My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & 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

  • One thing I didn’t see mentioned, and granted I did a very quick read, was the idea of trust and identity that is more important on Facebook than it is on Myspace.

    Facebook heavily emphasizes common connections, whether through “network” or common contacts. Unlike Myspace, most users on Facebook cannot see the profiles for the majority of other users, because the network is built on commonality and trust.

    I’m not quite sure what this says about class, but I think it’s important. One thing that gets drilled into the minds of college students and 20-somethings is the idea of “networking” and “building your network.” The idea is very middle/upper-middle class – that other people, not applications (forms, processes, etc) are the key to your professional and personal success.

    Facebook successfully translates that by using common factors to allow users to see other user profiles – either geography, school, or workplace. Another important factor is that, by and large, Facebook profiles have the user’s full name displayed. Using real names gives users extra pause in deciding whether to establish trust relationships with other users.

    Myspace, by contrast, does not employ these features. Again, I’m not sure exactly what that says about class, but I think that the identity and commonality factors are important.

  • epc

    Nice essay.

    It’s as though those students who self-identify as “fringe” have selected MySpace vs those who self-identify as “mainstream” (whatever that is, the cultural norm?) are using facebook.

    Are there any parallels to this in the 90’s use of AOL chatrooms or the late 80s, early 90s BBS and Fidonet culture?

  • Scott

    Fascinating insight. I whole heartedly agree with the assessment of the actions of ‘hegemonic students’.

    As a university student I find it interesting to see info sessions on what should and should not be on one’s Facebook profile. “Remember, employers are looking more and more on Facebook and MySpace to get an impression of who you really are.” they say. I find this emphasis on censorship disturbing. Instead of learning the “good” things we (the hegemonic students) are taught to mask the “bad” behavior. I find this masking much more troubling than any of the “bad” actions being masked. Honesty is the most valuable trait. If there is something that needs to be masked perhaps it should be changed instead of buried. Masking is what worries me about my generation and those after me.

    At the core of everyone is a human being with the same necessities, hopes and dreams as you. The moment one refuses to recognize this, one is doomed.

  • I think you’re onto something here.

    To add a bit of anecdotal data, I spent a couple of years involved in an MMO and eventually became active in a guild there. The vast majority of the guild members had MySpace pages, and I found it interesting that the people who were on MySpace either had not gone to college, or were getting their education from part-time schools, community colleges, trade schools, etc.

  • makes perfect sense. the inherent appeal of myspace or facebook to their respective cultural demos seems literally built in to the functioning of the sites. i remember you writing earlier about the uproar that happened once facebook started using the news feed feature to let you know what all your friends were all doing, and likewise letting them all know everything you were up to.

    the fewer non mainstream-compliant contexts of identity you hapen to need to navigate between, the more pallatable facebook’s braodcast of all your actions to your whole network regardless of context would be. especially if, as you were saying, being on facebook itself essentially became a signifier of your mainstream, college-bound identity, the value of being on facebook might end up getting completely lost on or maybe even anathema to those for whom an expression of a mainstream identity is not what they’re aiming for. same as some kids would never be caught dead sporting abercrombie–even if it’s by no means a brand outside the budget of their economic “class”.

    so many other social network sites are already distinguished by serving a particular kind of lifestyle or identity, this just seems like a logical progression. i mean, before there was myspace there was the high school cafeteria anyway. the social web’s here now and all, but why would that mean that social behavior would undergo some kind of fundamental chage?

  • Joe

    This is an interesting pattern. I wanted to share a reaction:

    In your conclusion, you write: “there’s something so strange about watching a generation splice themselves in two based on class divisions or lifestyles or whatever you want to call these socio-structural divisions.”

    Isn’t it a little premature to give this phenomenon the intentionality characterized by “splice themselves”? Especially if you find that most MySpace users don’t know what Facebook is. What is their reaction after finding out what Facebook does?

    Aside from the teens, Facebook is clearly having a very quick expansion recently among an older audience — many of whom I am certain would never be able to tolerate the wilds of MySpace. It will be interesting to see if the grown-ups “chase away” the youth.

    Thanks for the paper.

  • Good thoughts, Danah, and I think for the most part, I agree with your assessment of the situation.

    The most striking part to me, was your brief diversion onto the subject of social networking and the military. I hadn’t thought about it in that light before, but I think you’re dead on with your assessment there.

  • jimboboe

    I don’t disagree with the the thesis of the article. Though I do think some of the points were a little overthought–Facebook started off as being network based because of its affiliation to university students, and though it’s more or less open now, it retains a culture which is still a bit on the exclusionary side.

    The one counterpoint I have is that, at least in my region, African-American participation in Facebook is very strong, regardless if they are in college or not. I dare say that the initial popularity of Myspace jumped over that group, and they went straight to Facebook.

  • Facebook started as a way for people who were already part of a delineated, culturally recognized “network” to represent those relationships online. It’s not surprising, then, that Facebook continues to play the role of representing existing “hegemonic” (could we perhaps say “mainstream,” instead? it feels less pejorative) institutions and strucutres. Facebook was top-down from the beginning.

    Myspace, in contrast, wasn’t about pre-existing socially “respectable” structures–it was bottom-up, creating networks rather than replicating/representing them.

    It seems to me that Myspace is more about people creating their sense of belonging through the connections they make online, whereas Facebook is more about representing existing senses of belonging through replication of real-world connections.

  • Jake Lockley

    There’s so much to comment on, but staying on point I think what you are observing is the class delineation that comes primarily from intelligence and the affinity for the quality/values that result. That’s an over-generalization of course but what you are describing with MySpace and Facebook my generation saw with AOL and the web. MySpace and Facebook are just the biggest/most well known platforms at this point in time.

    The issue as I see it is about knowing better, meaning those who realize how restricted they are by their environment/medium/platform aspire to move to one less restrictive. This is not taking into account narcissism or being recognized by the largest numbers, just authoring and publishing capabilites for expressing oneself. If you are not smart enough to understand what you are missing out on you won’t go anywhere. You’ll make do with and be loyal to what you have and where you are. This of course goes beyond online applications, but at the very least it coincides with what you say about class – a lower class person with a computer may only appreciate it can be used for accessing free porn, not that it’s more powerful than the systems currently in use on the space shuttle and they could be using it for aspirations just as high.

    Facebook is better than MySpace because it is more functional and hence less restrictive to those who know how to use the functionality. Similarly, people smart enough to know these services are just DIY web page publishing tools and know how to author pages and applications by hand think these services are dumbed down and restrictive services designed for people who don’t know any better, which is also true.

    Now add to that the subjective quality that results from the usage. MySpace suddenly becomes ghetto because people with less intelligence and skill are using it by nature. Let the exodus of those who know better, and the defense of those who revel in it begin.

    [See ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ – A theory first proposed by French social theorist Gustave Le Bon in his book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. The masses live by, and are ruled by, subconscious and emotional thought process. The crowd has never thirsted for the truth. It turns aside from evidence that is not to its taste, preferring to glorify and to follow error, if the way of error appears attractive enough, and seduces them. Whoever can supply the crowd with attractive emotional illusions may easily become their master; and whoever attempts to destroy such firmly entrenched illusions of the crowd is almost sure to be rejected. This is also reminiscent of Freud’s Civilization and it’s Discontents.]

    MySpace is what it is, it targets people of the intelligence level and quality that it’s functionality supports. Same with Facebook. Same with AOL vs the web at large. It’s just another meter for gauging where people are (technographics), it doesn’t necessarily keep them there. No professional web developer I know will use MySpace or Facebook other than as another marketing channel to reach the audience that’s already there. They won’t restrict themselves to it, they’ll use them all as channels of distribution because they are smart enough t know better, and the content in that channel will refelect the intellectual and emotional maturity level of those that use it. No pro I know likes what the DIY services have done to the quality of the web, just like my generation doesn’t like what AOL opening up to the web did to the quality of users online.

    Suddenly every idiot could create their own web page and every idiot did. MySpace and social networks just took it to the next level, making it even easier and lowering the bar even more and none of the younger generation seems to have a clue as to what the quality was like before they got there and the Jackass generation took over. Before AOL opened up to the web there was a lot more respect and a lot less commercialization. People actually treated one another with respect. There weren’t people acting out as much and hiding behind their keyboard to see how far they could push buttons before they were banned. Mostly this is because of the age of people who suddenly had free access – immature kids did it. They explored boundaries as you say, pushed buttons and tested limits until we have what we have now.

    The question should be, what does it take for someone to outgrow MySpace and why, and Facebook and why, and whatever comes after Facebook these days. In another 2-3 years the next generation will be in full swing in and there will be all new services for us to have this conversation about just like in my day when it was AOL vs the web, or Web 1.0 sites like Geocities and The Globe vs the web. Before all that it was Compuserve vs AOL, when all the really hardcore geeks were saying it was the Internet vs Online Services.

    Marshall McLuhan said who controls the media controls your mind. The media and mediums you use are thus a reflection or gauge of where your identity is at based on who is and has been controlling it’s development.

    And I’m sorry to say the easier the tools are to use, the lower the bar gets with each new generation of content. And these are the rules of a free media. To quote Dave Chapelle, “if the Internet were a real place it would be disgusting and intolerable.”

    I also need to note this is analogous to the effects of globalization on the real world. But that’s a whole separate conversation/thesis.

    Sorry for the long comments. Philosophy is a team sport.

  • excellent piece, you make some great points. another area you might want to consider is how the sites are structured, what they have to offer, i.e., like how facebook walls disable html and myspace comments are full of spam and tacky glitz. another proof you might use would be the dramatic differences in the levels of discussion myspace groups vs facebook groups, or at least up until mid-2006… since facebook opened up, the quality of posts has gone down, so it’s harder to compare now, but still.

  • Fawn

    Through my dissertation research I’ve been looking at the intersections of multiliteracy, identity, and online pop culture. In my interviews with teenagers I noticed the interesting divide, in terms of identity, between those who are still using myspace and those who have begun using facebok.

  • Fascinating article Danah, and I agree with the majority of it, it seems to make sense.

  • I think the most important question this raises is, “What does this mean for advertisers as they consider the relative purchasing power of their served ad base?” … just kidding, mostly.

    This essay really intrigued me, as so often happens when the topic of class is brought to my attention from the position it holds just in the periphery, ever present but always evasive. I think you’re on point with most of the conclusions here. What I don’t have, sadly, is enough of an experience with Facebook networks and communities outside my own education-based realm (HS, College) to reflect on the qualities of FB in that capacity. Does a regional group have a less hegemonic identity about it than say, X college? I don’t have answers to these questions, but I’m curious about niche communities which must readily crop up given facebook’s structure and organization.

    Likewise, the places in which MySpace and Facebook (and their userbases) are widely divergent are easy to see, but what if any might be a nexus of convergence? The facebook kids who have MySpaces for all their favorite bands–do they interface significantly with MySpace types, as a consequence? Do they peer over the hedge?

    Obviously from my position I can point to countless examples of subaltern teens and subaltern teen groupings on facebook, though they float within the sea of hegemonic respectability (such awful mixed metaphors, I’m sorry!). Class is such a slippery issue that it’s no wonder I’m struggling just to find some granularity in describing where people go along this spectrum of SNS lifestyles.

    I’ve just rambled and made no sense, so I’ll stop, but–looks like some great insight.

  • It’s an interesting idea, for sure. I’d really like to see some statistics to back up your opinion. Was your conclusion based on observation alone, or did you happen to see the results of a particular study?

  • Just to elaborate on Liz Lawley’s point. The hegemonic teens choose Facebook to keep in touch with the contacts and friends they already have. Through the Facebook Groups and other features, users can meet new people who share their interests, much like the idea of Myspace, but they would probably not add them as friends.

    Meanwhile, the marginalized teens don’t have much friends to begin with. I can imagine they’d registered on Facebook but couldn’t add many people on their friends list. On the other hand, one can add anyone as friends on Myspace (even bands and other celebrity profiles) and being the outsiders themselves, the befriended would most likely accept the friendship in return to increase the number of friends one has.

    Greg also made an excellent point about the anonymity of MySpace. The educated and well-off prefers honesty while the non-hegemonic prefers invisibility (even when they strive for friends).

    It’s also interesting to note that it’s hard to know what Facebook is unless you are a registered user, and in order to register, you are encouraged to assume your true identity (though there are some fake accounts). Somehow it seems in order to gain access you will need to expose yourself. This sort of commitment may scare off the lower class and of course those who fear for privacy online.

  • Oh, in related news: MySpace is coming to the Sidekick 3. (slashphone.com/64/7540.html )

  • Fascinating essay! It’s interesting – I had heard that Apple has begun banning access to MySpace in its retail stores. I wonder if such restrictions exist for Facebook. Having read your essay, I now wonder if that’s also inherent class-based discrimination. In effect Apple is saying, “if you ever hope to own one of our computers, you should be using something like Facebook rather than MySpace” Now of course Apple will say its a bandwidth conservation issue or that MySpace users spend an unreasonable amount of time in their stores, but the subtext is unsettling, imho.

    You could probably apply this analysis to how certain models and brands of cellphones are being marketed to youth. Subalterns: ringtones and wallpaper. Hegemonic: MyFaves type social networking features and upwardly mobile designs (Razr).

  • I thought that this may be the case when I was discussing using Facebook as a backend for a human rights charity with a friend. Apart from the potential conflict of interest as Facebook will eventually divulge the details of an unwitting activist to some state, the audience would be limited to just higher socioeconomic classes.

  • hi danah,

    great reading and thanks again for another interesting piece of writing.

    my initial thoughts are that what is going on is more about class as shaped through cultural capital and mediated by technological choices. this is classic Pierre Bourdieu material (see his work Distinction – A social critique of the judgement of taste).

    as others have pointed out, marketing drives these choices in the presentation of self even further. what the 70s subcultural theorists were seeing back then has at least since the early 90s become everyday life across most social strata in most industrialised societies.

    but it is interesting to see the distinctions, these ‘judgments of taste’, coming back to very traditional ideas of ‘aesthetics’ – facebook (clean and minimal) vs myspace (cluttered and messy); as well as the drawing out of those tensions between MySpace as a space for identity and Facebook as a space for identity AND professional networking.

  • James L.

    As someone who has only recently joined Facebook, my experience with it has been vastly different from the conclusions you’ve reached. Of 27 friends, 11 have never attended any post secondary education (I just checked); instead they are friends from public school, high-school, and previous workplaces. Aside from that, those who have attended hardly fit into any ‘hegemonic’ class structure. They aren’t the ‘good kids’ or the ‘preps’. On Facebook I’ve found many hard working individuals who blur the lines of social group or at best fit into so many as to be difficult to categorize. Sans statistics to support its conclusions I would argue that this articles conclusions have been drawn from a very limited experience of Facebook.
    As for Myspace, there are hundreds of good reasons to avoid it, and only a few of them have to do with class. ‘Bling’ culture is not an excuse for some of the most visually offensive site construction to bombard human retinas. I know plenty of alt types who would agree with that.

  • drew

    I think you are misreading some of what is going on with the Facebook/myspace divide.

    A few observations
    1) Facebook used to be limited to the Ivies. Then it expanded to encompass less-and-less elite schools, and now finally it is open for all to use. This presumably is a market-driven transition. Its selectivity gave it cache, which it used to raise capital and advertising revenue, and the pressure for more revenue lead to it rapidly becoming as open a network as Myspace. Now, it just started using a system of customizable applets that provides myspace-like functions (with music, trip planners, friend-trackers that install in exchange for releasing demographic data to the corporate author’s view)- i.e. it is converging into something that looks more and more like myspace. So I think the gulf between facebook and myspace is narrowing.

    2) Insofar as the gulf will persist, it will be because of self-selection: you are more or less expected to be on facebook once you are in college. I would expect this to be more true in places with insular, residential/dorm-based communities and less so or not at all at commuter colleges. People might join myspace in school if they are part of a subaltern group. But they would if they are part of enlisted communities, too.

    3) Middle class participants who go to state universities are likely to be part of facebook but also myspace. And sometimes these cultural habits track – I went to an elite, small liberal arts college in southern california. One of my friends is latina from east los angeles. She grew up with myspace, not facebook – she got facebook because everyone else in college has it. But in terms of usage activity (so i’m a dork and have noticed these things) she still, in college, clung to myspace most of the time. I am definately subaltern. I had nothing to do with myspace in high school. But I joined facebook in college, as soon as I could. If anything, it helped me navigate a place that was very hegemonic (lots of the naked guys holding red cups) and build some social capital in those environments, insofar as FB can do so.

    4) Facebook then might not indicate as much of a class divide as it is becoming another ritual for those entering the putative elite or who are seeking acceptance and validation in structures of hegemonic culture. Those who have a mismatch of intellectual or social capital as compared to their wealth (i.e. your workaday intellectual barista) are more likely to have been to college, and to have been socialized through facebook as part of college. The split is going to be between status-seekers in ‘elite’ culture and people who went through four year, residential college and universities, versus people who have eschewed traditional models of higher education for vocational school and skilled labor (here i’m thinking medical service workers, construction contractors, union workers) and the expanding underclass of high school dropouts and graduates who are suffering the most from globalization in the United States service economy. I think it is probably not even useful to think of the issue in terms of class, but instead of cultural self-image and perhaps ‘culture war’.

    On one axis, you can consider the left/right cultural divide in white america as being exemplified in facebook and myspace. While rich, white republicans are guaranteed to be on facebook, the stereotypical angry white male who feels disenfranchised by structural change in american society, the kind who will end up at Wal-Mart or in the army, is going to be on myspace. NPR-listening, latte-sipping philosophy majors from coastal cities are much more likely to wind up on facebook.
    In terms of racial empowerment, however, myspace is clearly a left/populist impulse against a right/elitist facebook. ‘Polite’ society on facebook is contrasted to an aesthetically and politically rancorous myspace. I think the usage pattern between minority groups is going to be radically different, but i’m done spamming.

  • Just a brief comment: There is a common prejudice, that when we see something that appears nice, clean or friendly arise from a culture we don’t identify with, we tell ourselves “Oh, but I’m sure it’s rotten underneath!”, “Oh, but they buy it at a high price in freedom!” or something similar. Sometimes people write fiction about it, and we cite that fiction as evidence of rottenness.

    I suspect that the emo kids and similar have more problems than the nice, successful kids, and also that they on the whole actually are less naughty when it comes to substance abuse, risky behavior, etc. Things sometimes are as they seem.

    Are you suffering from this particular prejudice? I know plenty of nice violinists who actually don’t smoke marijuana, plenty of Christians who don’t hit their children, plenty of harmonious families that actually are still quite harmonious once you get to know them.

    If more people realized that many of the common and dull approaches to happiness actually work quite well, we might have more of the nice kids at Facebook, and less of the poor emo kids at mySpace. Please, don’t further the myths more than you have to.

  • @Liz Lawley, Alice

    Absolutely. I don’t use Facebook to find friends, and I don’t just add random people who friend me. Facebook lets you specify how you know people, which helps when your list gets big, and it’s like, oh yeah, we were in such and such class together.

    MySpace is like most online forums, with relationships mostly between people who’ve never met face to face.

    @zephoria

    An interesting read.

    I went to college and avoided all online social networks for the longest time, then finally joined Facebook when I saw how easy it was to look up where everyone from high school went.

    You’re right, the interface is clean. Facebook looks like most professional websites now-a-days, though that’s been changing, and as a long time web designer, I cringe at all the new “Apps” that Facebook has been adding.

    I tried MySpace for about a week. My first impression: my god, it’s 1990 all over again. Purple backgrounds with unreadable yellow text and a 20 min load time thanks to oversized photos, videos, and that mortal sin of background music.

    I’m not worried about the “wrong crowd” aspect of MySpace, there’s already enough of my info online for any would-be stalkers. I just can’t navigate MySpace. Within a day of opening an account, I already had comments from people that included embedded youtube videos that threw off everything on the page. Turning off HTML support meant seeing the code written out, which was equally as annoying. I closed my account soon after.

    Look at most blogs (using predesigned themes) and compare them to the personal sites of the early 1990’s. It’s one thing to make something obnoxious and glitzy (both forgiveable), it’s another to have random colors/photos/video/music everywhere, so that you have to scroll in all four directions. Not that I was ever immune, I made some pretty “user unfriendly” sites back in the day.

    Finally, you could probably find a simillar division within blog software: MySpace: LiveJournal/Xanga/Blogspot vs. Facebook: Drupal/Wordpress/MoveableType.

    Blessed be,

    /jon

  • david

    great article.

  • Kevin Cantu

    We all remember the angry basketball games where the private, catholic, college prep school’s fans would all chant “we’re going to college!”

    It would be more shocking if we didn’t fight for status online as intensely as we do in meatspace.

  • Schmitt

    Interesting. I’d like to note, however, that it’s thoroughly possible to be a non-working-class member of the subaltern group: there are many bright kids without the social indoctrination to keep them in the popular group, and many of them do go on to college. It would be interesting to analyze the choices of this particular group (my guess would be MySpace for actual use & Facebook because they ‘have’ to have it).

  • Thanks for putting this out there, danah. It reminds me of the dissertation topic I originally wanted to do (before I found it was too difficult!) Just a literature note here – if you want a theoretical backing for this, Bourdieu is your man. Lots of stuff you could pull across from him about the intersection between taste and class and his idea of ‘fields’ helps tackle the problematic definition of class (Willis uses him extensively).

    As for statistics, I note that the proportions of online teens from households above and below $55,000 with SNS profiles is nearly identical, but that doesn’t tell you what *kind* of profile they have and of course poor kids who go online regularly may be different from poor kids more generally, which complicates things…

    (Lenhart, A. and M. Madden (2007) “Teens, Privacy & Online Social Networks: How Teens Manage Their Online Identities and Personal Information in the Age of MySpace” Pew Internet & American Life Project )

  • john m

    I work at an inner city school where the students are 99% African-American and low SES. These kids are all on Bebo and more recently iLike. I didn’t see any MySpace or FaceBook at all this year.

  • Henry

    I work at a large software company. My 20- and 30-something coworkers are either on MySpace or nothing at all. This includes all of my Latino coworkers all the members of four different bands.

  • Great paper danah.

    On the face of the idea that Facebook and MySpace users are divided by class – it certainly feels right. Facebook is populated by early adopters. It’s not mainstream in the sense that it hasn’t been talked about in mainstream media anywhere near the way MySpace has.

    I bet any class divisions that exist right now between MySpace and Facebook will resolve themselves with greater awareness of Facebook. And that you will see teens choose one or the other based upon their personal choice – and not upon class. I can say this pretty firmly because the closed friend systems of both is a bug. One that third parties will learn how to break open and change for profit.

    The Web leans towards personal empowerment and closed gardens such as both of these will need to open up further when it comes to aspects of personal identity.

    So what does that leave us? With aesthetics, and with the communities that exist on both.

    Here’s some things to consider – there are no bands on Facebook.

    Why? Is it functionality alone?

    I think it was Doc Searls who once said you can’t escape your beginnings. MySpace’s initial hot user communities – bands – models – teenagers – demand aesthetic control. To them, it’s a feature, not a bug, to have a blinking neon background image. Facebook’s initial user base – college students – certainly do not demand such functionality and to them it is a repellent.

    I would have loved to have seen in the comments here who has a MySpace profile or a Facebook profile. It would be telling. There is a lot of elitism on the part of some who look down on visual expression that offends. To them, your paper is an affirming piece that reinforces their prejudices.

    I’m the rare case of someone who has traversed classes. From poverty, to middle class, to something nearing upper middle class. I’m a software engineer. The only reason I’ve joined both MySpace and Facebook is because folks I know are on both and I need to network. That and I want to experiment.

  • Let me add that when the mainstream does find Facebook, and it will, that is when to expect the next ‘great new thing’ to be launched. Possibly by the Facebook folks themselves, utilizing viral marketing, and selectism, to choose just the right folks to seed their new service.

  • very nice essay, in particular the core idea of looking into divisions in usage of software tools among different groups and the why there are those divisions.

    I have two suggestions. First, apart from making preciser distinctions between the concepts on class and social stratification and possibly finding out why the notion of ‘class’ doesn’t seem to work well in the USA but does in many other countries (unfortunately), I think that if you could back it up with some statistics, it would have more impact. E.g., what percentage of the “hegemonc teens” is on facebook only, is/was on MySpace as well/before; idem on the “subaltern teens”? (as an aside: What about any sub-structure within the latter group; could alternative terms for this division be ‘rich-WASP-minorty’ and ‘majority of the people in the US’?) I’m not from the US, so it’s difficult to make sense out of relative terms like more, less, majority, etc. and the overall impact; e.g., are we talking about just, say, 5-10% of all teens anyway?

    Second, in addition to Jon’s sample division in the blogsphere, you could probably find that with email addresses as well (hotmail vs gmail?), idem MSN messenger/Yahoo instant vs Skype. There’s some (natural language processing) research done on Mac users versus Microsofties, where it appeared that on online fora about the Mac, the level of English used (grammar & vocabulary) was higher than that of those who added content to MS fora–with, of course, lots of speculation why.

  • While I enjoyed reading this article, I find myself disappointed at what I will call your research methodology (or more precisely, a seeming lack thereof). As maria hints at in the comment above, you provide very little information to validate or replicate your findings. How many people did you talk to? What type of demographic data did you collect on your subjects? When did you collect this data? How did you collect this data?

    Seriously, you seem to be generalizing based on your conversations with a handful of teens. I guess I expect more than that given your presense in this field.

  • danah, I know your focus is on the United States, but I’ve been in Copenhagen and Shanghai this past month looking at issues surrounding social networking and I see similar splits. A shift takes place in China between QQ and MSN (both the chat clients and their other blogs, pets and online spaces) when people either study or begin to work. It’s partly a class distinction and a growing-up distinction. Also, workplaces don’t allow QQ but encourage MSN: if you enter the middle class office workforce, you can’t chat on QQ but must use MSN, which shifts the social networking tools people use.

    Facebook was beginning to make their way across certain communities — not the middle class kids I met but the emo/indie kids and of course the expats. It has a habit of being nowhere and then all of a sudden, everywhere. Same in Europe.

  • Great essay, though to be honest I find the use of “hegemonic” and “subaltern” a little odd. Maybe just go with “upper” and “lower”?

    I really like Greg’s comment, about Facebook being a networking tool, and a tool for building connections that may be useful for personal or business success. I think most Facebook users will, after meeting somebody, almost immediately go look them up on Facebook and add them, in case they need to look them up again later.

    Facebook in some ways acts as a modern rolodex. I doubt many college students actually have a physical rolodex anymore. A cell phone phonebook only holds so many contacts and is susceptible to drowning. Look at all the “X lost his phone, give me your numbers” groups you see.

    I’m sure there’s more to this thought, but I’m not making too much sense even to myself right now.

  • As an old guy who has looked briefly at both MySpace and Facebook, I found this very insightful. Most of my friends on Facebook (I don’t really use MySpace) are “hegemonic”, as you predict, even though many are not earning lots of money yet.

  • You are my hero of the day for (inadvertently, I presume) doing at least as much as anybody else to make Rupert Murdoch poorer.

  • Charlotte

    This is interesting, if only because a lot of what you say is playing out right now in my family.

    I grew up on the borderline between working and middle class. My father had the highest degree in the family with an associates in buisness.

    My brother is a die-hard MySpace fan, while I’ve always used Facebook. I went to school in a private liberal arts Midwest college that tended to cater to the upper class; he’s going to high school in what was always known as the “stoner” school.

    We used to have a lot more in common: We were both heavily into music, both a part of the “alternative” groups. After attending college full time I’ve mellowed some. He’s still a die-hard socialist.

    What’s interesting is that I’ve always been known as the driven, hard working one in the family. My brother, on the other hand, is seen as the complete opposite.

    I think what will be interesting to see is when MySpace members start going to college if they’ll pick up on facebook…

  • Outta Names999

    Oh, so much blog about nothing. Remember Geocities and the legion of me-page creators? That’s all these overhyped hogbloated student tatoo page sites are. Amateurish and embarrassing. And they will suffer the same descent into irrelevance any day now. Look for 2.0 tatto removal and reputation cleansing services that offer to hunt down and delete any pages corresponding to any user name and password combination you can remember, or just change all occurances of “drunk” (as in “me drunk”) to “having a good time, gee the camera must have slipped.”

  • DS

    Upon what evidence are you founding these speculations? Have you surveyed these youths’ household incomes?

    Are there really only 2 social classes? Are some people not on both networks?

    You also do not address how this boundary has emerged, but clearly you are relying on assumptions that people are mainly friends within their classes, because presumably the main reason people pick one service (MySpace vs. Facebook) over the other depends on where most of their friends already are.

    Your article is not scholarly work, I don’t know why you have citation at the top to pretend it is authentic. That is misleading. Where are your citations?

  • Visualization would be a fascinating extension of this essay. If you could anonymously overlay facebook and myspace communities onto the Google Map. If your SNS requests zipcode then you are being class-profiled for marketing purposes.

  • Four brief notes before dealing with the larger discussion:

    1. I’m talking about high school class divisions. College practices and adult practices are quite different and I cannot make any claims about class divisions between the two sites when it comes to adult adoption. There is a rite of passage for going into college and for as long as Facebook has been around, going to college has meant joining FB even if you were on MS. This has not seemed to change.

    2. Since I realized that many people who were not familiar with my work were reading this essay, I added some methodological notes at the bottom of the piece.

    3. I should clarify (especially to the academics who are probably cringing) that this is too early to be a paper in progress. This is only a blog essay where I’m trying to put together my notes on what I’m seeing before I try to properly situate or theorize it. I totally agree that Bourdieu is key. If anyone has other suggestions, I’m all ears. I’m putting this out there in a super raw form because I think that it’s important for folks to hear, even if it’s not a clean study and I have not cleanly situated it or nuanced it. I love my blog because I can do this, but it’s not really the academic way (which is why I’m in trouble with the academics). Hopefully, there’s still value in the rawness.

    4. One of the things that I know that I did was conflate college-bound locally marginalized teens (i.e. geeks, queers, subculturally identified) with non-college-bound broadly marginalized teens. The more I think about it, I should’ve split the two rather than lumping them under “subaltern” together. The former are going to join Facebook when they go to college. The latter currently won’t, even if they go to community college. I still need to work on that.

  • ian

    I think a part that needs to be taken into account is the fuzziness of what the SNS is in the first place.

    One of the reasons facebook draws a more technologically sophisticated crowd is because the site works as designed. It has a superior architecture, a clean interface, it adheres to high design standards and web standards, etc. As a SNS — it is highly functional. Yes, it is about formal networks, and this is the point. This is a key difference between MySpace, which attempts to combine several things into one — a blog, a personal homepage, a SNS site, a dating service, groupware, a dating service, etc. It does none of these functions well… however — because it’s all bundled together, it’s more accessible to technologicaly unsophisticated people. Conversely, Facebook users tend to use a variety of web services for different purposes (flickr, hosted or independent blogs, other online spaces..) and use Facebook primarily for just the stated purpose of formalizing ad hoc social networks.

  • ian

    And yes, I agree with DS that this isn’t scholarly work, which makes me scratch my head at the citation instructions at the top. If it’s a blog essay, post it as a blog essay. If it’s actual research and not just casual observations, then prepare it in manuscript form and post the manuscript… I don’t know what the norms are in the social sciences, but if I submitted a paper to Nature with such a casual tone and imprecision, I’d easily predict the outcome. It’s an interesting discussion to have, but let’s not pretend it’s publishable in current form without any kind of statistical analysis to back it up 🙂

  • big bad editor

    Great article–absolutely fantastic. It got me to thinking, that’s for sure. One thing, though–you really could use some help editing your work. I noticed a lot of typos there. You’re obviously a very intelligent person, and there’s nothing wrong with the fact that you lack the skills to get everything down in writing perfectly–some of the best writers need serious help with their spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like. But the really good writers take that extra step and get the help they need from an editor (could even be someone you know personally who has the skill–doesn’t have to be a professional). I suggest this because you really have talent, but it would be a shame to see that your work isn’t taken seriously because of all those little mistakes. Whether you like it or not, or agree with it or not, your work WILL indeed be dismissed by people because of those mistakes. Don’t let that happen–your work is otherwise very good!

  • Interesting article, I have one point to stress to the non-hegmonic nature of MySpace and “bling” (I didn’t see this in the comments): the ability to radically modify the design of a MySpace page. An entire cottage industry of MySpace design templates sprung up alongside the site’s rise. MySpace allows a much higher level of personalization, those with HTML knowledge can go beyond the templates thanks to articles such as Mike Davidson’s tutorial (recently made famous by John McCain). As I noticed in another comment, Facebook allows no access to page design (uniformity in the name of usability).

  • “One of the things that I know that I did was conflate college-bound locally marginalized teens (i.e. geeks, queers, subculturally identified) with non-college-bound broadly marginalized teens. The more I think about it, I should’ve split the two rather than lumping them under “subaltern” together. The former are going to join Facebook when they go to college. The latter currently won’t, even if they go to community college.”

    I love your work danah. And I love this piece in particular (it’s revealing in the comments it is attracting), but that’s still a terrific assumption.

    My bet is as Facebook becomes more mainstream (wait when you hear about it on CNN, Time Magazine, etc), and when advertisers, marketers, and those seeking that mass audience build presences there, that the picture will change radically.

  • zk

    Apophenia isn’t making connections where none previosly existed. It is inventing conections where none if fact do exist. I think that pretty much sums up this paper. Anecdote and peronal opinion usually produce faulty conclusions.