SYLLABUS: Social Media for Social Change

What role do social media and social movements play in the pursuit of more just and equitable futures?

The University of Iowa | School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Course Duration
1 semester | 16 weeks


Course Overview

Individuals and groups use social media to organize, collaborate, and spread their messages to local and global audiences. This class will explore the myriad ways that people and organizations use social media as tools for civic engagement, activism, and political participation. Drawing on a broad range of international and national cases, we will examine early Internet activism through to today, looking at unfolding social movements. We will discuss formal and informal social movements that are deeply connected to social media. In addition to analyzing the specifics of various cases, we will examine the broader communication strategies that activists use.

Course Design

Essential Question
This course is grounded in a desire to promote professional inquiry and sustainability. Therefore, the entirety of this course is designed with the following question in mind:

What role do social media and social movements play in the pursuit of more just and equitable futures?

We will think about and return to this question throughout the course. Additionally, the summative assessment for this course will be a student’s opportunity to answer this question.

Course Objectives
Based on the essential question, students will work toward proficiency in the following objectives by the end of the semester:

• Investigate a social movement’s use of social media to convey agency, respond to a grievance, or reflect on historical change.
• Produce a final project that ignites a social movement and responds to an issue of civic responsibility on campus.
• Argue the effectiveness of a social movement’s use of social media relative to (a) time, (b) place, (c) grievance, and (d) purpose.
• Strengthen one’s ability to engage with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Individual Class Objectives
The above objectives represent outcomes and goals of the course itself. Throughout Social Media for Social Change students will explore individual class objectives. Each class objective is meant to help students build toward the ultimate course objectives. Individual class objectives will be noted within the ICON module for each lesson.

Course Needs

  • Texts
    • #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice by Sarah J. Jackson, Moya Bailey, and Brooke Foucault Welles (print or digital)
    • Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci (print or digital)
    • Other articles and readings assigned on ICON
  • Materials
    • University Email: I will communicate through this (not ICON)
    • Journaling notebook: I would like this to be print and with you in class each session. Feel free to get whatever type, format, or design you’d like. This is for your personal thinking and processing.

Diversity and Discussion

In this class, we will be discussing current events and contemporary social issues, including potentially sensitive subjects. We will also be discussing political and cultural topics from a variety of perspectives. In this class, we support the open presentation and discussion of viewpoints, even those we don’t like or disagree with, and we will also be respectful of others’ ideas. This course is a place to explore new ideas and to think through the complexities of our socially mediated lives.

Please see the statement of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice in this syllabus for more information.

Student Accommodations

Students who have documentation from Student Disability Services (SDS) for accommodations must present the documents and meet with me in drop-in hours or by making an appointment. SDS forms must be turned in before the third week of classes when possible. Simply emailing the forms to me is not sufficient.

For more information, please see the section titled Academic Accommodations for Student with Disabilities; student can also see the full policy under The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Policies and Resources page at the end of the syllabus. If you have other health or personal circumstances (not covered by SDS) that might affect your ability to be successful in this course, please speak with me as soon as possible. All accommodations must be “reasonable” in nature. This will mean different things for different students so we will discuss your specific needs to make a plan. In some cases, reasonable accommodations cannot be made.

Communication & Professional Boundaries

If you need me, the best mode to contact me is through email. Emails should be respectful and brief, with complex matters addressed during my drop-in hours.

I am a firm believer that we can only give so much in our daily life. For many, they function solely under the premise of chronos – meaning we have 24 fixed hours in our day to use. And that’s true. When it comes to time, you can expect that come 5 p.m. each day I will not be attached to my email, and the likelihood is that if you email me I won’t respond until after 8 a.m. the next day. Faculty are not expected to answer email after business hours or during the weekends. Creating boundaries between work and life are incredibly important to me and my mental health. I hope you learn to do the same.

But I also believe that you should give yourself grace. Therefore, I also believe in the Greek concept of Kairos. In this understand of time we don’t think about life related to specified hour-by-hour appointments, but rather by moments that are more important or influential than others. A clock cannot measure these types of moments, and these moments aren’t meant to be equal. When we are in class together, I expect this time to be critical to our understanding of the content and the building of our culture. When you are in need of space and time for yourself, I hope you take that time and recognize how important those moments are to your well-being and mental health. Both types of moments — classroom and personal — are important; they’re absolutely critical to all of our success together. But they each have their own place. Give yourself grace.

Come to class and be in the moment. When you leave, make sure you also give yourself the gift of grace and of time. In a class about moments and movements, it will be important you step away and reflect.


Yes, this course is about social media. Yes, the readings for this class can be done digitally. And, yes, we will be engaging in digital investigations. However, I ask you be mindful of your use of technology in this course. As I shared in the previous section, I expect our classroom time to be meaningful and culture focused. This means that I will ask you to put your technology away unless it is imperative we use it.


Life happens. Because of this, I don’t want you to feel as though you must share what may be a personal reason as to why you aren’t in class. While I am here to support you, I also want you to feel comfortable missing class without providing a reason. All I ask is that you tell me you won’t be making it that day so I can help get you whatever you will be missing. Your attendance does factor into your overall participation grade in class; the more you aren’t present, the fewer points I will be able to give you. Additionally, missing class means missing in-class activities. You will be unable to make this up for points, but you are still encouraged to complete them for feedback. #growthmindset

You will be afforded four absences without any rationale and reduction of your participation grade. Five to seven absences from class will require both a conversation with me about your needs in this course, but also a 25% participation grade reduction. Eight absences will require a serious conversation about your success and the possibility of you withdrawing from this course. You will receive a 50% participation grade reduction after eight absences.


We will use ICON for all course management. It will serve as the most up-to-date syllabus and have several resources for your success inside and outside of this class. Each class session will have its own module. And in that module will be readings, objectives, and plans for that day’s class. Your assignments will be included in their own module, as will resources and course materials. If you are ever confused as to what we are doing in class, or if you’ve missed class that day, ICON will be the first place to look.

All assignments will be submitted and graded through ICON.

Assessment Plan

To be successful in this course, you will be asked to participate in several formative (ungraded, oftentimes in-class) and summative (graded, outside of class) assessments. Your assessments and associated grades will all build toward answering the essential question of the course and the three course objectives. To understand how you will get to the end of our course story, it is important you understand the journey.

Assessment Breakdown

  • Participation (attendance, preparedness, contribution, and cooperation): 20%
  • Student Case: 10%
  • Project Assignments: 30%
  • Final Project: 40%

Grading System and the Use of +/-
Final grades will be awarded based on the following ranges:

A                     B                      C                     D                 F

A+ 98-100       B+ 87-89         C+ 77-79      D+ 67-69 F < 59

A   93-97         B   83-86         C   73-76      D   63-66

A-  90-92        B-  80-82        C-  70-72    D-  60-62


At the end of the semester, I’ll review your attendance, preparedness, contribution, and cooperation. If I see issues along the way in any of these areas I will reach out so we can discuss what’s going on and together come up with ways to improve.

  • Attendance means showing up. Communication is crucial here. If you’re struggling or have reasons you need to miss class, please let me know so we can work together.
  • Preparedness means you show up having read what I’ve assigned for the week. Lively, informed discussion is the most important part of learning, and you should read deeply enough to have an educated discussion with your classmates.
  • Contribution means sharing your ideas. A class thrives when people feel free to share their ideas. We all have different comfort levels with sharing. If you share a lot, try to pause and consider before jumping in so you can leave space for others. If you struggle to share, push yourself to speak up even if your ideas aren’t fully developed.
  • Cooperation means showing care for our community. We don’t all need to agree, but care means considering how your words may land for those around you and being open to constructive comments if something doesn’t land as intended.

Daily Trivia: Current Events and Reading

Part of your participation will be us starting class in teams participating in trivia. The trivia questions will come from current events (especially those that relate to social media and social movements) and readings. Your group will have the ability to earn 5-10 trivia points (TPs) each class session. You accrue TP as a team, but you spend them as an individual.

You may redeem these TPs at any point in the semester for the following rewards:

  • 10 Trivia Points: A sticker or sucker
  • 30 TP: 24-hour assignment extension
  • 60 TP: Extra absence or 48-hour assignment extension
  • 100 TP: 72-hour assignment extension
  • 175 TP: +/- grade bump at the end of the semester

When you redeem TP for a reward, those points will be deducted from your individual TP account. You cannot use your TP on the final assignment.

Student Cases

Critique a #hashtag campaign aimed at influencing the public to make a change, or to influence the government or a business/industry to make a change. Write a case study on your findings. Research, critique, and determine the effectiveness of its influence.

Given this is a unique opportunity to learn from one another, we hope that our students learn important skills and content from one another. For example, Syracuse students are focused much more substantially on public relations practices; therefore, the Iowa students should be reliant on learning the roles and implications of PR on online activism from them. Additionally, Iowa students are focused on sustainable and ethical media practice; therefore, the Syracuse students should be reliant on learning about purposes and objectives of sustainability and ethics from them.

Our hope is that this exercise also draws you together to make professional connections and build relationships across geographic borders. This is something that is incredibly common in our industry, even more so with the rise of work from home (WFH) opportunities. This activity provides a work simulation that you will experience quickly as you transition from the classroom to the workplace.

Project Assignments

I see education as a process. I by no means expect you to be proficient in the course objectives at the start of the semester. If you were, then I’d question why you were here. As a result, I designed this course so that you participate in activities throughout the semester that build toward your final project.

  • Each project assignment (P#) will have its own instructions, but its rubric will come from the final project’s.
  • Each project assignment will be able to be used in your final project; in fact, I encourage you to revise based on my feedback and use it again.
  • Each project assignment will not be graded. Rather, you will receive feedback on the assignment and a rubric score that will help you see where you are at in this course relative to achieving the goals (objectives) of this course.
  • You will receive a score of 0 on an assignment for one of two reasons: (1) not turning in a project assignment or (2) giving minimal effort on the project assignment. The project assignments are designed in a way where it will be clear if you did the assignment last minute. Please do not take my kindness for granted.

A brief description of each project assignment is included below. More detailed descriptions and rubrics will be provided a week ahead of the assignment’s due date. None of these assignments should take more than a week’s worth of time.

P1: Problem Statement

Students will write/record a problem statement about a social issue they are interested in addressing on campus. There should be a clear understanding of what the social issue is, why the student believes it to be a social issue, and why this issue must be addressed. The expectation is that the student also recognizes how this issue exists nationally and/or globally.

P2: Hawkeye on the Street I

Students will interview five different students on campus about their issue. These should be quick, short videos that could be compiled into a social media length video. Your goal is to check the pulse of people on campus about your issue. This should serve as initial research, but these can/should be used in some capacity in your final.

P3: Research

Students will do traditional research on their social issue. This will provide you with substantial background information as to what your issue is beyond campus. To do this, you will create a ten-source annotated bibliography that utilizes academic and media sources to contextualize your social issue.

P4: Social Media Audit

Students will utilize Twitter and Tear Gas to audit how a national or international social movement (similar to the one you are interested in) utilized social media to convey agency, respond to a grievance, or reflect on historical change. Your focus will be on utilizing what you learned from the tools and strategies outlined in Tufekci’s book, but also on learning how you can leverage those same strategies and tools in your final project.

P5: Reader Response

Students will write a response to a chapter in #HashtagActivism. For this response, students will be expected to address how Jackson et al. audited a social media movement, drew from several sources, and provided examples. Students will do this in two ways: (1) by considering the argument critically and (2) explaining the argument to someone unfamiliar.

P6: Midterm Reflection

We’ve reached the middle of the semester. In lieu of a midterm exam, students will be asked to write/film a reflection about the status of their final project. Expect to talk about what you’ve learned so far, where you expect to go moving forward, and how you will do this. The reflection will focus on goals and thinking critically about how you intend to achieve them.

P7: Planning

Students will create a plan (outline, organizer, sketch, etc.) for their final project based on the information they’ve compiled thus far this semester.

P8: Hawkeye on the Street II

Students will interview five different students on campus about their issue. These should be quick, short videos that could be compiled into a social media length video. Your goal is to check the pulse of people on campus about your issue. This time you should have research to really build these conversations into something more. These can/should be used in some capacity in your final.

P9: Community Conversation

Students will bring together a focus group of 3-4 people who are directly impacted by your social issue. The focus here is to learn about how you can make a difference and a change, as well as how these people use social media.

Final Project

The final project for this class is entirely of your own choosing. Below are four possible options for what I would like to see submitted at the end of this class. Each option will be graded with the same rubric; however, each represents different professional or personal goals. No option will be weighted more than another.

  • Traditional Research Paper
  • Social Media Campaign
  • Long-form Journalistic Story
  • Podcast

If you would like to work in a group (no more than 4 people) for your final project, I will allow it. The expectation, however, is that you each still produce the workload expected of you as an individual. For example,

  • If one person produces one podcast episode, a group of four would need to produce four.
  • The basic requirements of the social campaign for one person would need to be multiplied by three if you were in a group of three.
  • Maybe you want a partner for the research paper. If so, then double the individual requirements.

If you choose to work as a group, there will not be individual grades. You must accept the outcome of your group’s collaboration. There will be no post-final group evaluation. Since being a part of a group is not a requirement, you making that choice is seen as a decision made by a responsible adult.

The final project options will be introduced fully in week 4 of class.

Course Schedule

Given the nature of this course, the instructor reserves the right to move around topics and readings to respond to current events and cultural movements.

  • All readings must be done before class
  • All assignments are due by Friday at noon.
Schedule / TopicReadingAssignment
Monday, August 22
Classroom Culture
Wednesday, August 24
Course Foundations
Albright: “Hashtag Activism: #powerful or #pointless” Neela-Stock & DiBenedetto: “22 Moments of Activism…” Hitchings-Hales & Calderwood: “8 Massive Moments When Hashtag Activism Really Worked” Rosenblatt: “A Summer of Digital Protest”DUE: P1
Monday, August 29 DefinitionsGranillo: “The Role of Social Media in Social Movements” Cammaerts: “Social Media and Activism” 
Wednesday, August 31
Movements & Protests
Tufekci: Intro, Chs. 1-2 Listen to A Rift Over Power and Privilege in the Women’s MarchDUE: P2
Monday, September 5
Labor Day – NO CLASS
Wednesday, September 7
Tufekci: Chs. 3 & 4DUE: P3
Monday, September 12
Algorithms & Responsibilities
Tufekci: Ch. 5 & 6 
Wednesday, September 14 Algorithms & ResponsibilitiesTufekci: Ch. 7 
Monday, September 19 Democracy and EthicsJackson et al.: Afterward Twitter: Civic Integrity Policy Francis Haugen Video + Transcript 
Monday, September 19 Memes and Mentions: Internet cultures   Guest Speaker: Bobbie Foster BhusariLazzaro: “Memes are Our Generation’s Protest Art” Duong: “Why do Memes matter?…” Haubursin: “Why do Memes Matter?” – watch the video and feel free to read any of the suggested readings Daniels: “Do Memes Make the Internet a Better Place?” Fink: “The Role of Memes in Teen Culture” 
Monday, September 26 Pause and PracticeNONE 
Wednesday, September 28     Guest Speaker: Sarah ChayesNONE 
Monday, September 26 Student PresentationsJackson et al.: Gender 
Wednesday, September 28 Student PresentationsJackson et al.: RaceDUE: P5 & P6
Monday, October 10 | Never AgainWitt: “How the Survivors of Parkland Began the Never Again Movement” Holan & Sherman: “PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: Online Smear Machine Tries to Take Down Parkland StudentsWe Say Never Again: Read two PDF excerpts 
Wednesday, October 12 | Never Again   Guest Speaker: Sarah LernerOne of three options (all written by Lerner): How the Parkland Shooting Changed My LifeOpinion: Learning to be the ‘new me’ after the Parkland tragedyWill My Students Ever Know a World Without School Shootings? 
Monday, October 17 | Arab Spring“Digital Media and the Arab Spring” Gerbaudo: “‘We are not the guys of comment and like’: The Revolutionary Coalescence of Shabab-al-Facebook”DUE P7
Wednesday, October 19 Gamestop and the Power of Social Media Economic MovementsSmith: “The Reddit Revolt…” Klimentov: “A Breakdown of the GameStop Situation” Bernard, Flitter, & Das: “Buy GameStop…” 
Monday, October 24 | Wednesday, October 26 #FreeBritney and Celebrity ActivismAnguiano: “The #FreeBritney Movement Finds its Moment” Spanos: “What is #FreeBritney…” Chang: “Britney Spears’ Conservatorship: A Complete Timeline” Lorenz: Who won the Depp-Heard Trial (read for Wednesday)   Suggested: NYT Britney doc on HuluDUE: P8
Monday, October 31 | Wednesday, November 2STUDENTS come to class to work on their student cases.DUE: Case articles
Monday, November 7 Making Sense of Hashtag ActivismJackson et al.: Introduction & Conclusion Tufekci: Ch. 8 – end Hintz: “Social Media Censorship, Privatized Regulation and New Restrictions to Protest and Dissent”DUE: Case presentations + discussion questions (Nov. 8 to ICON)
Wednesday, November 9 Student ChoiceStudent assigned articlesDUE: P9
Monday, November 14 Student ChoiceStudent assigned articles 
Wednesday, November 16 Student ChoiceStudent assigned articles 
FALL BREAK: NO CLASS Monday, November 21 Wednesday, November 23 
Monday, November 28 Nerve Finish WIP presentations for next week.
Wednesday, November 30 Finish Nerve Final Project Work/Meetings 
Monday, December 5 Student Work-in-Progress PresentationsAll presentations should be done by todayStudents should use in-class feedback to revise/add/edit their final projects
Wednesday, December 7 Student Work-in-Progress Presentations 
Finals Week: Project Due 

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