In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Media

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Social Media Users
  • Social Network Sites
  • Microblogging
  • Blogs and Citizen Journalism
  • Social Media, Communication, and Mobilization
  • Social Media and Democracy
  • Future Directions and Interdisciplinary Research

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Social Media
Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Mark Coddington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0105


Social Media (SM) research is a relatively new area of academic inquiry; thus, it finds itself in constant flux. Researchers have primarily centered their efforts on learning more about what SM is as a phenomenon. Researchers have also aimed to understand the specific features and characteristics SM users may have, such as their socioeconomic status or the link between individual personality traits and SM use. A growing section of the literature addresses the historic background and definitions of social network sites, as well as the specific features of microblogging (i.e., Twitter) as a media platform. This article also addresses particular differences found in the literature dealing with blogs and citizen journalism, SM and various communication theories, and finally SM and its relationship with modern democracies. Overall, there is a paucity of SM literature explaining all its potential and plausible effects. Nevertheless, the proportion of papers published revolving around these issues in the last few years is a fair reflection of their growing importance, as it indicates how well received this type of research has been among academics from different disciplines. Likewise, the growth of literature in this area should be expected to remain steady for quite some time. SM has emerged as a prolific and important area of research that affects many aspects of citizens’ daily lives, ranging from citizen-to-citizen communication to the ways people consume products and information and to larger media effects over citizens (i.e., political and civic behaviors).

General Overviews

SM research has been given few rigorous book-length treatments, largely because of its newness as a subject of study. That appears to be changing, with several edited volumes in late 2011 and early 2012 engaging in in-depth examinations of various aspects of the SM environment. Earlier overviews of this area treated SM as a small but emerging part of networked digital media as a whole rather than examining SM in itself (Boler 2008), but the more recent group of books largely addresses SM as a distinct phenomenon, with applications to several social issues. Papacharissi 2011 examines the relationship between the self and the community on social network sites, touching on issues of privacy and social capital. Fuchs, et al. 2011 explores similar issues from a surveillance-oriented perspective, with a set of essays looking at SM particularly through the personal data collected there. Loader and Mercea 2012 and Coleman and Shane 2011 both delve into the role of SM within democracy and networked politics, though at different scales: Loader and Mercea focus on broad, macro-level issues, while Coleman and Shane center on a particular practice in that area, online consultation. Foth, et al. 2011, a collection on social and mobile media’s connections with citizen engagement in an urban setting, bridges several of these concepts. Of course, with these new technological environments comes a need for new social research methods, which Hesse-Biber 2011 addresses thoroughly. It is also important to note that in addition to the works cited in this entry, several resources and data sets provide valuable information to readers interested in SM research. Just to name a few, it is worth observing the Pew Internet & American Life Project or the MacArthur Network on Youth & Participatory Politics.

  • Boler, M., ed. 2008. Digital media and democracy: Tactics in hard times. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This volume centers on the juxtaposition between the democratizing potential of participatory, networked digital media and the increasingly corporate nature of dominant media structures. The book attempts to map out the role of digital media within a global capitalistic structure, focusing on tactics of media use within marginalized groups and activist movements.

  • Coleman, S., and P. M. Shane, eds. 2011. Connecting democracy: Online consultation and the flow of political communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This book delves into the phenomenon of political online consultation, or the use of government-authorized online forums for input into policymaking. The contributors describe online consultation as a networked communication practice incorporating complex connections between the public, government, technicians, civil organizations, and traditional media sources. They also explore its potential for deepening democratic citizenship.

  • Foth, M., L. Forlano, C. Satchell, and M. Gibbs, eds. 2011. From social butterfly to engaged citizen: Urban informatics, social media, ubiquitous computing, and mobile technology to support citizen engagement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This volume explores the relationship between participatory technologies, particularly mobile and SM, and civic engagement. Coming from an urban informatics perspective, it positions these issues against the backdrop of the city, using studies from a variety of global contexts. The book also delves into other forms of engagement, such as social engagement and engagement with technology design.

  • Fuchs, C., K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund, and M. Sandoval, eds. 2011. Internet and surveillance: The challenges of Web 2.0 and social media. New York: Routledge.

    The authors address a variety of issues surrounding surveillance on the networked web, with a particular interest in the vast amount of personal data being collected online and its use by corporations, governments, and individuals. Privacy, self-presentation, and data collection are explored from consumer-oriented, transnational, and theoretical perspectives.

  • Hesse-Biber, S. N., ed. 2011. The handbook of emergent technologies in social research. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Hesse-Biber and contributors focus on adapting social research methods and practices to contemporary technological environments, aiming to connect epistemological and methodological concerns with multimedia, mobile media, and networked spaces. Numerous methods are discussed, including ethnography, surveys, data mining, focus groups, and textual analysis.

  • Loader, B. D., and D. Mercea, eds. 2012. Social media and democracy: Innovations in participatory politics. New York: Routledge.

    This volume explores the role of SM in democratic participation and networked politics, examining connections between online social communication and political engagement in several global contexts. Central themes include the juxtaposition between individualism and networked collective action, interactions between traditional media and SM, and political use of SM among youth.

  • MacArthur Network on Youth & Participatory Politics

    A project from a group of interdisciplinary scholars from universities and institutions across the United States.

  • Papacharissi, Z., ed. 2011. A networked self: Identity, community, and culture on social network sites. New York: Routledge.

    The book focuses on self-presentation and identity in relationship with community and connection through social network sites. Its contributors address issues of privacy, social capital, identity construction, and social norms as they relate to use of social network sites, ultimately proposing the construct of the self as a networked phenomenon.

  • Pew Internet & American Life Project

    A project of the Pew Research Center.

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