My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

Over the last six months, i’ve noticed an increasing number of press articles about how high school teens are leaving MySpace for Facebook. That’s only partially true. There is indeed a change taking place, but it’s not a shift so much as a fragmentation. Until recently, American teenagers were flocking to MySpace. The picture is now being blurred. Some teens are flocking to MySpace. And some teens are flocking to Facebook. Which go where gets kinda sticky, because it seems to primarily have to do with socio-economic class.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate this division for months. I have not yet succeeded. So, instead, I decided to write a blog essay addressing what I’m seeing. I suspect that this will be received with criticism, but my hope is that the readers who encounter this essay might be able to help me think through this. In other words, I want feedback on this piece.

Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

What I lay out in this essay is rather disconcerting. Hegemonic American teens (i.e. middle/upper class, college bound teens from upwards mobile or well off families) are all on or switching to Facebook. Marginalized teens, teens from poorer or less educated backgrounds, subculturally-identified teens, and other non-hegemonic teens continue to be drawn to MySpace. A class division has emerged and it is playing out in the aesthetics, the kinds of advertising, and the policy decisions being made.

Please check out this essay and share your thoughts in the comments.

Update: I wrote a response to the critiques concerning this essay. My hope is that this will help clarify various issues people raised.

Update: I take this topic up again in Chapter 5 of my dissertation. If you are looking for data to back up this argument, check that out.

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365 comments to viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

  • Matthew101-5

    I do have to agree with dannah boyd in that Facebook attracts more people who are college bound. The professional and clean design of Facebook makes the content more presentable. You could easily edit the content viewable and can block certain applications. Myspace was a fad started in middle school and high school, and now that I am moving on to college, I would like to move onto a better fad matching the better school

  • Thomas101-5

    Her assessment on why each of the two the websites gained their fame seems to be pretty much spot on for me. Her example of how kids couldn’t wait to have their college email accounts to gain access to Facebook couldn’t have been truer for me. I remember when I was younger and my older brothers and sister got into college, how much they loved their Facebook and how jealous I was that I couldn’t have one too. In some of the replies to her article, responders were saying how Facebook help become popular because they tied in the idea of “networking”. I believe that Facebook has helped build on the idea of “networking” by allowing friends to add to comments and wall post (helping more people get to know each other). I thought this was very true in my observations because everyone is always looking to make new friends. Her suggestions on the popularity of MySpace however, rang less true for me. For the most part, my observations on MySpace have been that it is majority used as a tool for finding new music and on the rare occasion, light social-networking. The majority of people I know have both accounts but use Facebook as the communicating tool, and MySpace as an entertainment tool.

    I really do not agree with her on the point of saying certain groups only use this site and others use this site. As I stated before, almost everyone I know has both accounts, using each for specific reasons. I think her research had a little bias in it because with MySpace’s artistic characteristics (ability to make page “more you”) and its ease to view strangers profiles compared to Facebook’s, allowed her to imagine a difference between the users of each site.

  • I liked this article a lot and agree with most of the points that were made. However, I would have liked it even more if maybe there were some emphasis on how there are all kinds of people on both sites. There are many people who would be classified as “subaltern” teens according to Boyd, who use Facebook and vice versa. Danah boyd makes a lot of valid points but now I think the circumstances are different now than back in 2007. A lot of people join facebook than Myspace because it’s more popular. It is no longer restricted to college or high school students and many people all over the world are on it. Maybe some time should have been taken in determining the use of language because, as evidently pointed out in other comments, many people can be offended by using terms such as hegemonic and subaltern to describe the users of social networking sites. It may be pushing it but a lot of time has passed and facebook opened it’s doors to everyone and the generalizations made may not be true today.

  • Caitlin 101-5

    i think her ideas were unfair and she focused more on facebook than myspace. Social class shouldnt be determined on which ever social network site you have. Facebook is more abuot college students and high schools are mostly on myspace.

  • Alex 101-5

    Excerpt of an Essay for English 101, UC

    The labeling of each group is now obvious. With hegemonic most nearly meaning �preponderant influence or authority over others� it made sense that the students who were on the career track, and Facebook, were given this label. That leaves the students on MySpace to be the Subaltern group of teens, who are not necessarily on a career track that usually only the more privileged teens saw.

  • Alex 101-5

    Excerpt of an Essay for English 101, UC

    The labeling of each group is now obvious. With hegemonic most nearly meaning �preponderant influence or authority over others� it made sense that the students who were on the career track, and Facebook, were given this label. That leaves the students on MySpace to be the Subaltern group of teens, who are not necessarily on a career track that usually only the more privileged teens saw.

  • Hiliary 101-5

    Excerpt of an Essay for English 101, UC

    In her essay, she separates the users of online social networks into two different groups, one of them being called the �hegemonic� teens and the other group being called the �subaltern� teens. These groups separate the users into the �good kid� group and the �bad kid� group. I feel that it is silly to put them into such categories considering the fact that it is not always true. danah boyd states in her essay that hegemonic teens are �good kids� because of the life they were provided by their parents and they do the same things as subaltern teens. The only difference is that hegemonic teens typically hide everything from their parents where subaltern teens are more upfront with their actions. It is crazy to think about how oblivious adults can be to the society we live in today. These teenagers that are labeled as �bad kids� in our society have to try so much harder to get anywhere in life and usually do not have a person behind them supporting them. It may appear differently, but hasn�t anyone ever heard the saying, �don�t judge a book by its cover?�

  • Taylor101-5

    I believe that there are valid points presented in this article that I can infact relate back to my own life and my own experiences. I enjoy the way that danah boyd brought about subjects that individuals may not think about on a daily basis, such as the social ranks in the military reflecting the online social networks. I think that it was brave to post a controversial article such as this but I applaud the risk, and as with most things in this society, there will always be critism.

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  • Anonymous

    I think the ultimate problem with Myspace was that it became a place of “wannabes”. Everyone’s a rapper, model, actor etc. The self promotion killed the intimacy you fine reconnecting with friends on FB. That said FB can be toxic too. People sure like to reinvent themselves on the net.

  • Hi, I think this is a wonderfully interesting and accurate piece that comments on the “earlier” days of FB & MS, but now that “real” adults have become the fastest growing demographic and even young kids can join, do you think this has changed? Literally, everybody and their mother has a FB page. Siblings in middle school have a FB. I believe our behaviors have been forced to change due to this influx, but I’d be curious to know if you’ve done any research on this development. Thanks.

  • But if Facebook is about professionalism and presentation then, a) Why aren’t all those Facebookers flocking to LinkdIn and more professional networking sites, and b) Why does everyone have those compromising photos from last Saturday night up on their page for all the world to see? When “hegemonic” kids generally hide what they do from their parents, surely Facebook isn’t exactly a subtle sneaky way to get around them, especially if they are Facebook friends – like Melissa said, literally EVERYONE and their mother and their sister and their second aunt twice removed has a Facebook.

  • The division you are trying to articulate reminds me of a division that Manuel Castells describes in his book: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. II: The Power of Identity. In it he observes a theme–the contradictory relationship between a new global social structure–the network society–and resistance to the forms of domination implicit in this social structure. He suggests that in a network society, for most social actors, meaning is organized around a primary identity, and he proposes a distinction between three forms and origins of identity: (1)Legitimizing identity: introduced by the dominant institutions of society to extend and rationalize their domination vis a vis social actors (what you are describing as the hegemonic teens); (2)Resistance identity: generated by those actors who are in positions/conditions devalued and/or stigmatized by the logic of domination, thus building trenches of resistance and survival on the basis of principles different from, or opposed to, those permeating the institutions of society (your subaltern teens), (3) Project Identity: when social actors, on the basis of whatever cultural materials are available to them, build a new identity that redefines their position in society and, by so doing, seek the transformation of overall social structure (not described in your bimodal description). Castells is one academic I think is really focused on the emerging network society, and may be of help to you in your thinking about what you are seeing in the field.

  • tim

    interesting. basically she said what all of us in high school knew though we didn’t know how to describe it well. i graduated in 07, so by then facebook was popular among high school students, but even i could see the difference between the people on myspace and facebook. i started with myspace and changed to facebook, and i remember making a joke saying “myspace is the trailer park of facebook,” which pretty much nails it if you think about it in terms of this essay

  • dunn

    interesting. basically she said what all of us in high school knew though we didn’t know how to describe it well. i graduated in 07, so by then facebook was popular among high school students, but even i could see the difference between the people on myspace and facebook. i started with myspace and changed to facebook, and i remember making a joke saying “myspace is the trailer park of facebook,” which pretty much nails it if you think about it in terms of this essay

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