Contact a Humanities Office or Academic unit.
Find your course outlines.

CMST 3SM3 Build Public:Use Social Media (C01)

Academic Year: Fall 2019

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dilyana Mincheva


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23536

Office Hours: Thursday, 10.30 am – 11.30, Monday 9.30 - 10.30 or by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description: The concept of the public sphere is a central (both theoretical and pragmatic) focus in communications and media studies. The key debates address how media both structure the public sphere and offer spaces for democratic participation in it. The technologies of the Internet and digital communication, however, complicate classical debates and demand further evaluation of the relationship between media, publics and the public sphere. Ranging from the techno-optimistic belief that digital media are an essential tool for building open, transparent, inclusive and well-informed societies to the techno-pessimistic view that the cyberspace extends and frequently deepens existing cultural and political divisions, the most important stake of these debates is the agencyof the publics to respond (often creatively and politically) to technological changes. Precisely the assessment of the relationship between the public sphere and citizenship, and the participatory dynamics of the new media public sphere(s), is at the centre of the course. The second part of the course, which is case-study based, aims to study the media use in a wide variety of contemporary social movements such as the anti-globalization movement, the Arab Spring, the high-tech media jihad of the ISIS state, the freedom of speech debates, and other various forms of media activism that have redefined global politics and governance in the (post)-digital, (post)-political age.

Learning Goals: Particularly geared towards communications and multi-media majors, the course aims to present important, both classical and contemporary, interdisciplinary discussions on the relationship between new media and the public sphere. Emphasis will be placed on enhancing students' critical thinking as well as writing and presentation skills.


Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

The required readings for the course are either designated with hyperlinks or will be made available on Avenue prior to lecture/seminar. Course readings not found in the required books are available online, either via hyperlinks in the schedule below, or from the Avenue site. Please note that both the schedule and the readings are subject to change, so come to class and check your McMaster account regularly. The two books listed below - Jose Van Dijck's and Manuel Castell's - are available for purchase at the campus book store.

Jose Van Djick, A Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media, USA: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Manuel Castells, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age, Polity, 2012.

Alan McKee, The Public Sphere: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005 (available on A2L).

Charlie Gere, Digital Culture, Reaktion Books, 2009 (second expanded edition). The book is available free of charge here:

Method of Assessment:





Four journal entries

20 %

On a rolling basis, weeks 2-14

Response paper 1

20 %

October 10

Response paper 2

20 %

November 28

In-class presentation

20 %

Weeks 4 – 14

Attendance and participation

20 %

Weeks 1 – 14


1. Four journal entries: You are required to write four journal engagements (around 300-500 words each) with four different readings discussed in lecture/seminar and post them on A2L. Your responses will be scored on a credit/no credit basis rather than letter graded. There are no deadlines for this assignment. You have to complete it between the beginning and the end of the semester. All texts announced on the syllabus, including the TED talks and the documentaries, could be subject to your journal engagements.

This assignment is 20 % of your final grade.

2. Two response papers: (approximately 1500 words each). In these papers, you will draw on the course readings and discussions to craft a focused argument in response to an assigned statement. You could then agree with the statement, disagree with it, or take a position in the middle. Your position would need to be well-supported and would need to take account of different points of view. What will determine your grade will not be the position you take so much as the sophistication and rigor with which you defend it. Your response papers are due on A2L on October 10 and November 28.See the syllabus below for details.

This assignment is 20 % of your final grade.

3. In-class presentations: In small groups (4-5 people), you will research and present to the class a summary and critical discussion of one major approach to studying social media. The list of the 10 possible presentation topics is at the end of the syllabus. All of the suggested topics are directly related to the readings and the issues discussed in lectures. As such your presentations should enrich the class discussion through explanation of the texts, clarification of the main arguments or comparison with other readings in the class. The goal is for you to guide us toward an understanding of the importance of your chosen topic and the way it relates to the course.The presentations should be no longer than 15 minutes. The format of the presentations is open to students’ choice. Presentations start in the fourth week of classes and run throughout the semester in the seminar portion of the class. The choice of topics is open to all students from all groups.

Grading criteria for in-class presentations:

  1. Text references to the course material. Inclusion of example or case study, which has not been mentioned in class but could be critically evaluated through the course readings.
  2. Research: presentation of the arguments of threescholarly journal articles and at least one popular source (magazine, journalistic piece, op-ed piece, blog post, etc.) that discusses your topic.
  3. Interpretation of research: you need to provide critical engagement with your sources. Attempt to provide counterarguments to all arguments presented in your research.
  4. Inclusion of audio-visual materials that illustrate or clarify your research.
  5. Thought-provoking questions that lead the class into an open and inclusive discussion.

This assignment is 20 % of your final grade.

4. Attendance and participation in the seminar discussions: attendance at lecture and seminar, participation in seminar discussion, and contribution to the general intellectual atmosphere of all parts of the course are the criteria for this portion of the mark.

This assignment is 20 % of your final grade.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late assignments for this class will be accepted without penalty within 5 days from the official deadline. After the passing of the five-day gratis period, I am not going to accept late assignments. Please note that MSAF is for a maximum period of three days and can only be used for the assignment’s due date, so even if you submit an MSAF, you will not get additional time beyond the five-day grace period. Assignments submitted after the original deadline but within the grace period may not receive feedback.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Integrity

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  • plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  • improper collaboration in group work.
  • copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Authenticity / Plagiarism Detection

Some courses may use a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. For courses using such software, students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.

Students who do not wish to submit their work through A2L and/or must still submit an electronic and/or hardcopy to the instructor. No penalty will be assigned to a student who does not submit work to or A2L. All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld (e.g., on-line search, other software, etc.). To see the Policy, please go to

Courses with an On-Line Element

Some courses use on-line elements (e.g. e-mail, Avenue to Learn (A2L), LearnLink, web pages, capa, Moodle, ThinkingCap, etc.). Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of a course using these elements, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in a course that uses on-line elements will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Online Proctoring

Some courses may use online proctoring software for tests and exams. This software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, monitor and record their computer activities, and/or lockdown their browser during tests or exams. This software may be required to be installed before the exam begins.

Conduct Expectations

As a McMaster student, you have the right to experience, and the responsibility to demonstrate, respectful and dignified interactions within all of our living, learning and working communities. These expectations are described in the Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities (the "Code"). All students share the responsibility of maintaining a positive environment for the academic and personal growth of all McMaster community members, whether in person or online.

It is essential that students be mindful of their interactions online, as the Code remains in effect in virtual learning environments. The Code applies to any interactions that adversely affect, disrupt, or interfere with reasonable participation in University activities. Student disruptions or behaviours that interfere with university functions on online platforms (e.g. use of Avenue 2 Learn, WebEx or Zoom for delivery), will be taken very seriously and will be investigated. Outcomes may include restriction or removal of the involved students' access to these platforms.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) at 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. For further information, consult McMaster University’s Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities policy.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

Request for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work
McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar "Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work".

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances (RISO)

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religious, indigenous or spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the RISO policy. Students should submit their request to their Faculty Office normally within 10 working days of the beginning of term in which they anticipate a need for accommodation or to the Registrar's Office prior to their examinations. Students should also contact their instructors as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for classes, assignments, and tests.

Copyright and Recording

Students are advised that lectures, demonstrations, performances, and any other course material provided by an instructor include copyright protected works. The Copyright Act and copyright law protect every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including lectures by University instructors.

The recording of lectures, tutorials, or other methods of instruction may occur during a course. Recording may be done by either the instructor for the purpose of authorized distribution, or by a student for the purpose of personal study. Students should be aware that their voice and/or image may be recorded by others during the class. Please speak with the instructor if this is a concern for you.

Extreme Circumstances

The University reserves the right to change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances (e.g., severe weather, labour disruptions, etc.). Changes will be communicated through regular McMaster communication channels, such as McMaster Daily News, A2L and/or McMaster email.

Topics and Readings:

Lecture and Reading Schedule


I. Digital media and the public sphere: theoretical and pragmatic considerations


Week 1. September 5

What do we mean when we say ‘the digital revolution’? Introduction to the course.

Course business: assignments, group presentations, and expectations

Week 2. September 9 and 12

What is the public sphere? The theoretical debates.

Required readings:

Jurgen Habermas, The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article, in: New German Critique, number 3, autumn 1974, pp. 49-55.

Alan McKee’s, “Introduction”, in: The Public Sphere, pp. 1-31.


Robert McChesney, “Rich Media, Poor Democracy”,

Week 3. September 16 and 19

New media and the public sphere

Required Readings:

Jurgen Gerhards and Mike Schafer, Is the Internet a Better Public Sphere? Comparing Old and New Media in US and Germany, in: New Media & Society, pp. 1-18.

Jose Van Djick, “Engineering Sociality in a Culture of Connectivity” in: A Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media, pp. 1-18.

Ted Talk:

Eli Pariser, Beware: online ‘filter bubbles’

Week 4. September 23 and 26

Digital democracy

Required Readings:

Matthew Hindman, The Internet and the Democratization of Politics, in: The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton University Press, 2009, pp. 1-16.

Ted Talk:

Ivan Krastev, “Can democracy exist without trust?”,

Attention, Presentations Start on Monday this week!

Week 5. September 30 and October 3

Digital cultures

Required Readings:

Charlie Gere, “What is Digital Culture? Introduction”, in: Digital Culture, pp. 11-20.

Jose Van Djick, “Facebook and the Imperative of Sharing”, in: A Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media, pp. 45-57.

Screening and Discussion:

PBS Frontline Documentary, Generation Like, 2014

Week 6. October 7 and 10

Digital cultures and imagination

Required Readings:

Arjun Appadurai, excerpts from Modernity At Large(particular focus on “the work of imagination” and “the production of locality”):

Manuel Castells, “Networking Minds, Creating Meaning, Contesting Power”, in: Networks of Outrage and Hope, pp. 1-20.

Screening and Discussion:

Al-Jazeera’s documentary, Letters from Iran, 2009

* Your first response paper is due today in class. The topic is: “The public sphere is subject to dramatic change; one might even argue that it is on the verge of extinction. Computer–mediated communication has taken the place of coffeehouse discourse, and issues such as media ownership and commodification pose serious threats to the free flow of information and freedom of speech on the Web.” (Pieter Boeder)

Week 7. October 14 and 17

Reading break. No classes this week.

Week 8. October 21 and 24

Social media and global politics

Required Reading:

Jose Van Djick, “Twitter and the Paradox of Following and Trending”, in: A Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media, pp. 68-86.

Opposing Arguments, Discussion:

Clay Shirky, How Social Media Can Make History, Ted Talk

Evgeny Morozov, Iran: the Downside to the Twitter revolution

II. Case Studies

Week 9. October 28 and 31

Social media activism: the utopians and radicals

Required readings:

Gabriela Coleman, “Our Weirdness Is Free: the Logic of Anonymous – Online Army, Agent of Chaos, And Seeker of Justice”,

Discussion: The Social Media Activist’s Paradox

Radical environmentalists, transhumanists, and dark net hactivists: rogue movements or visionaries?

This week Ian Thornton, a famous journalist, fiction writer and co-founder of the of the global television industry publisher, C21 Media, will visit us in class. Ian’s forthcoming book My Year of Living Anonymously: How I Saved the Life of the World’s Most Notorious Hacker But I Didn’t Mean To (EyeBooks, 2019)is an ethnography of the Anonymous collective and an intimate, interview-based, look inside the life and ideas of one of its masterminds.

Week 10. November 4 and 7

Social media feminism: #MeToo and #MosqueMeToo

Required Readings:

Moira Donegan, “How #MeToo Revealed the Central Rift Within Feminism Today”, May 11, 2018,

Mona Eltahawy, “What the World Would Look Like If We Taught Girls To Rage”, in: Think, NBC News, February 2018,

Media Discussion and screening (parts):

Kirby Dick, The Hunting Ground, documentary, 2015

Micah Smith, Honour Diaries, documentary, 2013

Week 11. November 11 and 14

“We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world”: The Arab Spring

Required Readings:

Lance Bennett, Alexandra Segerberg, “The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics,”in: Information, Communication & Society, 2012. The article will be made available on Avenue.

Manuel Castells, “The Egyptian Revolution”, in: Networks of Outrage and Hope, pp. 54-79.

Week 12. November 18 and 21

The high-tech media jihad of the Islamic State

Required Readings:

Steve Rose, The Isis Propaganda War: a High-tech Media Jihad

Alan McKee, “Spectacle”, in: The Public Sphere, pp. 105-119.

Media Artifact Discussion:

Flames of War Trailer, unedited version

Week 13. November 25 and 28

Freedom of speech and social media: Charlie Hebdo

Required Readings:

Leigh Philips, Lost in Translation: Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech and the Unilingual Left, Ricochet op-ed (13 January 2015)

Slavoj Zizek, Are the Worst Really Full of Passionate Intensity?New Statesman(10 January 2015)

Your second response paper is due today in class.The topic is: “Now, in the age of YouTube, Twitter, smartphones, cheap cameras and software, the superpowers no longer control information. Ironically, the beneficiaries of this media democratization are a medieval theocracy hell-bent on eradicating democracy from the face of the earth.” (Steve Rose)

Week 14. December 2

Freedom of speech and social media publics. Conclusions

Required Readings:

Emily Bell’s 2015 Hugh Cudlipp Lecture

Manuel Castells, “Changing the World in the Network Society”, in: Networks of Outrage and Hope, pp. 246-262.


Think of at least FIVE ways in which the new media and social media have profoundly changed the concept and praxis of the public sphere. Are those changes a reason for new hope and optimism? Give examples.

List of Possible Topics for Presentation in Class: please note that the topics here are only suggestions. You are free to provide a different focus to your presentation or to approach the main arguments in the readings through comparative or application (i.e. you say how the ideas of the text refer to a media object of your choice) perspective.

The concept of the public sphere

Democracy, media and the public sphere

Social media and political activism

Facebook & Twitter Revolutions

New/social media and governments (government control)

Social media and youth identities

Digital cultures

Social media, audiences and freedom

Social media and knowledge communities

New media, globalization and conflict

New media and journalism




Other Course Information:

Teaching Assistant (grader), Rosella Mullin,

Office Hours

I encourage you to take advantage of my office hours and come visit me in my office. Please make an effort to come once in the first month of the semester, which will help me get to know your interests. 

Online Course Content

In this course we will be using A2L. Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course, private information such as first and last names, usernames for the McMaster e-mail accounts, andprogram affiliation may become apparent to all other students in the same course. The available information is dependent on the technology used. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure, please discuss this with the course instructor.

Authenticity/Plagiarism Detection

Students may be asked to submit papers through a web-based service ( to reveal authenticity and ownership of student submitted work. Students will be expected to submit their work electronically either directly to or via Avenue to Learn (A2L) plagiarism detection (a service supported by so it can be checked for academic dishonesty.