Case Study 2 (Congressional Hearing)


This case study takes the form of a congressional hearing into the impact of social media. Five senators will question everyday users of the Internet, as well as executives of leading social media platforms, including HeadShot, Bitter, and the online retail juggernaut Sahara. The hearing will occur over two rounds, with different students swapping into the various roles in each round.


This congressional hearing takes place in the near future. Sahara has just released its InnerNet™ device, an always-on connection to Sahara and the Internet embedded in the consumer’s inner ear. At the same time, a rash of teen suicides apparently connected to a social media game called the Ono Challenge has people worried about the effects of our always online lifestyle.

  1. Introduction to the case study and assign roles (5 minutes)
  2. Related roles meet and talk about their roles. Based on the short description of your role, take time to embellish your persona. Flesh it out. Consider your motivations, and what’s at stake from your role’s point of view. All the senators will meet with each other, all the social media executives will meet with each other, all the “civilians” (teens, parents, etc.) will meet with each other. (10 minutes)
  3. Round 1 of congressional hearing. The five senators take turns questioning the witnesses. Yes, I know, this is not how real congressional hearings work. (10 minutes)
  4. Report from the peanut gallery. What do onlookers observe? What have they noticed that the participants have not? (5 minutes)
  5. Round 2 of hearing with new students filling the roles. (10 minutes)
  6. Debrief (10 minutes)

California Senator: You are the junior senator from California, considered to be business-friendly but with a progressive social agenda. Before running for office you managed a venture capital fund that specialized in startups. You still have connections to Silicon Valley, including many donors to your campaign.

North Carolina Senator: You are the senior senator from North Carolina. You’ve welcomed the tech industry to your state and have argued that the data warehouses in the western part of the state will prove to be an economic boon to those rural areas. You’re also suspicious about government intervention into corporate affairs.

New York Senator: You are a fiery senator from New York who says it like it is. You first came into the public eye when, as the state attorney general, you sued HeadShot for selling consumer data without consumer consent. You convened this hearing after learning about the Ono Challenge from your middle school niece.

Texas Senator: You are a rising star in the Senate. Though Big Oil and Big Tech money helped put you there, you also know your constituents back in Texas are concerned about the recent rash of pre-teen and teen suicides connected with social media.

Florida Senator: You are Florida’s junior senator. While you have been called spineless by your opponents (who hasn’t, you tell yourself), you like to think of yourself as a great compromiser. You see both sides of every issue and are happy to let the prevailing winds blow you in either direction.

Teenager: You are an average teenager. A sophomore in high school, you haven’t given much thought to college yet but you do see on iParty that Evan’s parents are gone this weekend and his house is going to be so lit.

Teenager: You are an average teenager from an affluent background. On your 16th birthday your parents bought you an InnerNet™, a small device embedded in your inner ear with an always-on connection to the Internet. It’s way better than that old Alexa your family had when you were little.

Grieving Parent: You are the parent of teen who recently killed herself doing the Ono Challenge, a mysterious game that has gone viral on HeadShot, Bitter, and other social media networks. The game challenges users to increasing levels of self-harm, culminating with suicide.

Novelist: You are the author of a dystopian YA novel about the damaging effects of social media on relationships, compassion towards others, and attitudes towards nature. The novel is over a decade old, but remains eerily prescient.

Chief Executive Officer of HeadShot: You are the CEO of HeadShot, the leading social media network. You’re also the founder, having built HeadShot in your dorm room to facilitate rating photos of incoming coeds. That first version of HeadShot was called FMK. With over 2 billion users, your little site has come a long way and is now many peoples’ only source of news.

Chief Operating Officer of Bitter: You are the COO of Bitter, a social media network that lets users send 280-character “bites” to their followers. Though its member base pales in comparison to HeadShot, Bitter is the best place to find reporters, politicians, celebrities, and Nazis.

Chief Data Analyst for Sahara: You are the head of data analytics for the online retail juggernaut Sahara, whose new embodied interface to the Internet—called the InnerNet™—has taken the country by storm. Recently approved by the FDA, the InnerNet™ is a low-powered always-on transceiver embedded directly in the inner ear with a permanent connection to Sahara’s servers. As the InnerNet™ ad goes, 🎵 Whisper Your Dreams to Us, and We’ll Whisper Dreams to You 🎵.

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