Social Media and Society

Syllabus v 2020-03-29mb

Medien/Media: Social Media and Society

Spring 2020 HSG

Please note:
This course had to be reorganized on very short notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr. Moritz Büchi
Senior Research and Teaching Associate
Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ)
University of Zurich
Guest lecturer at the University of St. Gallen

Learning objectives

  • knowledge of concepts and theories related to social media and technology studies, communication science and business
  • familiarity with and critical analysis of social media as platforms and data brokers
  • understanding of cultures and practices applicable to social media communities and platforms
  • applying theoretical and practical knowledge to case discussions and in writing

Course content

This class examines the relationship between society and the current crop of computer‑mediated communication technologies known as “social media,” including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more. These technologies are often regarded with fear or
awe; the purpose of this class is to break down the mythologies of social media and develop methods of analysis and critical understanding. To do this, we will draw from a broad range of social theory including science and technology studies (STS) and communication theory to critically evaluate the impact of social media on relationships, politics, news media, and identity. We will focus on the “sociotechnical,” or the relationship between the technical affordances of a website/technology and the social norms of a user community, and how to use this to understand emerging technologies.

Course structure

The course consists of 4 days of 6 sessions each. The total of 24 sessions are allocated to the topics listed below; numbers in square brackets indicate number of expected sessions. We will adapt individual sessions as needed but aim to tackle all topics.

  • [1] Logistics and introduction
  • [3] Key concepts and background
    • [1] Technology in society: historical context and theoretical perspectives
    • [1] What are social media?
    • [1] The use of social media in Switzerland:
  • [6] The challenges and opportunities of social media
    • [2] Thinking in terms of digital well-being
    • [1] Harnessing collective intelligence
    • [1] Social ties and community
    • [1] Digital addiction?
    • [1] Privacy and surveillance
  • [2] Exercise: Perceptions of profiling
  • [6] Group work for final presentations
  • [6] Final presentations and discussion

Team Presentations

Presentations in groups of two to three people will take place on the last day of the course.
There will be 12 subtopics on the issue of risks and benefits of social media and society. Details to follow in class.
Topics will be assigned in the beginning of the course. Please go to the following Google sheet:

Take Home Essay

Students need to submit an individual essay after the course.
Delivery of essay due 4 May 2020, peer-grading report due 15 May 2020.


The course grade will be made up of the presentation (30%) and take home essay (70%; 52.5% essay, 17.5% peer-grading report).

Suggested readings

Please see the current list here: