Info 290S

Special Topics in Social Science and Policy

2–4 units

Course Description

Specific topics, hours, and credit may vary from section to section and year to year.

Course may be repeated for credit when topic changes. Students may enroll in multiple sections of this course within the same semester.

Requirements Satisfied

MIMS: Social Science and Policy Requirement

Courses Offered

This course explores transformations of the information ecosystem in recent decades. Starting with the origins of the internet, and a theoretical framing of the issues, the focus is on the interaction of technical architecture, public policy and law, corporate business models, and societal norms in reshaping the information environment. In addition to looking at foundational policy such as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the course traces the growth of online misinformation and disinformation, algorithmic amplification, digital advertising, large scale data collection, and growing corporate scale and power — as well as the corresponding debates about content controls, encryption, privacy protection, information security, and antitrust regulation. While the primary case material is from the US (both state and national) the global nature of the internet means that the divergent policy trajectories of the European Union, China, and countries like India are a central theme throughout the course.

This seminar is designed to allow students to explore the politics of information in greater depth than is possible in an introductory survey course. Each week, we will read and discuss a carefully selected, recent book on an issue in the field. Books offer greater analytical depth and complexity of insight into the issues. The topics include the origins of the internet, Section 230, social media and political polarization, the rise of surveillance advertising, what is privacy, privacy in practice, privacy by design, internet security, digital monopolies, and state control of information. A final week asks if/how society can rise to the challenges.

This class is open to master’s and Ph.D. students. Students will be exposed to classic issues and current frontiers in the study of how information should be valued, when people acquire information, and how they process such information. We will begin with a unit covering a theoretical framework for how information should affect beliefs and actions. Then we will cover a unit exploring the psychological principles that promote or dissuade people from optimal responses to information. Then we will close with a unit surveying field evidence on how these principles affect decision-makers in markets and ways to reduce the problems therein.

Last updated:

October 27, 2022