBR: Packt Publishing Ltd

  • Chapter 2, Creating Simple Network Graphs 17-30

Cioffi-Revilla, C. (2013). Introduction to computational social science: principles and applications. Springer Science & Business Media.

  • Chapter 4, Social Networks

  1. Big Data versus Thick Data: Differing or Complimentary Approaches

    to Social Media Research?

Coleman, S., & Freelon, Deen. (2015). Handbook of Digital Politics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.

  • Chapter 25, On the Cutting Edge of Big Data: Digital Politics Research in the Social Computing Literature 451-472

Dutceac Segesten and Bossetta (2016) A Typology of Political Engagement Online: How Citizens and CSO’s used Twitter to Mobilize in the 2015 British General Elections

Why Big Data Needs Thick Data (https://medium.com/ethnography-matters/why-big-data-needs-thick-data-b4b3e75e3d7#.k98g1j7kk)

Conclusion and Reflections

Gibson, R. K. (2015). Party change, social media and the rise of ‘citizen-initiated’ campaigning. Party Politics21(2), 183-197.

McChesney, R. W. (2015). Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times. The New Press.

  • Chapter 3, Will the Internet set us free? 119-185

This course is recommended for students with an interest in political communication, media studies, and/or protest movements. Students should have a basic understanding of party politics, democratic theory, and social media. They should also have a working knowledge of qualitative methods, e.g. content analysis or discourse analysis, in order theoretically ground the computational science methods they will learn during the course. However, no prior knowledge of computational social science or programming is needed.

ECTS
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Oral examination
Oral exam
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28