Introduction to Social Media
This course introduces students to network structures and principles, the technology and infrastructures that allow them to flourish, and the cultures that grow up through and around them. It explores how social media enables community, how it assembles and empowers agents of change, and how design informs individual and group behavior.
Students should expect to come away with an enlarged perspective on social media, including the histories, public policies, and global forces shaping the apps and networks widely used today. Projects invite students to apply these insights critically and constructively.
- Understand key concepts in social media and media studies
- Analyze and document in detail an existing social network
- Apply insights into a proposal for a new network or feature
Nathan Schneider (“Professor Schneider,” he/him)
Armory Building, 1B24
Office hours: Wednesday at 3-5 p.m., or by appointment (via email)
The TAs in this class are accomplished graduate students in the Media Studies department with active research agendas. They will work with the instructor on teaching, guiding class exercises, and evaluation. Each TA will have a section of students throughout the course. Take the opportunity to get to know your TA, as they are your main point of interface for questions and concerns.
TAs will do their best to get back to you within two business days. Please plan ahead on the assumption that you will not hear back during weekends, holidays, or evenings.
The coursework includes four equally weighted components. These all revolve around the expectation of participation in class sessions.
In-class quizzes (25%)
Class meetings will generally include a short quiz. It will present questions about the week's readings as well as opportunities for the teaching team to check in on your progress and feedback. Quizzes will be conducted on Canvas, with a password provided in class. Be sure to bring a Canvas-friendly device to class.
Quizzes are meant to be taken individually, in class, without referencing external materials. Deviating from these norms will be regarded as a violation of the campus Honor Code.
Students may have one missed quiz automatically voided during the semester. If you need to miss class due to illness, religious observance, or emergency, please inform your TA ahead of time.
Network participation (25%)
Naturally, we have our own social network. We host, manage, and moderate it ourselves. It is an instance of Mastodon, an open-source platform designed to interoperate with the broader “fediverse.” It can be accessed on the Web or with the many third-party apps available.
Since our network is ours, we want it to be healthy. Report any concerning behavior with a private message to the instructor or a TA with the hashtag
#report. If you would like to make a proposal for changing our network rules, please do so with a poll marked
#proposal. The instructor and TAs reserve the right to veto proposals.
Each week before class on Tuesday, students should plan to post their reflections on the assigned materials. These will be evaluated to ensure they include:
- At least 5 substantive posts each week, including (and these can overlap):
- At least two quotations from assigned materials with commentary
- At least two replies to other students' posts
- At least one piece of multimedia (e.g., image, video, audio, poll)
- Constructive contribution to the class discussion
- Evidence of comprehension of the assigned materials
Each week, extra-credit bounties will be distributed to authors of the most successful posts. Criteria will vary as we evaluate the priorities of our shared discussion.
The missing README (25%)
Around the midterm, students will produce a README document about a social network—a “missing manual” to introduce a new user to what it is, how to use it, and what to watch out for. A README is an old-fashioned file that comes with software to explain the basics of it. Today, most commercial tools are designed to be used without any documentation. But what do we lose when we don't really understand something before using it?
Choose a network from the provided list. Produce a 1,300-1,500 word document, appropriately formatted to appeal to a specific intended audience. Audiences might include parents, younger siblings, a competing business, aspiring influencers, or more. Use of illustrative images is encouraged. Be sure to meet the following evaluation criteria:
- Completion of the assignment with stylistic correctness
- Explanation of basic use, including affordances and disaffordances
- Analysis of the network's business model and ownership
- Impressive research with in-text hyperlinks to all source documents
- Thoughtful, explicit engagement with at least two concepts from the course textbook
Pitch video (25%)
The final project for the course is a pitch video. Here, you propose a new social-media network, or an improvement to an existing one. The goal is to put what you've learned to use through constructive thinking. Your pitch should a) identify a problem, supported with evidence; b) propose a solution to it, along with why we should consider it plausible; and c) establish a value proposition for why the most important stakeholders (executives, hackers, investors, activists?) should support it.
Record your pitch as a 5-6 minute video with a clear, concise slide deck. Turn in both the video (a playable link) and the slides (a PDF). Your pitch will be evaluated as follows:
- Complete pitch that fulfills the assignment and articulates the problem, solution, and value proposition
- Elegant, stylistically correct slide deck that illustrates the major points
- Originality and plausibility of the proposal
- Evidence of impressive outside research, with at least ten citations—including scholarly sources, journalism, and industry data—correctly cited with APA format in slides
- Thoughtful, explicit engagement with at least one insight from the course textbook and at least two concepts from the textbook
If you need an extension on any assignment, consult your TA ahead of time. They are not obligated to grant one. Late work will be penalized as follows: .5 points if Network Participation is late, and 1 point per day on late projects.
Based on the stated percentage structure, grades will be awarded as follows: A (94-100), A- (90-93), B+ (87-89), B (83-86), B- (80-82), C+ (77-79), C (73-76), C- (70-72), D+ (67-69), D (63-66), D- (60-62), F (0-59). The minimum passing grade is 60.
Terms and conditions
Together, we agree to:
- Work together to foster a respectful, mature, convivial community based on mutual learning through our diverse perspectives
- Respect student privacy, keeping any materials or statements shared in class confidential unless permission is granted to do otherwise
- Adhere to all university policies regarding academic integrity, accessibility, behavior, discrimination, misconduct, inclusivity, and religious observances; we take responsibility for understanding them and the relevant procedures
- Accommodate disabilities and other diverse needs, making use of our own capacities and campus resources
The course revolves around a free, open-access textbook, hereafter Humans:
- Diana Daley and students at the University of Arizona, Humans R Social Media (University of Arizona, Winter 2022)
Assignments include all content on the linked pages, including the self-quizzes and “related content.”
For extra credit, students may propose corrections or improvements to the textbook. Each substantive improvement is worth one point of course credit, up to a maximum of three per student. Submit proposals to the instructor.
Each week additionally includes an “Artifact”—a primary source that we will examine, dissect, and reflect upon. Some Artifacts are fairly extensive, and you're expected to explore as you like, not necessarily to study the whole thing.
Some weeks we will also have a guest speaker. Please plan to familiarize yourself with the guest speaker before they come so you are well-equipped to ask questions.
Humans: “Preface: About this 'Book,'” “Introduction”
Artifact: Darius Kazemi, “Run Your Own Social” (July 8, 2019)
Artifact: Angela Washko, “Performance for Multi-User Online Environments (Before COVID-19)” (2020)
Old to New Media
Humans: “Old to New Media”
Artifact: Ted Nelson, Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974)
Social Media Histories
Judy Malloy, “The Origins of Social Media,” pp. 3-33, in Judy Malloy (ed.), Social Media Archaeology and Poetics (MIT Press, 2016) [campus network access required]
Artifact: First Versions: Internet
Privacy and Publics
Humans: “Privacy and Publics”
Artifact: Civic Signals (2021)
Social Networks and Online Communities
Humans: “Social Networks and Online Communities”
Artifact: “How Black Twitter and other social media communities interact with mainstream news” (Knight Foundation, 2018)
Artifact: Shalini Kantayya (dir.), Coded Bias (2020)
Jeff Kosseff, “A User's Guide to Section 230, and a Legislator's Guide to Amending It (or Not),” sections I-II, Berkeley Technology Law Journal 37, no. 2 (2022)
Artifact: “Provisions on the Administration of Internet Information Service Algorithm Recommendations,” Cyberspace Administration of China (January 4, 2022)
Humans: “Equity,” “Online Activism in Indigenous Languages”
Artifact: Feminist Principles for the Internet (2016)
Humans: “Activism,” “#metoo and Twitter: The Feminist Movement on Social Media”
James Tager, “Splintered Speech: Digital Sovereignty and the Future of the Internet,” PEN America (2021)
Artifact: Rest of World and Timothy B. Lee, “40 Maps That Explain the Internet,” Vox (June 2, 2014)
Artifact: Know Your Meme
Artifact: The Media Manipulation Casebook
Humans: “Relationships,” “Well-being”
Artifact: Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge, “Social Media and Mental Health: A Collaborative Review” (ongoing)
Our Transformed Selves
Humans: “Our Transformed Selves”
Artifact: Werner Herzog (dir.), Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016)
[ Notes ]