FRS 101 – Facebook:
The Social Impact of Social Networks

Taught by Edward W. Felten and Steve Schultze

Facebook has become integral to the social life of hundreds of millions of people. What began as a glorified college student directory has grown into a company worth many billions of dollars and a tool for political change around the world. But with stratospheric growth comes closer scrutiny. Can a company with the motto “move fast and break things” avoid major pitfalls in the eyes of policymakers and the public? This course will explore the myriad social and public policy considerations that Facebook — and the growth of internet-based social networking — has prompted.

Facebook touches some of the most contentious issues in information technology policy. Critics have raised privacy issues and Facebook has faced privacy enforcement by the FTC. Web companies like Facebook must navigate copyright and defamation laws, and cope with the limits of these laws and their enforcement. Sociologists use online social networks to study the way that people relate to each other, learn, and organize. Economists use Facebook to illustrate the principle of “network effects” and the entrepreneurial dynamics of web start-ups — as seen in the 2010 movie “The Social Network.”

During the week of Election 2012, students will examine the role of Facebook in American politics as well as social movements abroad. The seminar will examine the role of apps and social games in the shifting landscape of the web, and look at issues like child protection and cyber-bullying on social networks via social media. Students will consider whether there is a “right to be forgotten” in an era where so many social interactions are recorded and preserved. As web tracking technologies extend the reach of Facebook and other companies into all web activities, what is the role of public policy?

The seminar will require weekly readings drawn from scholarly sources in law, sociology, economics, politics, and computer science, as well as popular media and the web. Students will be graded on classroom and online participation, will write weekly blog posts related to the topics covered in the course, and give a final presentation. The seminar will feature visitors from academia and industry.

Course communications and announcements will be made via the Facebook group “FRS 101 2012 – Facebook: The Social Impact of Social Networks”. In order to join this group you must go to this link and “join” Princeton Groups (you must have associated your @princeton.edu email account with Facebook), then separately request to join the FRS 101 group (we will approve you shortly thereafter)

Grading will be based on:

  • 40% – Class Participation
  • 40% – Course Blog (located here)
  • 20% – Final Presentation

Readings are subject to change up to 1 week in advance due to real-world developments. All changes will be announced on the Facebook group.

Week 1 (9/18): A Survey of Policy Issues
We will explore the spectrum of issues that the class will be discussing in the weeks to come, and survey a variety of public policy topics that are implicated in the growth of social networks.

Week 2 (9/25): Privacy and the 2011 FTC Investigation

Week 3 (10/2): Copyright, Defamation, and the Law

Week 4 (10/9): The Sociology of Social Networks

Week 5 (10/16): Entrepreneurship and Network Effects

Week 6 (10/23): Film Viewing and Discussion: The Social Network

  • (Midterms week – there is no midterm)

Week 7 (11/6): Social Networks and Political Movements

Week 8 (11/13): Apps and Games

Week 9 (11/20): Child (and Teen) Safety

Week 10 (11/27): Anonymity and Forgetting

Week 11 (12/4): Facebook is Following You: Like?

Week 12 (12/11): Student Presentations

  • Each student will present a 5-minute Ignite-style presentation on a topic related to the course.