Introduction to Social Media

MDST 1002

This course introduces students to concepts for better understanding online social media, 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.

Learning goals

  • 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)

Teaching assistants

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.

If you need to miss class due to illness, religious observance, or emergency, please inform your TA ahead of time. All students will have their lowest quiz grade dropped at the end of the course.

Quests (25%)

Each week before class on Tuesday, students should demonstrate their engagement with the reading in discussions on Canvas. This consists of two parts:

  • Complete the Quest, which is specified in each week's assignment, in a post to the discussion
  • Comment on at least two other students' Quests with analytic, critical, and respectful responses

Posts from a given week will be evaluated to ensure that, collectively, they include:

  • Completion of the Quest in a thoughtful and creative fashion
  • Constructive contribution to the class discussion in comments
  • Evidence of comprehension of, and engagement with, the assigned materials

Each week, extra-credit bounties may 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 that you have never regularly used yourself from the provided list. Try it out, and learn everything you can about it. 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 creative formatting and illustrative images is encouraged. Be sure to meet the following evaluation criteria:

  • Completion of the assignment with stylistic correctness and audience-appropriate design
  • 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:

  • Identify a problem, supported with evidence
  • Propose a solution to it, along with why we should consider it plausible
  • 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 according to these expectations:

  • 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 sources—including scholarly sources, journalism, and industry data—correctly cited with APA format in slides
  • Thoughtful, explicit engagement with at least two concepts from the course textbook that demonstrates comprehension and critical thinking

Citing sources in APA format involves in-text citation (Author, YEAR) as well as a full reference list (i.e., a bibliography) at the end of your presentation. Consult one of the many guides to APA citations available online.


Grading will carefully follow the expectations stated in this syllabus, as well as the rubrics for each assignment in Canvas.

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 of 3 points if Quests are late, and 5 points per day on late projects.

Plagiarism and similar lapses in academic honesty can result in no credit for the assignment and referral to campus authorities.

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, following basic standards of class etiquette
  • Be present in our interactions together in class, refraining from the use of screen devices unless for collective work, documented accommodations, or quiz-taking
  • 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 in the dedicated assignment on Canvas.

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: bell hooks, “Homeplace: A Site of Resistance,” in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics (South End Press, 1990)


Humans: “Identity

Artifact: Angela Washko, “Performance for Multi-User Online Environments (Before COVID-19)” (2020)

Quest: Produce an audio, video, or textual testimony about how social media has (or has not) shaped your sense of your own identity; follow the format of the student testimonies in the textbook

Old to New Media

Humans: “Old to New Media

Artifact: Ted Nelson, Computer Lib/Dream Machines (1974)

Quest: Use a piece of pre-Internet social-media technology and provide a report on the experience

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

Quest: Create a timeline of major events in your relationship with social media

Privacy and Publics

Humans: “Privacy and Publics

Artifact: Civic Signals (2021)

Quest: Propose a new social network designed to mimic behavior in an offline social space (e.g., a post office, a public pool, a playground)

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)

Quest: Introduce us to an online community that you know well, explaining its various elements and dynamics


Humans: “Algorithms

Artifact: Shalini Kantayya (dir.), Coded Bias (2020)

Quest: Describe, in as much detail as you can, an algorithm that you encounter or use in your daily life—or one that you want to exist


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) [Not working anymore! Review this instead.]

Quest: Devise a law that would improve social-media regulation, explaining its rationale, how it would be enforced, and what new problems it might cause


Humans: “Equity,” “#metoo and Twitter: The Feminist Movement on Social Media

Artifact: Feminist Principles for the Internet (2016)

Quest: Propose a manifesto of principles that you believe would make the Internet more just


Humans: “Activism,” “Online Activism in Indigenous Languages

Artifact: HK19 Manual, part 1 and part 2 (2019)

Quest: Outline an original social-media activist campaign to achieve a desired social purpose; explain the goal, the tactics, and their expected effects

The Splinternet

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)

Quest: Choose a story in Rest of World about a country outside the United States, and explain how the Internet might work differently in that country than it does here


Humans: “Memes

Artifact: Know Your Meme

Quest: Create a piece of media designed to spread, and explain why you think it will


Humans: “Information

Artifact: The Media Manipulation Casebook

Quest: Choose a case from The Media Manipulation Casebook and devise a technological or social countermeasure that could defeat it


Humans: “Relationships,” “Well-being

Artifact: Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge, “Social Media and Mental Health: A Collaborative Review” (ongoing)

Quest: Design a set of rules for a social-media network for kids

Our Transformed Selves

Humans: “Our Transformed Selves

Artifact: Werner Herzog (dir.), Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016)

Quest: None—focus on your pitches!

[ Notes ]