Democracy at Risk? Disinformation in the Age of Social Media

Social Sciences      

Course Description

The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world – and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end – is being destroyed.

- Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

The rise of social media in the twenty-first century has created a fertile environment for the propagation of false information and lies, what is often referred to as “disinformation.” Whether taking the form of former President Trump’s ‘big lie’ of massive voter fraud or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s false accusations that George Soros was planning to flood Hungary with illegal immigrants, disinformation destabilizes democratic governments by using lies to support political parties more interested in gaining power than preserving democratic values. Such lies can be easily disseminated on social media by party supporters and foreign governments, making democratic populaces vulnerable to anti-democratic propaganda and their countries at risk of democratic backsliding.

How should we think about the current vulnerability of democracies to disinformation? Is propaganda a perennial problem for democratic societies and is the recent rise of disinformation simply part of a recurring historical pattern? Or, has the arrival of novel forms of communication altered the playing field of democracy in a way that threatens the open exchange of ideas which is essential for the functioning of a democratic society? In addition to social media, is there something about the historical moment in which we live that has made western democracies particularly vulnerable to a turn toward authoritarianism? What can we do to preserve liberal democracy?

This course will look at the work of Barbara Walter, Richard L. Hasen, Zac Gershberg, Sean Illing, Timothy Snyder, and others as we seek to understand the way democracy is being undermined by the rapid diffusion of propaganda through social media. To gain a richer historical perspective, we will look at Hannah Arendt’s analysis of the rise of fascism in her work The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Books to Purchase (will be available at Argo Bookshop during the weeks prior to the course beginning):

  • How Civil Wars Start: and How to Stop Them by Barbara Walter
  • Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov (Trans. Boris Dralyuk)

Please note that this course has a maximum enrollment of 16 students and that TMI does not allow participants to audit courses for free.

Course Details

Location: Atwater or Online

First Session: Monday, January 15th, 2024

Course Length: 12 weeks, Mondays, 6:15 to 8:15 p.m.

Discussion Team: Carol Fiedler, Shernaz Choksi, Sean Spurvey    

Degree Credit: 3 credits

Course Fee: 

$150.00 (standard tuition)

$100.00 (promotion for new students)

Administrative Fee:



$185.00 (standard tuition)

$135.00 (promotion for new students)


For 12-week courses, fees are refundable in full before the second session. If the participant withdraws after the second course, they will be charged a $50 fee. There is no refund after the third course has passed. Please note that non-attendance does not constitute a withdrawal.

Students pursuing studies for credit are encouraged to consult with their advisers as they register for courses.

Course leaders, and students wishing to use credit vouchers, should call (514) 935-9585 to pay by phone or to schedule an appointment to pay in person.

Questions? Stuck? Give us a call at (514) 935-9585
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