Social media news and information


Social media news and information

Course description

Journalists no longer have the monopoly on journalistic acts. The digital revolution is having a profound impact on the way news stories are researched, reported, edited and distributed. As people turn to social media as a place to share ideas and connect to others, there has been great excitement but also skepticism about the role of these platforms in democratizing information and allowing for more participatory news making. From second screening to trending topics to fake news, the social media universe has deeply permeated our personal and political lives in 2017.    

I want you to be at the center of these conversations as you progress in your academic and professional careers.

This course is at the intersection between journalism, social media and politics. It aims to provide you with a firm theoretical foundation in the current journalism scholarship, while imparting how these theories relate to online networking.

Course objectives:

Survey theory and research on journalism as a profession

Recognize the ways communicators are able to inform and engage the public via social media

Identify the challenges brought by each unique social media platform

Reflect on current conversations around issues of verification, misinformation, privacy and inequality

Learn how to control and strategically plan your own identity on social media



Carlson, M., & Lewis, S. C. (Eds.). (2015). Boundaries of journalism: Professionalism, practices and participation. New York, NY: Routledge.   (Available as e-book at MSU library)

Papacharissi, Z. (2015). Affective publics: Sentiment, technology, and politics. Oxford University Press. 

Office hours

M W from 10:30 - 12:30 and by appointment:  (CAS 340)




Participation (20%)

Online ethnography (40%)

Final paper (40%)

Stories are graded in a 100% scale:

4.0 (93%+)

3.5 (87-92%)

3.0 (80-86%)

2.5 (77-79%)

2.0 (70-76%)

1.5 (67-69%)

1.0 (60-66%) 

0 (below 60%)


This is a graduate-level course and your work must be your own. It must be original or properly attributed. Work that is fabricate or plagiarized will receive a zero and will result in an Academic Dishonesty Report about this with the Dean’s Office. I may check assignments by using TurnItIn software.

You can review the School of Journalism’s Code of Ethics here.


This syllabus is subject to change. Last updated: 01/08/2018.

Syllabi are intellectual property and this document contains ideas from several JRN professors at Michigan State University. Do not copy without attribution.



Participation (20%)

I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another. The most important acts constituting self-consciousness are determined by a relationship toward another consciousness.
— Mikhail Bakhtin, Theory of Socialization

This is a social media course and online and in-person participation are as important as your papers. The class is based on active and reflective discussions and I am committed to what you bring to this course. I expect you to come on time and participate fully.

Each class will be divided into three segments:

First, I will shortly introduce the topics and key arguments of our readings. For this segment, I ask you not to disrupt class with cell phones, social media browsing (the irony!) or side conversations.

Each week, one student will lead the online discussions about our readings on Facebook. By Wednesday, you will share your contributions with others online and we will use this discussion to guide the segment of our meeting time. 

After a short break, we will use the final segment of the class to conduct a lab exercise based on the readings. The lab exercises will be part of your participation grade.

I value the diversity that each person brings to MSU. If your religious holidays require new arrangements for classes or homework, please tell me in advance. If you have a Verified Individual Services Accommodation form, you are welcome to share that with me at least two weeks before the date of the test or project that concerns you. If there is anything I can do to teach better, please tell me.

Midterm assignment: Online ethnography (40%)

In this assignment, you will choose an online community to observe and participate for at least four weeks. It can be a Facebook group, the page of a journalist you like, an online game, a Twitter account, a hashtag conversation, Reddit forum, a Facebook group, or transmedia franchises (e.g. Star Wars, Game of Thrones), just to cite a few.

You will pitch your community on the second week of classes and write weekly reports during the first month of the semester. You can either participate meaningfully (participant observation) or be an objective observer (ethnography). You will write down, record and illustrate your key findings. 

This assignment is a modified version of assignments by Alice Daer and Serena Carpenter.

When you begin your search, focus on these questions

  • Does this group maintain an active (i.e. multiple times per day) communication source?
  • Do I know enough about this world to be interested in checking in on it daily, but not so much that I can understand all the things they’re saying already?
  • Given the ways I have to access this community (smartphone, computer peripherals, access to the web), can I reasonably expect to be able to follow everything they do all day long, day after day, for weeks at a time?
  • In order to learn to participate in this space, am I going to be able to be myself, or will I need to take on a false identity? (Hint: it’s much easier to be yourself.) 

Searching tips

  • When you arrive at a site, immediately look for links to things like “community,” “forums,” or “boards.” Scan through and check dates to make sure the community is active: look for number of posts per member, number of members per sub-forum, etc. You’ll want to make sure that people are there throughout the day, talking about current news items, events, topics, etc.
  • Try to ignore the aesthetics of the sites–often these spaces have been around for a very long time and updating them is a nuisance for users.
  • Very large conversations (e.g. #GoT hashtag) may be more challenging. Instead, focus on a smaller subcommunity (#GoT Instagram fandom account, for example). 

Note: You are spending a lot of time reading and analyzing these communities, but not nearly as much time as an ethnographer would for a research project. If you are interested in digital ethnography as a research method, start here.

This assignment has three components:

- Weekly observations (10%): Notes should be posted on Google Document

- Final report + presentation (25%): 8 pages, double-spaced

- Presentation (5%)

a) Weekly observations: each week, you will post a 2-3 pages double-spaced report on Google Drive. The goal here is not to casually browse these communities, but to become intimately familiar with them and able to identify patterns that connect to the concepts we discuss in class. The weekly report should not be a laundry list of what happened in the last seven days, but instead should be the building blocks to your final paper critically detailing the interactions you observe and connecting them to the readings and class discussions. The weekly diaries can be a bit "messy," as they are your notes from weekly observations, but will not have a formal structure yet. 

b) Final report: After four weeks observing these communities, you will write a 6 to 8-page double-spaced report summarizing your key findings and how they connect to the processes, concepts, issues and readings from this course. The final report is an academic essay and should be properly attributed. 

c) Presentation

  • Summary of site: audience, functions, attributes of the community
  • Communication behaviors and interactions: routines, hierarchies
  • How does the community relate to our class readings
  • Use of this knowledge for your profession or research topics
  • Application to your life personally
  • Examples

Presentation rubric

Here are some examples from prior classes: 

Example 1

Example 2

Note: the page limitation for those examples was different and has been adjusted as a reflection of student feedback. 

essay, literature review or pilot study (40%)

Your final project brings together what you have learned from readings and discussions during this course.

It can take one of these three forms:

a) Future of journalism: predictions for 2018

This paper should be an essay on your predictions for the future of journalism. This is not merely an opinion piece, but it should be grounded in the readings from this course and other sources. It should focus on what do you think will be the next trends in the profession and why

b) Literature review

The second option is a comprehensive overview of the literature on a topic related to the course. This review is not a simple annotation of references, but instead a focused effort to be used in a research project later. It should flow into developed research questions or set of hypotheses. 

How to write a good literature review

c) Pilot study

The third option is to conduct a pilot study on a phenomenon of your choice. This could be a preliminary content analysis, qualitative textual analysis, focus groups, in-depth interviews, etc. It should have a small introduction, short literature review, research question and preliminary findings. This would serve as the basis of a research project you wish to pursue in the future. 


The paper should be 8-12 double-spaced pages due April 26. I will give you feedback on the paper and the opportunity to do a rewrite (under some specific conditions) due the day of the final. The paper should have a 100-word abstract and consistently use APA style for citations. Papers not submitted on time will result in a 0. 

Midterm and  projects should be posted on Google Drive. 



Jan. 11 

Week 1 – What was the first thing you did this morning? Social media, news and our everyday life  


Watch Black Mirror - Season 3 - Episode 1 (Nosedive):

Note: available on Netflix. If you don't have access, cannot request a free trial or watch it with a friend, let me know and I will schedule a viewing on campus

Facebook is eating the world

Why the modern world is bad for your brain

Class slides

In-class lab: 

1)  Answer our class survey

2) Join our Facebook group

3) Create Google Drive: create a folder called Last Name, First Name and share it with me (

     Create 3 subfolders: in-class exercises, online ethnography and final paper

4) In-class exercise: What do social networks know about me?


1. Hover your mouse over any ad you see in the right-hand column and look for the little arrow to appear in the corner of the add. Click on it.

2. Then look for "Why am I seeing this?" Click on it.

3. Click "manage your ad preferences" 

Or you can download all your Facebook data here: 



Jan. 18

Week 2 - The boundaries of Journalism


Carlson, M., & Lewis, S. C. (Eds.). (2015). Boundaries of journalism: Professionalism, practices and participation. New York, NY: Routledge. (E-book available at MSU Library)

Introduction, chapter 1 and 2

Disinformation gets worse

A year in fake news

Class slides

In-class lab: 

A brief translation of today’s Facebook news from Facebook speak to English

Journalism: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) 


Jan. 25

Week 3 - Not all social media are created equal


boyd, D. (2015). Social media: A phenomenon to be analyzed. Social Media+ Society1(1). 

Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication13(1), 210-230.

News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017


Class slides

In-class lab: Self-presentation on social media (s)


Feb. 1

Week 4 - Will the revolution be tweeted?

Beyond the hashtag (Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain, and Meredith D. Clark) Pages 1-14 and 74-84. 

The silence breakers - Time Magazine

The problem with #MeToo

Moral outrage in the digital age

Quantifying the power and consequences of social media protest

Class slides

In-class lab: 

Online ethnography pitch

Ethnography diary #1 due Sunday

Feb. 8

Week 5 - Social media and misinformation 


On Bullshit

Fake news. It’s complicated.

As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth – Sabrina Tavernise (The New York Times, 2016)

The Long and Brutal History of Fake News

Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: ‘This Is All About Income’ – Andrew Higgins, Mike McIntire and Gabriel Dance (The New York Times, 2016)


In-class lab:  exercise due next week

The purpose of this assignment is to take a "BS inventory" of all of the BS you encounter of the course of one week. The idea is to make note of each bit of BS that see or hear, and to record some information about it. While the assignment is open-ended and we want you to be creative, you might consider keeping track of: BS that you are exposed to, BS that you produce yourself, and BS that you debunk or try to debunk.

Adapted from: 

Visualization and 1-page MAX (double space) write-up:

  What did you categorize as BS?

  How did you track it?

  What are some of the biggest sources?

  What types did YOU create?

Some inspiration:

Class slides

Ethnography diary #2 due Sunday

Feb .15

Week 6 – Pope shocks the world, does not know what is fake news

The fourth age of political communication

My ‘fake news list’ went viral. But made-up stories are only part of the problem

A Field Guide to Harvard’s Field Guide on ‘Fake News’

You won’t believe how these 9 shocking clickbaits work! (number 8 is a killer!)

The highly anticipated 2017 Fake News awards

BuzzFeed’s Future Depends On Convincing Us Ads Aren’t Ads

Class slides

In-class lab: 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Alex Jones and Infowars 

Clickbait video

BS inventory presentations

Ethnography diary #3 due Sunday

Feb. 22

Week 7 - I’m glad I joined that political discussion on Facebook, said no one ever

The debunking handbook

When good intentions backfire

The rise of left-wing, anti-Trump fake news

Craig Silverman - podcast (listen)


In-class lab: 

Fake news exercise


1)      Each group will receive one randomly assigned “fake news” format: clickbait, extreme bias, conspiracy theory or native advertising

2)      The goal is to create a great “fake news” story based on these motivations:

a.      Clickbait: get people to click and open the link so you can sell Google ads

b.      Extreme bias: favor one side in order to influence people’s attitudes (propaganda)

c.       Conspiracy theory: A theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators

d.      Native advertising: material resembling the publication's editorial content but is paid for by an advertiser and intended to promote the advertiser's product/group/goals. The advertiser could be a store, product, political group (superpacs, etc.), just to cite a few

3)      You will use the facts below as the basis of your story.

Source: AP News, WaPO

Story 1 – Shooting survivors issue call for action at Florida Capitol

Story 2 - Grand Canyon Helicopter Crash-Witness story

Story 3 - Carbs, fat, DNA? Weight loss is finicky, new study shows

Story 4 - Ivanka Trump plans to focus on U.S. athletes, not North Korea, during trip to Winter Olympics


Ethnography diary #4 due Sunday


March 1











Week 8 - Partisan media ecosystems


Inside The Partisan Fight For Your News Feed

Pew Report: The Political Environment on Social Media

Stroud, N. J. (2010). Polarization and partisan selective exposure. Journal of Communication60(3), 556-576.

Journalists and Trump supporters live in separate bubbles


In-class lab: 

Class: Eli Pariser: Beware online "filter bubbles"

Online ethnography presentations - Part 1: Renae, Jackie and Aundreana.

Online Ethnography due 03/04 at midnight

March 8: Spring Break

March 15

Week 9  - Reporting: curation and verification


Verification handbook (Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5)

Curation Is the Key to Bringing Social Media and Journalism Together

In-class lab: 

Link for verification quiz: here

Mid-semester evaluation

Online ethnography presentations - Part 2

Class slides

Homework: Define final project idea

March 22

Week 10- What journalists do on social media


Hamby, P. (2013) Did Twitter kill the boys on the bus? (pages 1 -6 and 22-25 [The Freak show meets the Truman show])

Molyneux, L., Mourão, R. R., & Coddington, M. (2016). Lessons from 2012 and a Look Ahead. Twitter and Elections around the World: Campaigning in 140 Characters or Less.

Holton, A. E., & Molyneux, L. (2015). Identity lost? The personal impact of brand journalism. Journalism, 1464884915608816.

Hermida, A. (2010). Twittering the news: The emergence of ambient journalism. Journalism practice4(3), 297-308.

In-class lab: 

Online ethnography presentations - Part 3

Class slides


March 29

Week 11 - Platforms and politics


Technology Firms Shape Political Communication: The Work of Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Google With Campaigns During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Cycle

AI, with real smarts

Google and Facebook can’t just make fake news disappear

Gillespie, T. (2010). The politics of ‘platforms’. New Media & Society12(3), 347-364.

Inside the follower factory

In-class lab: 

Online ethnography presentations - Part 4


Lab: Final project individual help



Lab: final project individual help


April 19

Week 14 – The future of journalism and social media

Final paper presentations