Teaching

I teach two courses: a first year course in the Department of Political Science, and a graduate seminar in the Masters of Global Affairs Program at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Details below for each.

POL106H1S L0101
Contemporary Challenges to Democracy: Democracy in the Social Media Age

NOTE: THIS CLASS WILL BE DELIVERED ONLINE FOR THE 2021 TERM

Themes

Social media are the predominant means by which most of the world communicates and seeks and receives information today. Like all communication technologies, the character of social media can have important influence on issues related to identity, society, and politics. Social media themselves are also important sites of political struggles, and are subject to varying types of state control and interference. In this course, we examine the relationship between democracy and social media. We will explore the underlying business model of social media, widely known as “surveillance capitalism,” and then discuss some of the ways the business model may distort public communications. We will look at disinformation on social media, and both targeted and mass surveillance undertake in and through the platforms. We will also examine the overlooked ecological impacts of social media. Finally, we will explore ways to reform and regulate social media in the public interest.

OPTIONAL TEXT
Ronald J. Deibert, Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society (House of Anansi Press: 2020)

Format and Requirements
Essays, tests, class participation, final exam

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GlA2010H

(Note: RESTRICTED TO MGA STUDENTS – NO EXCEPTIONS)

NOTE: THIS COURSE WILL BE DELIVERED ONLINE FOR THE 2021 TERM

Office Hours: By appointment only. Send email to r.deibert@utoronto.ca I will prioritize answering students’ emails promptly.

Description:

The constantly evolving digital electronic telecommunications environment that surrounds us is having dramatic and far-reaching impacts on our lives, social relationships, and systems of political authority. While they have not eliminated the perennial quest for power, security and competitive advantage among actors on the world stage, they are profoundly changing the context and the character of these contests. Individuals, organizations, corporations and states are all seeking ways to control information and information systems to pursue political objectives in the midst of a rapidly evolving technological environment.

This course is an intensive examination of the newly evolving terrain of global digital‐electronic‐telecommunications through the lens of the research of the Citizen Lab. For over 15 years, the Citizen Lab (https://citizenlab.ca/) — an interdisciplinary research laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto (which the instructor founded and currently directs) — has investigated issues at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security. We use a “mixed methods” approach to research combining practices from political science, law, computer science, and area studies. We see ourselves as a kind of “early warning system,” looking over the horizon, or peering beneath the covers of the technological systems that surround us, to expose abuses of power, violations of human rights, or other threats to privacy and security.

After setting the stage with some general readings on background and context, we turn to several modules organized as detailed examinations of the Citizen Lab’s mixed methods research on information controls, including analyzing Internet censorship and surveillance, investigating targeted digital espionage, uncovering privacy and security risks of mobile applications, disinformation operations, and the role of the private sector in information controls. We conclude with an exploration of threat modeling and how each of you can increase your own digital hygiene.

The goals of the class are two-fold: first, we aim to familiarize you with the unique approach, methods, and outputs of the Citizen Lab. The Citizen Lab is a very unusual research organization. Our publications routinely make world news, and we have exposed the wrong-doings of very powerful states and companies. (Perhaps not surprisingly, these efforts have had significant repercussions, which we will discuss); second, we also aim to better equip you with the tools to help you navigate this complex, evolving terrain. You do not need to be a computer scientist or software engineer to take this course, nor will you learn how to become one. But we hope that by the end of the course you will have a better understanding of how digital-electronic-telecommunications are organized and are evolving, and more importantly how they impact your life, rights, and security.

Please familiarize yourself with the work of the Lab here: https://citizenlab.ca/. You may also want to follow the Citizen Lab twitter account @citizenlab and my twitter account @RonDeibert. The Toronto Star recently published a detailed profile of the Citizen Lab that provides a pretty decent history and overview (unfortunately it is behind a paywall).

Class participation involves active, engaged contributions to the discussion. Each student should come to class prepared to make prepared comments about the readings. Additional points are given for contributing comments that show some degree of analytical sophistication (e.g., comparing readings to one another; contrasting assumptions made in readings with evidence and clear examples). Poor participation involves not being engaged, not communicating or preparing comments in advance (i.e., being a “spectator” in class).  Do not wait for me to direct the discussion.  Come willing to engage!

Here is a good resource on the topic of active reading: http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtoread.pdf

Course prerequisites

Students do not require extensive technical (e.g., computer science or engineering sciences) as a prerequisite for the course as we assume non‐technical expertise. However, a basic understanding of political science, international security, and communication studies concepts will be helpful.