Cinema and Media Studies Social Media
Graham Meikle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0369


Social media have made possible new kinds of relationships, politics, and entertainment. On the one hand, they have enabled billions of people to experience new forms of communication, community, and communion. But on the other, they are also profit-driven, data-mining corporations, whose core business model is often built around surveillance and the commercial exploitation of their users’ everyday lives. Researching and analyzing social media involves navigating between these two poles. Social media platforms have complicated earlier understandings of communication: they do not allow for simple distinctions between personal communication and public media. One way of approaching them is to start with their most basic affordances. So first, social media are those that any user can, in principle, use to say and make things for an audience. Second, that user can then choose to share the things they have said or made with others, whether with a restricted network of friends and followers, or with an unknowable audience. They can also share things that others have said or made, and may be prompted by the platform to do this. And third, such activities make the user visible to others, who become visible to them in turn, creating possibilities for connection, communication, and collaboration, but also for monitoring, surveillance, and exploitation. Some of the following selections address social media as part of wider discussions about digital media, culture, society, or politics. Other choices focus on individual social media apps or platforms. This bibliography provides some historical context for the emergence of social media and identifies key introductory overviews and core texts. It also introduces resources for investigating social media platforms and the life course; the relationships between these platforms and news and journalism; and the uses of social media in campaigns for social, cultural, or political change. There are sections on distinctive communicative aspects of social media, such as memes, remix, and trolling, and on some of the most important aspects of surveillance and visibility. The final section points to some broader contextual and emerging directions that situate social media within the wider digital media environment.

Precursors and Prehistories

Social media emerged through the convergence of several currents in networked digital media early in the twenty-first century. These included profile-based social network sites, sites that facilitated user-generated content, and networked mobile devices in the form of smartphones and tablets. boyd and Ellison 2007 outlines the central characteristics of social network sites; Papacharissi 2011 collects subsequent scholarship on these precursors to contemporary digital media. O’Reilly 2005 develops an influential definition of what was once called Web 2.0. Rettberg 2014 anatomizes blogging, the defining mode of user-generated content in the first decade of the twenty-first century. These developments created optimistic responses, exemplified here by Rosen 2006 and Shirky 2008, both of which celebrate the liberating possibilities for media users. Jenkins 2006, extending fan studies, is also often seen in this line, although this work is more nuanced. Standage 2013 offers a long historical context for social media developments, finding antecedents as far back as ancient Rome. Turner 2010 identifies social media as part of a wider cultural and industrial shift toward the convergence of the professional and the nonprofessional in 21st-century media.

  • boyd, danah, and Nicole B. Ellison. “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13.1 (2007): 210–230.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

    A pivotal and much-cited piece that articulates the key characteristics of what were then most commonly called social network sites, including early leaders in the area such as MySpace or Friendster. Observes that these sites could be characterized as those that allowed users to (1) create a profile, (2) connect with other users, and (3) maintain and develop those connections by interacting through the site. This provided one starting point for subsequent analyses of what was distinctive about social media.

  • Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

    A very influential book that explores the creative activities of grassroots fan communities and the responses to these from media corporations. Explores how fans of franchises such as Star Wars or Harry Potter can use these to develop complex collaborative expressions and individual creativity, while at the same time encountering copyright problems and legal resistance from the global corporations that manage such franchises.

  • O’Reilly, Tim. “What Is Web 2.0? Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.” O’Reilly Media, 30 September 2005.

    The loose set of principles articulated in this attempt to define Web 2.0 would go on to become central to the development of social media in the following decade. O’Reilly in particular describes how Web 2.0 platforms use an “architecture of participation” through which the users build the platform by using it (a search engine that gets better the more people use it for searches, for example). This approach identifies the database of user interactions as the core feature of the platform business model. Also anthologized in Mandiberg 2012, cited under Introductions and Overviews.

  • Papacharissi, Zizi, ed. A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    An important collection of social science scholarship on questions of identity, connection, and self-representation on social network sites. It appeared around the time that the term social media was beginning to displace this earlier label, and others such as Web 2.0 or user-generated content. Some pieces, such as danah boyd’s chapter on networked publics, have been influential. Papacharissi subsequently expanded this theme into four further books with the same main title, two of which are discussed under Social Media and the Life Course.

  • Rettberg, Jill Walker. Blogging. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2014.

    The first edition of this book appeared in 2008, just as the main wave of blogging had crested. It sets such personal publishing in important long-term historical contexts and examines the social connections and networks that are enabled by individual blogs. Also discusses citizen journalism, and the uses of blogs for personal branding: a theme that would be reinvigorated in the following decade with the rise of the social media influencer.

  • Rosen, Jay. “The People Formerly Known as the Audience.” In PressThink (blog), 27 June 2006.

    This short blog post by journalism academic Jay Rosen is part manifesto, part declaration of independence, and argues that the established media industries need to recognize the shifting power relations that gave users more individual and creative autonomy. As with Shirky 2008, also in this section, it is best read today as a historical artifact. Also anthologized in Mandiberg 2012, cited under Introductions and Overviews.

  • Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: New York University Press, 2008.

    Captures and expresses much of the optimism about the potential of social media that characterized the late part of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Explores many examples of experimental collaboration between users of digital platforms, arguing that anyone could now become a publisher or broadcaster. Its optimism now makes the book feel somewhat dated, but it remains a fascinating time-capsule of this period of social media development.

  • Standage, Tom. Writing on the Wall: Social Media—The First 2,000 Years. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    Offers a history of media, arguing that contemporary digital platforms are only the latest of many systems that have enabled horizontal communication between networks of people. Examples range from the circulation of personal letters to the emergence of revolutionary pamphlets. The book is lively and entertaining, but it underestimates the fact that while all media are indeed social, not all media are social media. This term instead describes a specific set of 21st-century developments, as outlined by the selections in Introductions and Overviews.

  • Turner, Graeme. Ordinary People and the Media: The Demotic Turn. London: SAGE, 2010.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446269565

    Identifies the emerging social media of the Web 2.0 era as part of a wider pattern across the media landscape of the early twenty-first century, noting how the voices of nonprofessionals had also become central to reality TV, citizen journalism, talkback radio, and celebrity culture. In this analysis, what became social media can be seen as part of this wider structural shift toward nonprofessional participants in the business models of communication industries.

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