Introduction to Social Media

MDST 1002

Introduction to Social Media 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.

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 48 hours during 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. Students and TAs will produce collaborative class notes.

In-class quizzes (25%)

Many class meetings will include a short quiz. It will include 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 the questions provided in class. If you do not have an appropriate device, notecards will be available.

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 #report. If you would like to make a proposal for changing our network rules, please do so with #proposal. The instructor and TAs will collectively make final decisions.

Please note: The network may be viewed publicly, so you are welcome to use a pseudonym if you like. The instructor and TAs, however, must be able to map your pseudonym to your name in the university system for evaluation.

Each week before class on Tuesday, students should plan to post their reflections on the assigned materials, either with original posts or responses to others. These will be evaluated to ensure they include:

  • At least 5 substantive posts
  • Constructive contribution to the class discussion
  • Evidence of comprehension of the assigned materials

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 1,000-1,200 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 one insight from the course textbook and at least one Artifact

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 4-6 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, including at least two scholarly sources, correctly cited in APA format in slides
  • Thoughtful, explicit engagement with at least one insight from the course textbook and at least one Artifact


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:

Assignments include all content on the linked pages, including the self-quizzes and “related content.”

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.

Many 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)


Humans: “Identity

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)

Privacy and Publics

Humans: “Privacy and Publics

Artifact: Civic Signals (2021)


Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev, “How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire,” The Atlantic (April 2021)

Artifact: “Section 230” and John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (1996)

Social Networks and Online Communities


Humans: “Algorithms

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



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

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


Humans: “Memes

Artifact: Know Your Meme



Humans: “Relationships,” “VR and AR: Bringing Closeness to Learning

Artifact: Ingrid Burrington, “The Center for Missed Connections” (c. 2010)

Our Transformed Selves

Humans: “Our Transformed Selves

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

Final two weeks: Wildcards

At the end of the course, two units are available for topics of interest to the students. We will vote on options including these, along with student nominations:

  • Blockchain and cryptocurrency
  • Business models and venture capital
  • Cancel/call-out culture
  • Chinese social networks
  • Fandom and fan-fiction
  • Moderation and governance
  • Social media on the early Internet
  • Social movement media platforms

[ Notes ]