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COURSE NAME: "Social Media, Social Movements, Social Change"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Spring 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Donatella Della Ratta
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 4:30-5:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: COM 220

This course examines the technological capabilities, organizational structures, social effects, and ethical implications behind the use of social media platforms –Twitter, Facebook and others-- in recent social movement organizing. The course will investigate how social media have been utilized and rendered effective by a variety of social movements and in a diversity of contexts and interests, from the Arab Spring, to Black Lives Matter, to It Gets Better. Students will be offered a broad overview of the affordances of social media for mobilizing for social change or political action. Students will consistently engage with critical concepts from both classic social theory and new media studies put forward both by scholars and organizers.
Social media have been widely utilized and extremely influential in social movements over the past decade in a diversity of contexts and interests, from the Arab Spring, to Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter, to the more recent #metoo and #giletsjaunes.  This course examines hashtag activism – the technological capabilities, organizational structures, social effects, and ethical implications behind the use of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc., in recent social movement organizing.  Students will acquire a broad overview of the affordances of social media for mobilizing for social change or political action.  We will take sustained looks at specific case studies of social movements or campaigns such as the ones named above, exploring their chosen platforms, organizational strategies, ideological standpoints, and human outcomes. We will look into the past at how earlier incarnations of the same or similar movements utilized the traditional media of print, broadcast, radio, and even recorded music, in order to better understand the ways in which social media practices have created or expanded possibilities.  We will also consider the dystopian perspectives about the political uses of social media, particularly the exercise of state power to quash resistance movements by shutting down or monitoring social media.  To guide our thinking, we will consistently engage with critical concepts from both classic social theory and new media studies put forward by scholars and organizers themselves, including such concepts as the digital public sphere, the network society, networked publics.
The second part of the class will focus on digital activism and the use of social media in the context of the Arab Spring, particularly in Syria. 

- Identify the major debates, controversies, dilemmas and conflicts in studying and analyzing social media and social movements

- Enhance conceptual and empirical understanding of the interaction between the digital media ecology and social change

- Apply multidisciplinary theoretical perspectives to the analysis of a specific social movement
- Develop a deep and critical understanding of contemporary social movements with specific focus on the use of networked communications technologies within these events

- Develop and demonstrate competency in new media literacy (information, visual, technological and textual) and communicate effectively in a variety of formats (oral, written and multimedia)


Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Shooting a Revolution. Visual Media and Warfare in Syria Donatella Della RattaPluto Press 9780745337142  

Attendance and Participation See attendance requirements here below. Participation includes doing the assigned readings and actively contributing to class discussions. Each student (alone or in team with another, depending on total number of students) has to lead one group discussion during the semester based on the assigned readings.10%
Final research paper, Library assignment, and oral presentationStudents are required to write a paper between 2500-3500 words. A Library assignment will be connected to the research paper. The paper will be presented during the finals. Detailed guidelines to be provided. 35%
Midterm exam Classroom written assignment 25%
Build your own digital case study At the beginning of the semester, students will be required to choose their own case study among contemporary social movements/organizations (a list will be provided) which they will have to monitor and reflect upon throughout the class. They will have to choose a digital platform (Tumblr, Wordpress, a wiki etc) where to build their own space to post updates and reflections about their case study on a weekly basis. The works will be analysed and discussed in class during week 14. 30%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the co
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Please note that more than 4 absences will automatically result in lowering your participation grade by one letter grade for each absence.
Anything above 8 absences will result in failing the course.

If you have a serious health problem which causes you to miss more classes than allowed here, please contact the Dean's Office.

Lateness: If unexcused, students more than 10 minutes late are marked as absent. Late arrival (less than 10 minutes) is marked as such, and 3 late arrivals are counted as one absence. 

Class procedure:  Use of cell phones and laptops affects your participation grade and is strictly forbidden during class

Please make sure that your cell phone is turned off (and not just muted) when class starts. Kindly note that any infringement of such policy shall automatically result in a F grade in participation.

No laptops allowed during class.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.




Week 1. Introduction and course overview: What is a social movement?


Excerpts from:
Della Porta, Donatella, and Diani, Mario, Social Movements: an
 Introduction (Malden MA: Blackwell, 2006), pp. 20-29

Snow, D., Soule, S., & Kriesi, H. (2007). The blackwell companion to social movements (Blackwell companions to sociology). Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, pp 3-12.

Week 2. How do networked technologies change social movements and shape collective actions?


Bennett, W. Lance, and Segerberg, Alexandra, “The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics”, Information, Communication & Society 5, 15 (2012).

Gladwell, Malcom. “Small Change. Why the Revolution will not be tweeted”, The New Yorker Oct 2010  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell

Week 3. Why are networked technologies expected to bring social change?


‘Technology: the promises of communicative capitalism’ , in Dean, J. (2009). Democracy and other neoliberal fantasies : Communicative capitalism & left politicsDurham: Duke University Press

Watch: “Here comes everybody” (2008), “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Businesses” (2013), “Revolution 2.0” (2011), ‘Mac’s commercial’ (1984), selected clips from “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” (2016)

Recommended Readings:

Packer, George, “Change the world”, The New Yorker, May 27, 2013. 

Schmidt, E., & Cohen, J. (2013). The new digital age : Reshaping the future of people, nations and business (First ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Week 4. The Dark Side of Digital Activism I: Commodity Activism, Clicktivism, Slacktivism 


Excerpts from:
Mukherjee, Roopali, and Banet-Weiser, Sarah (eds),  Commodity Activism: cultural resistance in neoliberal times, (New York and London:New York University Press) 2012.

Dennis, James , Beyond Slacktivism: Political Participation on Social Media. Palgrave McMillan, 2019.

Watch: Kony campaign, Avaaz campaigns, Invisible children, Aylan Kurdi

Week 5. The Dark Side of Digital Activism II: Surveillance, Authoritarianism, Cyber Warfare

Excerpts from

Murdoch, Stephen, “Destructive Activism”, in Joyce, Mary ed., Digital Activism Decoded. The New Mechanics of Change, (New York: International Debate Education Association, 2010).

Morozov, Evgeny, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, (New York: PublicAffairs, 2011).

Watch: Syrian Electronic Army videos, Isis videos (no graphic images will be shown), TOR, NSA, activists' campaigns on detained bloggers in the Middle East, fakenews, the dark side of Instagram campaigns 

Week 6

Class review & Midterm exam 


Week 7. The Arab ‘Spring’: Was it really a 2.0. revolution?


Abdulla, Rasha A., “The Revolution Will Be Tweeted” The Cairo Review of Global Affairs 3, 1 (2011).

Burris, Greg, “Lawrence of E-rabia: Facebook and the new Arab Revolt”, Jadaliyya, October 17, 2011.

Watch: “Asma Mahfouz, the video that sparked the Egyptian Revolution” (2011), “Tweets from Tahrir” (2012), “Tunisia: portion of irevolution CNN (2011)”, “Bahrain: portion of irevolution CNN” (2011) , “Egypt: portion of irevolution CNN” (2011), "How Facebook changed the world- the story of the Arab Spring" (2012)

Week 8. Political Economy of Arab Digital Activism: a critique


Ben Gharbia, Sami, “The Internet Freedom Fallacy and the Arab Digital Activism”, Nawaat, September 17, 2010.

Della Ratta, Donatella, “On ready-made revolutions in the Arab world: how armchair journalism and citizen empowerment fit into the rhetoric of contemporary neoliberal discourse”, in Bennet, Pete, and McDougall, Julian, Popular Culture and the Austerity Myth: Hard Times Today (London: Routledge, 2016). 

Watch: “Citizen journalism and Arab Spring: Andy Carvin” (2012), “10 Tactics for turning information into action” (2010), “How to make a trustworthy video” (2013) 

Recommended Readings: 

Assange, Julian, “Google is not what it seems”, Newsweek, October 23, 2014.

Week 9.  Reclaiming Public Spaces: Squares and streets vs bits and pixels

Excerpts from:
Gerbaudo, Paolo, in Tweets and the streets. Social media and contemporary activism,
 (London: Pluto Press,2012).

Elshahed, Mohamed, “Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space,” Design Observer, February 2011. 

Watch: “Tahrir” (2012), “How the Internet has made social change easy to organize but hard to win” (2014)

Week 10. Case study: Syria, the 21st century networked revolution. 

Part one: art and hacktivism, tactical use of networked media 


Excerpts from:

Della Ratta, Donatella (2018), Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria, London: Pluto Press.

Watch: “Silvered Water” (2014), “The Uprising” (2013), user-generated videos from Syria

Recommended Readings:

Garcia, David, and Lovink, Geert, The ABC of Tactical Media Manifesto, May 16. 1997

Critical Art Ensemble, Electronic Civil Disobedience and Other Unpopular Ideas (Autonomedia, 1996).

Raley, Rita, “Introduction Tactical media as Virtuosic Performance”, Tactical Media, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 2009).

Costanza-Chock, Sasha, “Mic Check!Media Practices in the Occupy Movement”, Social Movement Studies 3-4,11 (2012). 

Coleman, E. Gabriella, “Anonymous, from the LULZ to Collective Action”, Mediacommons, April 6, 2011.

Watch: Paper Tiger TV, Indymedia, Luther Blisset, Liberation Newsreel, Critical Art Ensamble, The Yes Men, AdBusters, Anonymous.

Week 11. Case study: Syria, the 21st century networked revolution. 

Part two: fear and loathing of Syrian digital activism 

Excerpts from
Della Ratta, Donatella (2018), Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria, London: Pluto Press.

Watch: documentaries and user-generated videos from Syria

Week 12. Case study: Syria, the 21st century networked revolution. 

Part three: The Revolution will be Youtubized. 

Excerpts from

Della Ratta, Donatella (2018), Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria, London: Pluto Press.

Watch: documentaries and user-generated videos from Syria

Week 13. Case study: Syria, the 21st century networked revolution.

Part Four: ISIS and the dark side of networked activism 

Excerpts from

Della Ratta, Donatella (2018), Shooting a Revolution: Visual Media and Warfare in Syria, London: Pluto Press.

Mujatweets and other Isis-made production (no graphic images will be shown)

Week 14

Wrap up and discussion of the digital case studies