Social Media, Disinformation and Democracy SOCIO5112

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: No

Short Description

The course will explore the topic of disinformation in public life, placing it in the context of the role of truth in democracy and the history of propaganda in the media, with a particular focus on its presence on social media platforms. Through an analysis of historical and contemporary cases, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated infodemic, students will gain the ability to recognize current information and cultural challenges, identify underlying forces and evaluate the evolving relationships among truth, media, journalism, authority and democracy.


One lecture and one seminar held weekly over 10 weeks

Requirements of Entry

these courses are only available to students registered on the Sociology programmes


Group project: Students will work in teams of 4 or 5 to analyse a real-world event related to disinformation in public life, such as the Covid-19 pandemic or a recent election, and present their findings in an oral presentation (20 percent, collectively marked)


3,500-word research paper: students will conduct original research on a specific aspect of the course topic, such as the spread of disinformation on a particular social media platform or a specific strategy for combatting misinformation (80 percent).


Students must use at least 12 references in their assignments.

Course Aims

The course aims to provide students with a comprehensive and interdisciplinary understanding of the relationship between social media, disinformation and democracy. Students will explore the following questions:


1) Is a foundation of truth essential for a functioning democracy, and has a politics dominated by agreed-upon-facts ever existed?

2) What are the causes and consequences of the mainstreaming of disinformation and the loss of confidence in political and non-political institutions, such as the media, science and government?

3) What is the effect of social media platforms on what we take to be true, how truth and falsehood circulate and our ability to verify information?

4) How are authoritarian and populist actors exploiting social media to spread propaganda and misinformation?

5) What are the most effective strategies to combat these efforts and restore public trust in the media and democracy?


These will be explored through a variety of methods, including historical and contemporary case studies, analyses of the spread and impact of disinformation on social media and discussions on the responsibilities of media organizations, social media platforms and governments in combatting disinformation. To add a further element of practicality and real-world application to the learning experience, the course will also draw on guest lecturers and collected materials from groups around the world who are working to combat mis/disinformation online. Through this immersive approach, students will be challenged to engage with real-world problems and develop a critical understanding of their nature, origins, and implications.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

- Explain the relationship between truth and democracy, and how the lack of shared notions of the truth disrupts the functioning of democratic societies;

- Critically evaluate the role of media and social media platforms in the spread disinformation;

- Assess the responsibilities of media organisations, social media platforms and governments in combatting disinformation;

- Discuss the novelty of current disinformation techniques and methods, and place them in the context of the history of propaganda in the media;

- Interpret qualitative and quantitative research relating to media, disinformation and democracy.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.