Social media platforms range from professional sites like LinkedIn, where people create profiles with their work history and share industry news, to video-sharing sites like TikTok and sites like Pinterest, where users save and share information and images from other websites. The MLA’s set of universal guidelines for documenting any source can be used to cite works on these platforms, but the presentation of the elements needed to create a works-cited-list entry may pose a few challenges. This post offers an overview of how to cite material from social media platforms.
Basic Elements of the Citation
To cite material posted on a social media platform, follow the MLA format template. List the author of the post, usually the account name, followed by the title of the material or a description in place of a title in the Title of Source element. Then list the title of the social media site in the Title of Container element. Next list the publisher, unless the name of the site’s publisher is essentially the same as the website title. Then provide the date of publication of the post—if given—or the copyright date of the page. Finally, list the URL in the Location element. As always, key your in-text reference to the first element of the entry. The in-text reference may appear in prose or parentheses.
You should generally use the name on the account in the Author element. But if an author’s online handle differs from the author’s account name, you might add the handle in brackets after the name.
Hamilton Videos [@hamilton.vods]. Video of King George in Hamilton. Instagram, 5 July 2020, www.instagram.com/p/
If the handle resembles the account name (e.g., @aliciakeys and Alicia Keys), generally omit the handle if you include a URL in the entry.
Keys, Alicia. “Videos.” TikTok, 2020, www.tiktok.com/@aliciakeys?lang=en.
If you do not supply a URL because, for example, you are citing a mobile version of the site, include the handle since it may help your reader find the post.
Nguyen, Viet Thanh [@viet_t_nguyen]. “I could put on my headphones at the Chinese restaurant or I could listen to @barrymanilow sing ‘Mandy.’ I choose Mandy.” Twitter, 19 Feb. 2019.
Title of Source Element
Often, using text from the post in the Title of Source element is the best way to identify the work.
Chaucer Doth Tweet [@LeVostreGC]. “A daye wythout anachronism ys lyke Emily Dickinson wythout her lightsaber.” Twitter, 7 Apr. 2018, twitter.com/LeVostreGC/status/982829987286827009.
If the post does not have a title or any other text, as might be the case for a post containing only an image, provide a description.
Ng, Celeste [@pronounced_ing]. Photo of letter from Shirley Jackson. Twitter, 22 Jan. 2018, twitter.com/pronounced_ing/status/
If you are citing an image from a post that also contains text, you can provide a description of the image in the Title of Source element if you wish to emphasize the image.
MacLeod, Michael. Cover of Space Cat and the Kittens, by Ruthven Todd. Pinterest, 2020, www.pinterest.com/pin/565412928193207246/.
You can also use the text as the title in your entry and refer to the photo in your prose.
Michael Chabon paid tribute to Milton Glaser by posting one of the designer’s iconic images on Instagram.
Chabon, Michael. “#rip Milton Glaser. I grew up in his work. So hard to pick a favorite, maybe this, which also features one of the many awesome typefaces he designed, Baby Teeth. #mahaliajackson #miltonglaser.” Instagram, 28 June 2020, www.instagram.com/p/CB-E9gngVwo/.
To shorten text in the Title of Source element, use an ellipsis at the end.
Smith, Clint. “Today is Frederick Douglass’ 200th birthday. . . .” Twitter, 14 Feb. 2018, twitter.com/ClintSmithIII/status/963810866964639745.
Note that some social media sites do not provide precise dates for posts. They may indicate only that the content was posted one week ago, one month ago, and so on. If you can determine the post date, provide it. Otherwise, list the copyright date of the page in the Publication Date element.
Modern Language Association. “Business leaders say college graduates are not effectively prepared with either soft or technical skills for today’s workforce . . . .” LinkedIn, 2020, www.linkedin.com/posts/modern-language-association_are-colleges-finally-going-to-start-training-activity-6683424396222193664-y29x.
If you are viewing the post on the mobile version of a social media site, you may not see a copyright date. In that case, provide the date you accessed the post as a supplemental element at the end of the entry.
World Wildlife Fund. “Photos.” Facebook, www.facebook.com/worldwildlifefund/. Accessed 14 July 2020.
Social media content often has a URL associated with it. You can place the URL in the Location element. If you are viewing content on a desktop or laptop, the URL will be easy to find at the top of your browser. But if you are viewing content through an app on a mobile device, the URL will be harder to find. You can usually extract URLs for social media posts from mobile apps, however. On most platforms, posts will have a small symbol, perhaps three horizontal dots or the symbol that denotes upload (an arrow pointing up). If you touch the symbol, there will usually be an option to copy or share a link or URL.
If a post does not have a unique URL, you can provide a URL for the creator’s account instead. For example, a photo on Snapchat does not have a unique URL. But it can be cited with a URL for the creator’s account.
Obama, Michelle. Photo with students in Vietnam. Snapchat, www.snapchat.com/add/michelleobama. Accessed 14 July 2020.
A Facebook post has a unique URL, however.
World Wildlife Fund. “Happy Earth Day from all of us at WWF!” Facebook, 22 Apr. 2019, www.facebook.com/worldwildlifefund/photos/
But as noted above in the section on account names, you may also cite a social media post viewed on mobile without a URL.