HNR 260 – The ‘Wisdom’ of the Crowd: How Social Media are Reshaping Democracy and Conflict
Class #: 20893
Instructor: Scherrer, Blythe
Counts toward: HNR Soc Sci, Interdisciplinary, Public Presentation
Th 06:30pm – 09:15 pm
Location: Class times and locations often change. Please verify your class schedule in MySlice.
In July 2014, A British video-gamer left his “World of Warcraft” lifestyle and became obsessed with the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 (MH17) over the Ukraine. Eventually he led the #Bellingcat online investigation that implicated Russia in the attack. Beginning in November 2016, thousands of Twitter users calling themselves #TeamPatriot began crowd-sourcing research surrounding Russian election interference and their continuing undue influence over US institutions. In July 2017 during Hurricane Harvey, the #SOSHouston hashtag was used to coordinate an effective mobile rescue command center, dispatching locations of requests for help to first responders in boats on the ground.
All over the world, people using social media have collectively held the powerful to account, toppled corrupt regimes, coordinated sophisticated rescue / aid operations, and reported first-hand information that shaped public opinion about democratic participation and conflict. Conversely, bad actors have weaponized this new power by creating artificial networks to propagandize, confuse, and even harass their targets.
In this course, we’ll explore the social media narratives of these activists, organizers, investigators, and rescuers through the interdisciplinary field of social computing, which can best be understood as the intersection of social behaviors and computer use. Students will explore research, and examine case studies of current events in democracy, conflict, and crisis response over the course of the semester. Examples of case studies may include: crowd-sourcing efforts, disinformation campaigns, online open-source citizen investigations, and human behaviors in online social networks.
Notes about this course:
The course itself will follow the model of the open-source investigation, with students producing work for the social media space they are studying. There will be strong ground rules and guidelines for conduct, security, and safety online. The course is open to students from all fields; beyond your own curiosity and willingness to explore networks, actors, and connections in spaces of conflict, no technical expertise is required.