50:209:110 Truth and Lies in the Digital World (Fall 2022)

This course addresses the problems of misinformation, propaganda, and verifying truth in digital environments. It introduces students to the use of rhetorical analysis to approach these ethical problems, examines the unique challenges introduced by digital environments, and uses both creative and critical approaches for understanding this set of problems. The course addresses the ethical obligations of those who create and distribute information as well as the obligations of those consuming and sharing information. The course addresses these questions and problems through the examination of literary texts, scholarly research, and online spaces.

Students of this class also enroll in a learning community that is linked to the English course "Young Adult Literature. The learning community will include combined meetings of both courses and other off campus events.

Syllabus

Course Title: Truth and Lies in the Digital World
Course Code: 50:209:110
Time: Tuesday and Thursday, 9:35-10:55
Location: Digital Commons, Room 102
Professor: Dr. James Brown
Email: jim.brown@rutgers.edu
Office Location: Digital Commons, Room 104
Office Hours: Tuesday 11:00-12:30 (or by appointment)

Course Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this class, students will be able to:

  • Use the tools of rhetorical analysis to analyze the problems of misinformation, propaganda, and verifying truth in digital environments
  • Recognize the complex ethical obligations of the producers and consumers of information
  • Explain the roles certain digital technologies play in the problems of misinformation, propaganda, and verifying truth
  • Create digital works that to express arguments about misinformation, propaganda, and verification of truth

Ethics and Values Outcomes

This course fulfills the Ethics and Values general education requirement. Upon completion of this EAV course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze ethical debates in terms of their underlying assumptions and implications.
  • Recognize the ethical values at stake in practical, concrete, and/or everyday situations.
  • Apply ethical reasoning toward solving practical problems.
  • Formulate, communicate, and evaluate effective ethical arguments.

Required Texts

Most of our texts will be available as PDFs on Canvas. For this class, you are required to purchase:

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (ISBN: 9781250773029)
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (ISBN: 9780765323118)

Evaluation

Grades in this class will be determined by the Learning Record Online (LR). The LR will require you to observe your own learning and construct an argument for your grade based on evidence that you accumulate throughout the semester. You will record weekly observations, and you will synthesize your work into an argument for your grade. You will construct this argument twice - once at the midterm and once at the end of the course. We will be discussing the LR at length during the first week of class. We will discuss the LRO in detail throughout the semester.

Attendance Policy

Attendance will be crucial for success in this class. When you complete your midterm and final portfolio, your attendance record will be part of the evidence you will draw upon to make an argument for your grade.

Content Warnings

If we will be reading and discussing material that addresses sensitive topics, I will do my best to let you know in advance. If there are certain specific topics you would like me to provide warnings about, please let me know. I will do my best to flag content based on your requests.

Technology Policy

If possible, I ask that you please silence and put away your phone during class. If you absolutely need to have access to your phone during class on a regular basis, please see me during the first week of class to discuss. You are free to use devices that aid your participation in class, such as accessing readings or taking notes.

University policies and resources

Academic Integrity
My assumption is that any work you turn in for this course has been completed by you. If you ever have questions about proper attribution or citation, please don't hesitate to ask.

Code of Conduct
Rutgers University-Camden seeks a community that is free from violence, threats, and intimidation; that is respectful of the rights, opportunities, and welfare of students, faculty, staff, and guests of the University; and that does not threaten the physical or mental health or safety of members of the University community and includes classroom space. As a student at the University, you are expected adhere to Student Code of Conduct: https://deanofstudents.camden.rutgers.edu/student-conduct

RaptorCares
Rutgers-Camden has a wide range of resources to help you stay on track both personally and academically. The Raptor Cares Report (https://deanofstudents.camden.rutgers.edu/reporting) connects you to our Dean of Students Office and they can assist you with a variety of concerns: medical, financial, mental health, or any life issue that impacts your academic performance. You can share a concern for yourself, a classmate or a friend.

Office of Disability Services
The Office of Disability Services (ODS) provides students with confidential accommodation services in order to allow students with documented physical, mental, and learning disabilities to successfully complete their course of study at Rutgers University – Camden. ODS provides for the confidential documentation and verification of student accommodations, and communicates with faculty regarding disabilities and accommodations. The ODS provides accommodation services, which can include readers, interpreters, alternate text, special equipment, and note takers. The ODS also works with students, faculty, staff and administrators to enforce the American with Disabilities Act of 1990. https://learn.camden.rutgers.edu/disability-services

Office of Military and Veterans Affairs
The Office of Military and Veterans Affairs can assist our military and veteran students with benefits, deployment issues and much more. Contact: Fred Davis 856-225-2791 frdavis@camden.rutgers.edu

Support for Undocumented and Immigrant Students
In an ongoing effort to support all students on campus, Rutgers University has established two offices to support undocumented and immigrant students with questions or concerns related to immigration status. The Rutgers Immigrant Community Assistance Project (RICAP) provides free and confidential immigration legal consultations and direct representation to currently enrolled students. For more information or an appointment, contact Jason Hernandez, Esq., at 856-225-2302 or jason.c.hernandez@rutgers.edu. The Rutgers Office of Undocumented Student Services provides one-on-one case management to assist undocumented students and help them access campus resources including financial aid, career services, health services, etc.

Schedule

Rhetoric, Not Just for Liars Anymore

9/6

In class: Introductions: How does this class work? What is this class about? What is Rhetoric?

9/8

Reading and Annotation: Booth - "How Many 'Rhetorics'?"
In class: Discuss reading and practice Hypothesis annotations, discuss Learning Record

9/13

Reading and Annotation: Booth - "Judging Rhetoric"
In class: Discuss reading and annotations, discus Learning Record

9/15

Reading and Annotation: Booth - "Media Rhetrickery"
In class: Discuss reading and Hypothesis annotations

9/16

Learning Record Part A Due by 5:00pm (interview and reflection)

Literature and/as Propaganda

9/20

Reading: 1/3 of Ender's game and annotate passages in Hypothesis
In class: Discuss reading and annotations, combined meeting with Prof. Brown and Prof. Humes

9/22

Reading: 2/3 Ender's game
In class: Discuss reading, respond to in-class writing prompt

9/27

Reading: Finish Ender's game
In class: Discuss reading, respond to in-class writing prompt

9/29

Reading: Response paper workshop

10/1

Ender's Game Response paper due by 5:00pm

10/4

Reading: 1/2 Little Brother and annotate passage in Hypothesis
In class: Discuss reading and annotations, introduction to Twine

10/6

- No Class - Prof. Brown at a Conference
Reading: 3/4 Little Brother

10/11

Reading: Finish Little Brother
In class: Discuss reading, Twine workshop

10/13

Twine workshop

10/16

Twine Game Due by 5:00pm

10/18

Reading and Annotation: "Digital Propaganda: The Power of Influencers"
In class: Discuss reading and annotations

Studies in Rhetrickery

10/20

Trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see "Martine Syms: Neural Swamp / The Future Fields Commission"

10/21

Midterm Learning Record Due by 5:00pm

10/25

Reading and Annotation: "Media Forensics and DeepFakes: An Overview"
In class: Discuss reading and annotations

10/27

Reading and Annotation: "Exposing Russia’s Effort to Sow Discord Online: The Internet Research Agency and Advertisements"
In class: Discuss reading and evidence linked in the report

11/1

Film screening
Feels Good Man

11/3

Reading and Annotation: "A.I. Is Mastering Language. Should We Trust What It Says?"
In class: Discuss reading, experiment with GPT-3

11/8

Reading and Annotation: Lorenz, "Birds Aren’t Real, or Are They? Inside a Gen Z Conspiracy Theory"
Listen and Watch NYTimes Podcast - The Daily: "A Movement to Fight Misinformation...With Misinformation", Birds Aren't Real YouTube Channel: "THE TRUTH REPORT EP 1: EXPOSING TAYLOR LORENZ"
In class: Discuss and analyze "Birds Aren't Real," begin brainstorming for final project

11/10

Watch: "The Yes Men Fix The World"
In class: Group work on final project

11/15

"Well Played" session of Headliner

Using Rhetrickery for Good?

11/17

In class: Begin work on final project

11/22

In class: Group meetings, workshop

11/24

Holiday - No class meeting

11/29

In class: Group meetings, workshop

12/1

In class: Group meetings, workshop

12/6

In class: Group meetings, workshop

12/8

In class: Group meetings, workshop

12/13

Final Presentation

12/16
Final Learning Record Due by 5:00pm

Learning Record

Grades in this course will be determined by use of the Learning Record, a system which requires students to compile a portfolio of work at the midterm and at the end of the semester. When you submit assignments, I will provide written feedback, but I won't provide a grade.

LR portfolios present a selection of your work, both formal and informal, plus ongoing observations about your learning, plus an analysis of your work in terms of the five dimensions of learning and the goals for this course. You will evaluate your work in terms of the grade criteria listed on this page. I will provide written comments on your LR and determine whether you have made a convincing argument.

The LR has four main components:

Part A: Interview

This is an informal interview with someone who is familiar with your learning processes. After the interview, you will summarize it briefly and then offer your own reflections on that interview. Part A is only completed once, at the beginning of the semester.

Observations

At least twice per week, you will record observations about your learning. These aren't observations about the course content but are instead observations about your own learning processes. So, an observation wouldn't be "Booth's arguments about rhetoric are useful for understanding propaganda." Instead, an observation would be more like, "I'm having a hard time understanding Booth's explanation of rhetoric" or "I'm finding myself more interested in the Booth reading than I expected to be."

Part B: Analysis

Part B is completed twice, once at the midterm and once at the end of the course. This is an analysis of your learning processes in terms of five dimensions of learning and the learning goals of this course.

Dimensions of Learning
The five dimensions of learning have been developed by teachers and researchers, and they represent what learners experience in any learning situation:

1) Confidence and independence
2) Knowledge and understanding
3) Skills and strategies
4) Use of prior and emerging experience
5) Reflectiveness

You can find detailed descriptions of the dimensions of learning on the Learning Record Website.

Course Goals
Your analysis will also consider the specific goals for this course:

1) Use the tools of rhetorical analysis to analyze the problems of misinformation, propaganda, and verifying truth in digital environments
2) Recognize the complex ethical obligations of the producers and consumers of information
3) Explain the roles certain digital technologies play in the problems of misinformation, propaganda, and verifying truth
4) Create digital works that to express arguments about misinformation, propaganda, and verification of truth

Your work in class (and in other classes during this semester) along with the observations you record throughout the semester will help you build an argument that shows learning development across the dimensions of learning and course goals.

Part C: Evaluation

Part C is completed twice, once at the midterm and once at the end of the course. You will evaluate your work in the course (assignments and observations as well as work you have completed in other courses this semester) in terms of the below criteria to make an argument for your grade.

A
Represents outstanding participation in all course activities; all assigned work completed and submitted on time, with very high quality in all work produced for the course. Student has perfect or near perfect attendance. Evidence of significant development across the five dimensions of learning. The Learning Record at this level demonstrates activity that goes significantly beyond the required course work in one or more course strands.

B
Represents excellent participation in all course activities; all assigned work completed on time, with consistently high quality in course work. Student has near perfect attendance. Evidence of marked development across the five dimensions of learning.

C
Represents good participation in all course activities; all assigned work completed, with generally good quality overall in course work. Evidence of some development across the five dimensions of learning.

D
Represents uneven participation in course activities; some gaps in assigned work completed, with inconsistent quality in course work. Evidence of development across the five dimensions of learning is partial or unclear.

F
Represents minimal participation in course activities; serious gaps in assigned work completed, or very low quality in course work. Evidence of development is not available.

Assignments

Hypothesis Annotations

For some of our readings, you will be using a tool called Hypothesis to highlight significant passages and to record observations about those passages. The goal here is to read together, to try to make sense of what we are reading in a collective way. Annotations are due by 8:00pm on the day before we meet to discuss the reading.This provides me with an opportunity to review your annotations before our class meeting.

These assignments will be important material for your LR. Hypothesis allows you to annotate certain passages and to record "page notes" (notes that apply to the entire reading). You may also find that you want to reply to another student's annotations. While I do not require any specific number of annotations or notes, I will be looking to see that you have put forth a good faith effort to complete the assignment.

There are many ways to approach this method of collective annotation. Here's a guide developed by Dr. Nathaniel Rivers at St. Louis University, which presents some "do's" and "don'ts" of collaborative annotation. Annotations to our readings might do a number of things, including asking questions, pointing to another related source, connecting a reading to other readings in the class, or any other approach that you think might be useful to you and your classmates.

There's only one strict rule when it comes to these annotations: You can't say "I agree" or "I disagree." This may seem counter intuitive, but the goal of our readings isn't to agree or disagree with the author or even with one another. The goal is to ask questions, to figure out why the author is making certain arguments, and to consider what is most important about the argument we're reading.

Ender's Game Response Paper

During our class discussions of Ender's Game, we have been applying Booth's terms to scenes in the novel in order to analyze various moments of persuasion. Our goal is to use Booth's terms to either shed new light on the novel or, potentially, to help us understand Booth's terms and theories in a new way.

You will do this same thing in your response paper, analyzing some moment in the novel with Booth's terms.

1) Identify and summarize a moment in Ender's Game that you would like to analyze using Booth's terms. You do not need to explain every component of the scene you're analyzing, but you do need to describe in detail the most important components of it and provide some context of how the scene fits into the rest of the novel.

2) Identify and summarize the terms or concepts from both that you would like to use to analyze the moment you have identified. This section should be detailed and should serve to show that you understand Booth's term and can explain it to someone who may not be familiar with his theories.

3) Conduct your analysis by explaining how Booth's terms apply to the moment you have chosen. You should be citing specific moments and passages when you do this and not just speaking in general terms about the nor the scene you have chosen. You should be choosing multiple examples to support your analysis.

4) Explain how your analysis can help us understand the novel in a new way or how your analysis might help us understand Booth's concepts in a new way.

Your paper can be no more than 1,000 words, and it must do all four of the things listed above.

When providing comments on these papers, I will be looking to see that the paper does the following things:

  • Responds to the prompt above.
  • Provides a detailed response to the prompt, using specific examples from the book to support your claims.
  • Shows evidence that you have incorporated feedback from me and your classmates as you have expanded and revised the paper. (You'll have opportunities to get feedback during class discussion and during our writing workshop day.)
  • Demonstrates a careful writing and revision process.
  • Is carefully written, generally free of grammatical errors, and observes the word limits described above.

Little Brother Twine Game

As we read Little Brother, we'll be learning some of the basics of making games and interactive stories using the Twine platform. You'll be making your own game in response to Little Brother. While Twine allows us to make complex games, your game will be a "mini-game" and will not require you to use all of the complex possibilities afforded by the Twine platform.

In Little Brother, Doctorow is using fiction to teach the reader about technology, surveillance, hacking, and a range of technological concepts. Your mini-game should take this same approach, but instead of using only narrative to teach these lessons, you can use the features of a game or interactive narrative. By presenting your player with choices, you can teach them in a way that is similar to what Doctorow is attempting.

Your game must be completable in about five minutes, must offer multiple possibilities (each play through should yield somewhat different results), and must teach the player something from Little Brother. Doctorow gives us multiple moments when he's teaching the reader about technology (cryptography, Internet protocols, etc.), and you should choose one of these examples as the basis for your game.

Group Project: Misinformation/Disinformation Campaign

In this class, we study Wayne Booth's breakdown of different types of rhetoric. Booth's definition of "rhetrickery" is what we often think of when we hear politicians or other public figures use the word "rhetoric." Booth defines rhetrickery as the "whole range of shoddy dishonest communicative arts producing misunderstanding - along with other harmful results. The arts of making the worse seem the better course."

We've read about various kinds of digital rhetrickery, including things like Deepfakes and Troll Farms, but we've also read about ways that artists, activists, and others might use similar tactics toward more ethical or just ends. Groups and initiatives such as the Yes Men and Birds Aren't Real use the tools of digital disinformation and propaganda to expose wrongdoing and to raise awareness about conspiracy theories or the manipulation of information.

Our final project in this class will be to build our own similar disinformation campaign, using to tools of rhetrickery in similar ways. As a class, we will develop a campaign, and using what we've learned this semester we will build an online presence for that campaign. This could include creating websites, social media accounts, digital graphics, videos, audio, and more. It will also mean a great deal of writing. The class will plan the campaign together, and students will take on different roles to work together in building this project.

On our last day of class, all members of the class will deliver a presentation about the campaign, its goals, and the processes you used to create materials. Individual students should look for opportunities to document their own contributions to the project so that they can use that documentation in their LR.