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

CMST 3SM3 Build Public:Use Social Media

Academic Year: Winter 2018

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Dilyana Mincheva


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23536

Office Hours: Friday, 10.30 am – 12 pm or by appointment. Please, always check my availability for each particular Friday in advance by email.

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 agency of 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:

Required Readings: Most of 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.

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.

Christian Fuchs, Social Media: A Critical Introduction, Sage, 2017, second edition.

Derek Hrynyshyn, The Limits of the Digital Revolution, PRAEGER, 2017.

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

Method of Assessment:


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 Avenue. 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.

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 February 6 and April 3. See the syllabus below for details.

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. In all seminars small groups are already assigned. 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.

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.

Breakdown of assignments:

1. Four journal entries: 20 %

2. Two response papers: 40 %

Response paper 1: 20 %

Response paper 2: 20 %

3. Presentation: 20 %

4. Participation and attendance: 20 %

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late submission policy: 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. If you decide to use the five-day gratis period for your assignments you are not allowed to use MSAF in pursuit of further extensions.

Classroom Etiquette: During class you are required to switch off and put away all cell phones, electronic organizers, and all other communication devices in order to minimize distractions and foster an environment of mutual respect. Laptops may be used to take notes; however, if it becomes apparent to the instructor that your laptop is distracting other students you will be asked to leave the seminar. No form of discrimination or harassment will be tolerated in the classroom. Every member of the McMaster University Community has a right to equal treatment with respect to the receipt of education services and related services and facilities without discrimination or harassment on the basis of the following grounds: race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status, disability, gender and identity. For more information visit the Office of Human Rights & Equity Services Website:

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

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.

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.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. 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:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

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.

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. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:


I. Theoretical and pragmatic considerations

Week 1, January 5

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

Course business: assignments, group presentations, and expectations

Week 2. January 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, January 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.

Derek Hrynyshyn, The Limits of the Digital Revolution, “Chapter 1: Thinking About Social Media”, pp. 1-19.

Ted Talk:

Eli Pariser, Beware: online ‘filter bubbles’

Week 4, January 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.

Christian Fuchs, Social Media, “Google: Good or Evil Search Engine?”, pp. 153-179

Ted Talk:

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

Week 5, January 30 and February 2

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, February 6 and February 9

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. February 13 and 16

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.

Christian Fuchs, “Twitter and Democracy: A New Public Sphere?”, in: Social Media: Critical Introduction, pp. 217-227.

Derek Hrynyshyn, “The pseudo public sphere”, in: The Limits of the Digital Revolution, pp. 165-176.

Opposing Arguments, Discussion:

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

Evgeny Morozov, Iran: the Downside to the Twitter revolution

Week 8. February 20 and 23

Reading break. No classes this week.

II. Case Studies

Week 9, February 27 and March 2

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

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 10, March 6 and 9

Tweets and the streets: the Arab Spring II

Required Readings:

Paolo Gerbaldo, Introduction from Tweets and the Streets: Social Media and Contemporary Activism (2012)

Manuel Castells, “Dignity, Violence, Geopolitics”, in: Networks of Outrage and Hope, pp. 95-109.

Screening and Discussion:

Jehane Noujaim’s documentary, The Square, 2013.


Jeffry R. Halverson, Scott W. Ruston, Angela Trethewey, “Mediated Martyrs of the Arab Spring: New Media, Civil Religion, and Narrative in Tunisia and Egypt,” in: Journal of Communication, vol.63, issue 2, 2013, pp. 312-332.

Week 11, March 13 and 16

The high-tech media jihad of ISIS

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 12, March 20 and 23

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)

Week 13, March 27 and 30

Freedom of speech and social media publics

Required Reading:

Emily Bell’s 2015 Hugh Cudlipp Lecture

Week 14, April 3 and 6

Publics and social media. Conclusions.

Required Reading:

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

Christian Fuchs, “Social Media and Its Alternatives: Towards Truly Social Media”, in: Social Media: Critical Introduction, pp. 341-355.


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.

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 democratisation are a medieval theocracy hell-bent on eradicating democracy from the face of the earth.” (Steve Rose)


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 you 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 the public sphere

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