The Internet and Politics

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 07 October 2021
Friday 17 December 2021
31 March 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

How does the internet influence democratic politics? Does it facilitate collective action and even undermine authoritarian regimes? Which means and strategies do governments use to control and regulate the internet and its use by citizens? This class introduces academic debates about these and other questions. It discusses the internet's role in democratic politics, the online information environment, political engagement, democratization, government efforts to control internet use, and data protection.

Module aims

1) To encourage an analytical perspective on debates and claims that we encounter in academic circles and everyday public debate.
2) To encourage creative thinking about how we can formulate theories and generate evidence about the effects of the internet on political outcomes of interest.
3) To counter exaggerated or naïve beliefs about the transformative impact of the internet, on one hand, or its alleged irrelevance to politics, on the other.

Module learning outcomes

1) To develop a detailed knowledge of the key claims about how the internet influences politics as well as alternative theoretical perspectives on these claims.
2) To distinguish theoretically consistent claims about the effect of the internet on political outcomes from exaggerated claims about its transformative effect.
3) To formulate theoretical mechanisms and expectations about how the internet affects political outcomes.
4) To critically evaluate research designs and their underlying assumptions in the study of the internet and politics.
5) To be able to break down academic and public debates about the internet into tangible questions and arguments, and to formulate critical opinions on these.
6) To express yourself clearly and succinctly in discussions and written work on the relationship between the internet and politics.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered with (i) a weekly pre-recorded lecture and (ii) a weekly interactive lecture. The pre-recorded lecture will consist of one or more items of prepared content that students canaccess electronically and must study before the interactive lecture. The interactive lecture will consist of one 50-minute lecture in which students can ask questions about, and discuss various aspects of, the prepared content with the module supervisor.


  • Tufekci, Zeynep; Wilson, Christopher. (2012-04) 'Social Media and the Decision to Participate in Political Protest: Observations From Tahrir Square', in Journal of Communication. vol. 62 (2) , pp.363-379
  • Project MUSE - How the Internet Can Reinforce Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of North Korea, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/709945
  • Baldwin-Philippi, Jessica. (2017-10-02) 'The Myths of Data-Driven Campaigning', in Political Communication. vol. 34 (4) , pp.627-633
  • Daniel Kreiss; Shannon C. McGregor. (2018) 'Technology Firms Shape Political Communication: The Work of Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Google With Campaigns During the 2016 U.S. Presidential Cycle', in Political Communication. vol. 35 (2) , pp.155-177
  • Gladwell, Malcolm. (2010) 'Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted', in The New Yorker. vol. 86 (32) , pp.42-
  • Tina Freyburg. (2018) 'Authoritarian Practices in the Digital Age| Blocking the Bottleneck: Internet Shutdowns and Ownership at Election Times in Sub-Saharan Africa', in International Journal of Communication. vol. 12, pp.21-
  • We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here's What We Learned, https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/23/503146770/npr-finds-the-head-of-a-covert-fake-news-operation-in-the-suburbs?t=1561108080226
  • Beware online "filter bubbles", https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles
  • Allen, Jennifer; Howland, Baird; Mobius, Markus; Rothschild, David; Watts, Duncan J. (2020-04) 'Evaluating the fake news problem at the scale of the information ecosystem', in Science Advances. vol. 6 (14) , pp.eaay3539-
  • Larry Jay Diamond; Marc F. Plattner. (2012) Liberation technology: social media and the struggle for democracy, Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Schlozman, Kay Lehman; Verba, Sidney; Brady, Henry E. (2010-06) 'Weapon of the Strong? Participatory Inequality and the Internet', in Perspectives on Politics. vol. 8 (2) , pp.487-509
  • Gerschewski, Johannes. (2013-01) 'The three pillars of stability: legitimation, repression, and co-optation in autocratic regimes', in Democratization. vol. 20 (1) , pp.13-38
  • Pan, Jennifer. (2019-04) 'How Chinese Officials Use the Internet to Construct Their Public Image', in Political Science Research and Methods. vol. 7 (2) , pp.197-213
  • Lonkila, Markku. (2008-09) 'The Internet and Anti-military Activism in Russia', in Europe-Asia Studies. vol. 60 (7) , pp.1125-1149
  • Dubois, Elizabeth; Blank, Grant. (2018-05-04) 'The echo chamber is overstated: the moderating effect of political interest and diverse media', in Information, Communication & Society. vol. 21 (5) , pp.729-745
  • Gary King; Jennifer Pan; Margaret E. Roberts. (2017) 'How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument', in American Political Science Review. vol. 111 (3) , pp.484-501
  • Lilleker, Darren G; Jackson, Nigel A. (2010-01-29) 'Towards a More Participatory Style of Election Campaigning: The Impact of Web 2.0 on the UK 2010 General Election', in Policy & Internet. vol. 2 (3) , pp.67-96
  • Han, Rongbin. (2015-12) 'Defending the Authoritarian Regime Online: China's “Voluntary Fifty-cent Army”', in The China Quarterly. vol. 224, pp.1006-1025
  • Freelon, Deen; Merritt, Sarah; Jaymes, Taylor. (2015-03-04) 'Focus On The Tech', in Digital Journalism. vol. 3 (2) , pp.175-191
  • Bakker, Tom P.; de Vreese, Claes H. (2011-08) 'Good News for the Future? Young People, Internet Use, and Political Participation', in Communication Research. vol. 38 (4) , pp.451-470
  • King, G.; Pan, J.; Roberts, M. E. (2014-08-22) 'Reverse-engineering censorship in China: Randomized experimentation and participant observation', in Science. vol. 345 (6199) , pp.1251722-1251722
  • Breuer, Anita; Landman, Todd; Farquhar, Dorothea. (2015-06-07) 'Social media and protest mobilization: evidence from the Tunisian revolution', in Democratization. vol. 22 (4) , pp.764-792
  • Jeroen Van Laer; Peter Van Aelst. (2010) 'Internet and Social Movement Action Repertoires', in Information, Communication & Society. vol. 13 (8) , pp.1146-1171
  • Anduiza, Eva; Cristancho, Camilo; Sabucedo, José M. (2014-07-03) 'Mobilization through online social networks: the political protest of the in Spain', in Information, Communication & Society. vol. 17 (6) , pp.750-764
  • Vissers, Sara; Stolle, Dietlind. (2014-09-14) 'The Internet and new modes of political participation: online versus offline participation', in Information, Communication & Society. vol. 17 (8) , pp.937-955
  • Alvarez, R Michael; Levin, Ines; Mair, Peter; Trechsel, Alexander. (2014-03) 'Party preferences in the digital age', in Party Politics. vol. 20 (2) , pp.227-236
  • How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future | The New Yorker, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/03/how-the-simulmatics-corporation-invented-the-future
  • Fung, Archon; Russon Gilman, Hollie; Shkabatur, Jennifer. (2013-03) 'Six Models for the Internet + Politics', in International Studies Review. vol. 15 (1) , pp.30-47
  • Barberá, Pablo; Jost, John T.; Nagler, Jonathan; Tucker, Joshua A.; Bonneau, Richard. (2015-10) 'Tweeting From Left to Right', in Psychological Science. vol. 26 (10) , pp.1531-1542
  • Project MUSE - Liberation Technology: The Battle for the Chinese Internet, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/427160
  • The "Twitter Can't Topple Dictators" Article - PressThink, https://pressthink.org/2011/02/the-twitter-cant-topple-dictators-article/
  • Min Jiang. (2010/12/05) 'Authoritarian Informationalism: China's Approach to Internet Sovereignty', in SAIS Review of International Affairs: Johns Hopkins University Press. vol. 30 (2) , pp.71-89
  • Bond, Robert M.; Fariss, Christopher J.; Jones, Jason J.; Kramer, Adam D. I.; Marlow, Cameron; Settle, Jaime E.; Fowler, James H. (2012-9) 'A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization', in Nature. vol. 489 (7415) , pp.295-298
  • Tang, Min; Huhe, Narisong. (2014-11) 'Alternative framing: The effect of the Internet on political support in authoritarian China', in International Political Science Review. vol. 35 (5) , pp.559-576
  • Sunstein, Cass R. (2004-12-01) 'Democracy and filtering', in Communications of the ACM. vol. 47 (12) , pp.57-
  • Lazer, David M. J.; Baum, Matthew A.; Benkler, Yochai; Berinsky, Adam J.; Greenhill, Kelly M.; Menczer, Filippo; Metzger, Miriam J.; Nyhan, Brendan; Pennycook, Gordon; Rothschild, David; Schudson, Michael; Sloman, Steven A.; Sunstein, Cass R.; Thorson, Emily A.; Watts, Duncan J.; Zittrain, Jonathan L. (2018-03-09) 'The science of fake news', in Science. vol. 359 (6380) , pp.1094-1096
  • Hersh, Eitan D.; Schaffner, Brian F. (2013-04) 'Targeted Campaign Appeals and the Value of Ambiguity', in The Journal of Politics. vol. 75 (2) , pp.520-534
  • Weidmann, N. B.; Benitez-Baleato, S.; Hunziker, P.; Glatz, E.; Dimitropoulos, X. (2016-09-09) 'Digital discrimination: Political bias in Internet service provision across ethnic groups', in Science. vol. 353 (6304) , pp.1151-1155
  • Hunt Allcott; Matthew Gentzkow. (no date) 'Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election', in Journal of Economic Perspectives. vol. 31 (2) , pp.211-236
  • Davis, Aeron. (2010-08) 'New media and fat democracy: the paradox of online participation1', in New Media & Society. vol. 12 (5) , pp.745-761
  • Ruijgrok, Kris. (2016-09-08) 'From the web to the streets: internet and protests under authoritarian regimes', in Democratization., pp.1-23
  • Flaxman, Seth; Goel, Sharad; Rao, Justin M. (2016) 'Filter Bubbles, Echo Chambers, and Online News Consumption', in Public Opinion Quarterly. vol. 80 (S1) , pp.298-320
  • Morozov, Evgeny. (2009) 'The brave new world of slacktivism', in Foreign Policy. (May 19)
  • Vosoughi, Soroush; Roy, Deb; Aral, Sinan. (2018-03-09) 'The spread of true and false news online', in Science. vol. 359 (6380) , pp.1146-1151
  • Hellmeier, Sebastian. (2016-12) 'The Dictator's Digital Toolkit: Explaining Variation in Internet Filtering in Authoritarian Regimes', in Politics & Policy. vol. 44 (6) , pp.1158-1191
  • Rød, Espen Geelmuyden; Weidmann, Nils B. (2015-05) 'Empowering activists or autocrats? The Internet in authoritarian regimes', in Journal of Peace Research. vol. 52 (3) , pp.338-351
  • Andrew Marantz: Inside the bizarre world of internet trolls and propagandists | TED Talk, https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_marantz_inside_the_bizarre_world_of_internet_trolls_and_propagandists#t-865323
  • Tandoc, Edson C.; Lim, Zheng Wei; Ling, Richard. (2018-02-07) 'Defining “Fake News”', in Digital Journalism. vol. 6 (2) , pp.137-153
  • Freedom on the Net | Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net
  • What is microtargeting and what is it doing in our politics? - Internet Citizen, https://blog.mozilla.org/internetcitizen/2018/10/04/microtargeting-dipayan-ghosh/
  • Milner, Helen V. (2006) 'The Digital Divide', in Comparative Political Studies. vol. 39 (2) , pp.176-199

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Quiz    30% 
Coursework   Essay  09/12/2021  70% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Thomas Winzen, email: thomas.winzen@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Thomas Winzen
Module Supervisor: Dr Thomas Winzen - thomas.winzen@essex.ac.uk / Module Administrator: Lewis Olley - govquery@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 351 hours, 10 (2.8%) hours available to students:
341 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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