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HSS - Cours - HSS252 : Social Media and Society

Domaine > Humanités et sciences sociales.


Have social media changed our societies for the better? Or have they worsened already existing social problems (or created new ones)? This course offers a sociological perspective on the role of online platforms in our political landscape and invites students to question the role of digital technologies in relation to traditional media outlets in our democracies. It will cover issues such as mis- and disinformation, "filter bubbles", online harassment, and the role of private companies in our public sphere.

Objectifs pédagogiques

- To better understand how social and political questions play out on social media and how digital platforms shape society in turn

- To get an overview of how social sciences study online dynamics

- To develop critical analysis, argumentative, and communication skills

effectifs minimal / maximal:


Diplôme(s) concerné(s)

Pour les étudiants du diplôme Bachelor of Science de l'Ecole polytechnique

No pre-requisites

Format des notes

Numérique sur 20

Littérale/grade américain

Pour les étudiants du diplôme Bachelor of Science de l'Ecole polytechnique

Vos modalités d'acquisition :

10% participation in class

20% short paper on social media fast

20% group presentation

50% final paper

Le rattrapage est autorisé (Note de rattrapage conservée écrêtée à une note seuil de 9)
    L'UE est acquise si Note finale >= 9
    • Crédits ECTS acquis : 2 ECTS

    La note obtenue rentre dans le calcul de votre GPA.

    Programme détaillé

    Session 1: Introduction – why study social media through a societal lens?
    This class introduces the key themes of the class. Why look at social media platforms from a sociological perspective? Why is it important for all of us to think about the social implications of our digital lives?

    Session 2: The evolving public square – what has social media done to the way we communicate?
    This session will discuss the fundamental macro- and micro-level effects that social media have had on our communication landscapes in a little over a decade. We will also discuss the democratic ideal of the “public square” and how social media fits into this picture.

    Session 4: Affordances and algorithmic curation– how do platforms shape behavior?
    This class will delve deeper into the key concept of affordances and discuss how platforms are designed to encourage certain behaviors and discourage others. As we know that algorithms (often recommendation algorithms) are at the center of these dynamics, we will also touch upon how different platforms use algorithms to curate content and maximize user engagement, and the ethical implications of these (often opaque) systems.

    Session 5: Mythbusting 1– is social media full of lies?
    The term “fake news” has been high on the political agenda in recent years. Today, addressing mis- and disinformation online is big business. But is it really true that false content is spreading like wildfire online, planted by foreign propaganda operations or organized anti-vaxxers? This class will discuss the complexities of mis- and disinformation online and how to address it.

    Session 6: Mythbusting 2 – are “filter bubbles” real?
    We often hear that social media puts us into virtual “filter bubbles” or “echo chambers” where we only see content we already agree with. Sometimes, this is argued to be a cause of political polarization, fragmentation, or even extremism. In this session, we will look at what research suggests about how people end up in “bubbles” online. 

    Session 7: Online violence and hate speech – do trolls really cause harm?
    In this session, we will look at how violence and discrimination plays out on social media to reinforce wider social power structures. We will look at how specific professions and marginalized groups are disproportionately targeted by coordinated harassment campaigns, and discuss the complexities of monitoring and addressing online hate speech.

    Session 8: Group presentations

    Session 9: Content moderation – who can say what on the Internet?
    Platforms take a wide range of measures to combat “harmful content” online. Recently, the failures of big companies to apply their community guidelines in an equitable and effective way have come to public light. We will discuss what approaches companies currently take for their content moderation strategies and the social and political priorities that are implicated in such policies.

    Session 10: Social media and democracy 1 – are elections made on Twitter?
    Nowadays, virtually every politician contending to be elected has a digital communications strategy. But what are the effects of social media on electoral democracies? How do elected officials use online platforms, where they have direct access to their electorate, as opposed to other forms of communication? We will discuss how social media is used by politicians and political institutions in a range of country contexts.

    Session 11: Social media and democracy 2 – is clicktivism effective?
    How has social media been used to create social and political change? This session will go through how grassroots political actors have mobilized on digital platforms in a variety of ways. This includes “digitally native” social movements, such as #MeToo. We will discuss the pros and cons of utilizing social media as a tool for activism, and how socio-economic factors determine how movements form online.

    Session 12: Governance – how do we regulate social media companies?
    Do social media companies answer to governments and international organizations? Recently, there has been a wave to identify and define the best regulatory framework to address the social risks of social media. We will go through some common approaches (notably through the example of the European Digital Services Act) and see how these can be applied in practice.

    Session 13: Wrap-up – what is the vision for the future?
    This final session will sum up the topics and themes of this class and start looking to the future. How do we imagine alternatives for online platforms that best serve society? We will go through newer initiatives and discuss what future challenges we may collectively face in the online sphere.




    Mots clés

    social media, sociology, communication studies

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