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

  • “People of every economic class like to get more for less. If the positive buzz continues about Facebook, even the less computer literate surfers out there will eventually migrate over… At least until the next big thing comes along and it all happens again.”

    Bingo.

    tish, I believe that one day there will be protocols to share profile information across services. OpenID and other technologies will assist. There is an opportunity for some entrepreneur someplace to do a great deal of good by figuring out the path. Somedays, everything looks like a re-invention of AOL 🙁

  • Daniel

    This was a really interesting read, and as someone who has profiles in both MYspace and Facebook, I can tell you that I know exactly what you mean. I will be doing my own ethnographic work, and if you have time, I’d always enjoy talking to someone who has already done it. Thanks.

  • Interesting read, but above and beyond the constraints of language, I really think there is more complexity here than meets the eye. I am a University student whose social group is an art collective of musicians, visual artists, computer programmers and thinkers. Nearly all of us have both a MySpace and a Facebook – but for the most part, we consider ourselves upwardly mobile burnouts. In addition to the skills that we have artistically we are haunted by alcoholism, the threat of financial collapse, and drug use. I think that kids “like us,” who I tend to term bourgeois bohemian, are generally herded into one or the other category here, because where we “belong” depends on which day of the week – or with which surroundings – you happen to catch us.

  • David

    Apparently you have forgotten that Facebook was originally for college students and all military officers are college graduates, while almost no enlisted are college graduates.

    Your research and knowledge are poor and your conclusions are questionable.

  • Spelling Correction, first sentence in the seventh paragraph from the end:

    “People often ask me if I’m worried about teens today. The answer is yes, but it’s not because of social network sites. With the hegemonic teens, I’m very worried about the stress that they’re under, the lack of mobility and healthy opportunities for play and socialization, and THEY hyper-scheduling and surveillance.”

    I believe THEY should be THE?

    Thanks for the great read!
    Blaine

  • K. C.

    I’m not sure I agree completely with the conclusions re: the military ban. I suspect part of the concerns there was the illogics of our government, the avoidance of possible P.R. ramifications, and for legitimate security concerns.

    I have a friend who has been interviewing for some government positions that are information sensitive. If you have any sort of online journal they won’t hire you, and if they find out you have one, they’ll fire you. Even if all you talk about is your thoughts on a movie you recently saw, and a new recipe you came across and tried for dinner. They have a zero tolerance policy for this.

    Now you might then point out MySpace was banned but Facebook wasn’t, well that’s also true for other sites like livejournal, etc. Since when does something the bureaucrats in the military/government ever make complete sense?

    But I know there’s been talk about completely banning any sort of site like this for anyone in the military currently serving if they would have any interface with non U.S. military members.

    I bet alot of it had to do with the realization of ‘oh shit, look at all the bad press MySpace has been getting, and look what sites our soldiers are going to… do we really want something to come back and bite us on the ass and cause yet another P.R. nightmare?’

    Having grown up with my phone lines always tapped cause of Dad’s security clearances related to his work and travel with the current P.o.t.U.S… I know first hand the illogical practices of the government. 😛

  • Santiago

    I must say, I’m completely disappointed with this article.

    First, you never care to provide any solid statistics to back up your claims. You never describe what your sample was, and how many different user profiles you have looked at. This lack of scientific methodology is quite disturbing considering that you are a PhD candidate in a tier 1 university

    Second, as Rabsteen mentioned a couple of posts earlier, Facebook was created explicitly to target members of educational communities. Thus, your “study” basically reflects the difference in social class between College students and Non college students.

    Finally, I must say that the logic of your argument is flawed. I cat may have kittens in an oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits. If you look at your study in perspective, you realize that you are jumping to conclusions based on a very oversimplifying vision of a more complex issue. Therefore, you contribute nothing to a better understanding of social networks.

  • Interesting read, even as thoughts-in-progress. I see that perception, the split of the 2 services, played out in my networks on MySpace and Facebook. Thanks for posting

  • Lee

    When the original Planet of the Apes movie was being made in the late 60’s, the make up and costumes that the actors portraying apes wore took so much time and trouble to put on that they could not remove them when they all broke for lunch.

    During the lunch breaks, the actors who were dressed up as gorillas all sat together. The actors who were dressed as chimps all sat together, and the actors who were dressed up as orangutans also all sat together. No one told them to do this, and no one expected it either. Because of the make-up and costumes, the race/ethnicity of the actors inside them was hidden. You would have white, black, and asian gorillas, chimps and orangutans all sitting together.

    Human beings self segregate into communities. This is human nature. There is no “fix” for it, nor can there be. Attempts during the 20th century to create classes societies failed miserably. Not only did they result in even deeper class divisions within these societies, they directly led to the death of some 100 million people, and lives of profound misery and poverty for countless millions more.

    The factors that determine the composition of the various communities within a society vary from setting to setting. Race is usually a very strong determinant, but only to the degree to which it signifies ethnicity. Religion is also another very strong determinant, and is often synonymous with ethnicity. Wealth is a very poor determinant, especially in societies with a healthy socio-economic situation where opportunity and upward mobility are the norm. In these situations the divide between the have’s and the have-not’s has more to do with what is between a person’s ears than what is in their wallet, as the former generally determines the latter. The strongest determinant when it comes to community identity is ethnicity, which is just another word for culture. Individuals who share a common culture are going to band together.

    Culture, like most things in life, is a choice. Just because you are born into a culture does not mean that you have to stay there. This is why subcultures that are typically described as disadvantaged tend to do so poorly on standardized assessment tests. Bright and capable individuals who are born into these cultures come to realize the folly of their neighbors, and quickly make an exit. Multiply this over multiple generations and you have a self-selected population of sub-par individuals.

    My family was not very well off financially when I was growing up. My mother is an intelligent woman, but she came from a very humble background. She married young and chose the wrong man. My parents divorced when I was 3 and my mother was stuck with having to raise my sister and I alone. Without a college degree her financial means were very limited. She easily could have qualified for welfare, food stamps, public housing, etc, etc. But she did not want us growing up in that kind of a culture and that kind of a community. She always made sure we lived in nice areas with good schools where the culture was healthy and functional. We lived in places where achievement was expected and where “everyone” went to college. The values and beliefs that we grew up with were ones of personal responsibility, a strong work ethic and an extreme emphasis on competence and sticking to it.

    Today my sister and I are both college graduates and we both have professional careers. Some of our relatives on the other hand did not turn out so well. One of my cousins on my father’s side is in prison and the other is hooked on crystal meth and will surely join him in due time if the graveyard doesn’t claim her first. Their father can’t hold down a job to save his life. On my mother’s side I have one cousin who is 23 and has 4 children by three different men. Her mother is an amateur prostitute. She has a regular job in a textile mill, but she trades sex (mostly oral) for money on the side as well. None of them find their behavior the least bit strange or problematic, and they really don’t like it when you call their attention to it. Needless to say I don’t see my relatives much.

    It has been said that character is destiny. This is true of individuals, but it is also true of groups. Whether you are talking about a club, a community, or a country, character is destiny, and the character of a group is defined by its culture. If a group enshrouds itself in a culture of failure, then failure is what is in store for it. If a group instead defines its culture based upon principles and values that lead to success and happiness, then these will be achieved.

    A perfect example of this is the Cajuns. When the ancestors of today’s Cajuns first arrived in Louisiana, no one wanted anything to do with them. They were forced out into the swamps and that is where they stayed. For the longest time Cajuns were considered to be less than nothing, the lowest of the low. They lived in abject poverty and wretchedness for generations. Yet today Acadia parish, which is the heart of Cajun country, has more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the country. The schools there are very good, while the schools in the rest of the state rank are among the worst in the country.

    The factor that led the Cajuns from poverty to affluence is culture. Their values, beliefs and behaviors were ones that led to beneficial outcomes. The only thing that was missing was opportunity. Once that was in place they quickly lifted themselves out of poverty and never looked back. There are other examples of this in the world, such as the Ashkenazim, but you get the point.

    If you liked Learning to Labor, there is another book that you might also find insightful: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Bottom-Worldview-Makes-Underclass/dp/1566635055

  • ZF

    Total ‘duh’…

    These different groups don’t hang out together offline, as everyone with a brain and a pair of eyes already knows. Why would you expect them to hang out together online?

    But go ahead, wrap it in some academic-speak and collect a few brownie points for documenting the obvious.

  • As someone considered geek, “art fag”, and gay from a lower-middle class family who prefers Facebook, I assure you that I prefer Facebook because it has better community features (news feed), better technical features (web apps), and doesn’t allow users to use hideous backgrounds that obscure profile text or play music on without my permission. It’s a matter of technical superiority and better user experience, not one of group identity.

  • KatieB, PhD

    Bravo! Nice essay. Don’t be downhearted by the criticisms. Much sociological research begins by “a hunch” and informal observations. Keep going!

  • jim

    I don’t know how stable the phenomena you’re seeing are. I used to be able to go to facebook with my class rosters in hand, search for my students and download photos of two-thirds, maybe three-quarters of the kids in my classes, which gave me a head start in putting faces to names. This summer I tried the same trick and got less than a third (and my students this summer are all “regular” students, not kids parachuting in while they’re home for the summer). It may be that facebook having opened up to everyone (including high school kids) has cheapened it in college kids’ eyes.

  • svg

    Regarding the following:
    “like “bling” come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued.”

    Minor edit: [insert: commercialized] hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued.

    Commercialized hip-hop is a whole different animal from hip-hop where “bling” is regarded as a retarded phenomenon driven by record company execs hell bent on cultivating and marketing what they think hip-hop is all about and should look like vs. what hip-hop is really about.

  • the people that I associate with fall into two different camps and their usage on a given site is reflective of their class and education. My assumption, however, in describing WHY this is the case is because facebook only recently opened its site to folks beyond the school world and still holds a stigma of being higher ed only.

    look at the names even – myspace describes a place on the internet that belongs to the individual customizable by them for them. Facebook is a book….. with your face…. the layouts read from left to right and are in 2 columns with limited photos, no video, no links, no music, and limited interaction. Until recently when they began to explore additional options.

    I would also like to see data about user time for each of the sites. Do facebook users spend less time on facebook at a given time because there is little to actually “do” vs. MySpace having chat’s, music, video, and the like to keep the user online longer.

    I actually use both but I find there is nothing to do on there except talk to people I went to school with most of which I don’t like. Once they opened it up to the work world I began forming more e-relationships with my co-workers, most of whom were already on MySpace.

  • Human-made systems will always recreate human-made conditions. First the people change, then the systems change.

  • Jacqueline

    I’m so glad you posted this, be it preliminary. I have also started noticing these social/class divisions. From my own personal data collection, I have noticed that media and news stories also portray MySpace in a more negative light. It is more likely to be mentioned because of the predatory nature and dangers. Whereas Facebook is mentioned less, and generally in a more positive light. I don’t know who is reflecting whom here, but news stories overall tend to mirror the trend you have noticed.

    I am curious to see where teens are (on social networks) in a few more years. More and more adults (parents, teachers, police officers, etc.) are permeating these social arenas, which is bound to drive teens away. How can these spaces maintain their youth-oriented cultural identities when so many adults are now present? It’ll be interesting to see where it all goes.

  • Interesting stuff…bookmarked. 🙂 The term “semi-permeable membranes” comes to mind when I think of what you’re pointing at.

    I’m still sifting through the comments, but it seems Jake Lockley is on the mark.

    I’d also add that overall, highly cyclical nature of the website market applies here. As sites convert their user base into revenue via external capital (ad revenue, ownership sale, etc.), the user base tends to fragment (at least); the fragmentation forms the seed basis for the next round of “cool” sites (and many that will fade into obscurity). You might be seeing some of this effect as well.

  • Hi, I dont like that you named, “”burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids” – out of the dominant trend.

    I wouldnt say there’s one “trend” among kids these days as there may have been, or what may have been more apparent, 20 years ago. Nowadays, there’s much less differenciation between a trend, and a social outcast.

    After all, a kid may become “emo” as to be able to hang around with a girl he likes, this does not make him – “socially osticised”, in fact it makes him part of this trend to achieve social commincation. I admit, I dont like what you’ve said, as I’ve seen it all differently, your research may be good on paper, as to who is part of the “normal” group of kids.

    But in reality, there’s no “outcast” for children mentally capable of social activity, just which trend they decide to latch on to or which group of people they decide to hang out.

  • Rob

    Excellent Article. I understand that your focus is on youth culture, but a lot of this applies to my demographic, 23-30.

    I think you UNDER-emphasize the importance of class in the difference between the two services. As kids grow up and get beyond college, the “hegemonic” v. “subaltern” dynamic falls away completely.

    I grew up in one of the country’s most affluent suburbs. For about a year, I’ve been telling people that “Facebook is where I catch up with my buddies in Grad School, Myspace is where I catch up with my buddies who dropped out of High School/College.” I can think of multiple instances of “hegemonic” kids on MySpace and “subaltern” kids on Facebook. The break-down depends on what they are doing now rather than what they were doing then.

    I find this less troubling than you seem to. It’s a hell of a lot easier to get a facebook membership than a country club membership. If people get more of an exposure to the norms and manners necessary for success in such a diverting form, I can’t think of it as anything but a good thing.

  • Bill B

    that working class teens will reject hegemonic values because it’s the only way to continue to be a part of the community that they live in.

    Having spent the first ten years of my life along the Pennsylvania steel mills of the Ohio River, then moving to Arizona , I came to the realize the “East Coast” vs. “West Coast” life styles difference. But things may have changed since the 1950’s, but you still have on horse towns where if your father worked in the mill, then it is very certain that you will work in the mill. So how can you be surprised when your classmates are in jail or dead because there was nothing else to do?

  • Danah –

    Thank you for another provocative piece. While I’m sure there is quite a bit of fair and constructive criticism here [and I’ll be the first to admit I’m out of my depth when it gets rigorously academic in nature], quite a few of the comments strike me as people who want you to know that they do in fact have their arms firmly wrapped around the tree in front of them while you’re overhead suggesting that you see a forest.

    Your timing of publishing this is uncanny as just this weekend I was reading Forrester’s recent report How Consumers Use Social Computing and made notes to myself to further explore the A18-24 users of Facebook and MySpace, wondering what meaningful similarities and differences I might find.

    I’ll be looking to see whether comScore can shed further light on the subject via reports on usage patterns [both of the sites themselves and of other sites, to see if there is anything interesting re: which sites have relatively high duplication with each of these two SNets].

    @Ken, in this regard I think you are right on. Certainly there is overlap across sites, but actual usage patterns will help clarify which of the two accounts is most integrated into one’s life/lifestyle. In particular I would be interested to see how site usage and length of site membership correlate with Danah’s hypothesis. Both of these sites have such mass that you can unquestionably find among their registrations some people from any social cohort you care to name. But who are the heavy and moderate users and how do their profiles/backgrounds synch with the hypotheses here? That’s where the real story gets interesting. Many will sign up for both sites, but who persists over time with each?

    @Deacon Jones – would you prefer to engage with a completely pedestrian but grammatically perfect paper than something thoroughly thought provoking with the occasional typo?

    @everyone else yammering about this hypothesis not being proven to the standards of scientific journals –
    (1) that caveat was included in the second paragraph, and
    (2) I think perhaps in the time it would take to get something vetted to your standards the next 5 social trends would likely have already come and gone. There’s something to be said for raising the issue while it’s still relevant, even if it’s only 85% baked.

  • Here’s some **very rubbery** figures for comparison based on ISP logs and ISP demographics.

    http://www.quantcast.com/facebook.com

    http://www.quantcast.com/myspace.com

    Take with a grain of salt . . .

  • Theodore

    Greg-

    I feel you are missing a glaring point: Facebook’s appeal was not in its ‘clean’ aesthetic, but strictly its _functionality_. I could use it to very quickly find that classmate that knew what the assignment was, his number, email, aim, whatever. I can assemble guests and schedule an event with remarkable ease. These are what made facebook stick for me, even though the photo tagging is just training the government facial recognition system… (your face, all lightings, all angles, all weights, facial hair configurations, haircuts, read Facebook’s privacy policy, you’ll quake).

    My cursory examination of myspace was that it was awkward to navigate and that it served no purpose beyond an online personal expressive place. Thats fine, but I don’t need that. The utility I needed was what facebook provides. Now that facebook added all these bs apps, I’m kind of annoyedl I feel they have missed the very same point that you missed.

    Thoughts?
    -td

  • paul

    Sorry, I’m at work and I have to rush this.

    I read the first half of the article carefully, came to a conclusion about the division described, and scanned the last half to see if it gets mentioned prominently. I didn’t find a mention, so I’ll just blurt it out here.

    Bear in mind that I just finished reading John Dean’s book describing the Bush administration, authoritarianism, fascism, and the Republican party, so that’s my context.

    The division of MySpace and FaceBook might track closely with politics.

    That’s it. That’s my big insight.

  • Charles Grahm

    There are always going to be people who have deep-seated problems with the conclusions reached with serious academic work. To other academics the idea of American class division is really nothing new, and yet many Americans will react with dismay and aversion if they ever so much as *imagine* the term class applied to the United States. So it saddens me a bit to see a perfectly capable observer of online culture flounder for words over things that are very real and which ought to be made clear to everyone.

    I’m just an undergrad myself but I’ve been watching these sorts of dynamics carefully and I can say the following: whether you expect detractors or not, be extremely careful with your observations and the conclusions you draw from them and say what you see and what you believe with precision. I think that being precise with your claims rather than merely cautious helps not only to strengthen the trajectory of your research but also with addressing blanket charges that ignore the constraints on your own claims implied by your methodology.

    There will always be people out there who simply don’t have the inclination to reason through careful arguments. The tighter your thinking is on a topic, I think, the easier it’ll be to collapse all those wordy, ivory-tower sociological examinations into words that anybody can understand, and learn a lot from the engagement. I don’t mean to be patronizing, you probably know a lot of this already. 🙂

    Good luck with your studies!

  • This is a really interesting article. And even though it seems obvious to me now, I had never really thought about it as I log on to MySpace and Facebook on a daily basis. I had just always thought of MySpace as being more messy in layouts than Facebook. (I blame all those web design classes I took in college.)

    However, I never really saw the social class division as a problem. Or any kind of division for that matter. Yes, it does become a huge issue when prejudice and hatred overcome individuals in different classes, and violence ensues, but the division still is common sense.

    People will always be attracted to others that they have more in common with. They want to be able to talk about their experiences with someone who can understand them. And someone in a completely different social class, most likely, won’t.

    Granted, there will be people who are interested in someone who is completely different than them, but that in itself is not really the instinct. At least, that’s what I’ve found. Your first instinct is to find your own kind, whether it be gender, race, sexuality, or any other type of social division. It’s only after you’ve found it, that you go out looking for people who are different because different is interesting. But at the end of the day, most of your friends are most likely going to be people you have most in common with. And that’s people who are in the same types of social class as you.

    So in the end, is it really that big of an issue?

    Just my two cents. =)

  • Madinat

    great article. as an “original” member of facebook (my friends went to harvard and invited me along…) i agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve written. when i saw more and more schools getting added, i was initially happy, as i have friends at other schools, but then they added *gasp* state schools, and community colleges, the horror! i became a TOTAL elitist, and i went to public school, mind you 😉 even now when ppl ask me about facebook, i just roll my eyes. i feel like since they’ve opened it up to everyone, it’s become less of a homey, safe-type networking system. as one of the comments stated MOST ppl on facebook use their REAL names, (ALL my friends do) and MOST ppl also use their REAL faces. facebook is just easier to translate from online to offline. myspace is like a fantasy land…

  • Interesting analysis. You might be interested to read Jilly Cooper’s _Class_ (isbn 0552146625) for a (UK-centric, but adaptable) ontology of class.

  • Anecdotally, I have encountered many more creative-types (generalized: artists) using MS than FB – and while I can see a link between subaltern and creatives, I think this is one area that cuts through the “upper”/”lower” distinction. Creatives have just as often come through the hegemonic systems as from the subaltern ones.

    Just a corner obersvation not meant to contradict your points, just to expand on the admitted blurry area.

  • Larry

    From Julie Bettie’s “Women without Class: Chicas, Cholas, Trash, and the PresencelAbsence of Class Identity”

    — begin quote —
    “Notes toward class as “performance” and “performative”

    On the one hand, embracing and publicly performing a particular class culture mattered more than origins in terms of a student’s aspirations, her treatment by teachers and other students, and her class future. On the other hand, class origins did matter significantly, of course, as girls’ life chances were shaped by the economic and cultural resources provided at home

    Because of the imperfect correlation, I came to define students not only as working or middle class in origin but also as working- or middle-class performers (and, synonymously, as prep and nonprep students). Girls who were passing, or metaphorically cross-dressing, had to negotiate their “inherited” identity from home with their “chosen” public identity at school. There was a disparity for them between how their and their friends? families looked and talked at home and their own class performances at school, As I came to understand these negotiations of class as cultural (not political) identities, it became useful to conceptualize class as not only a material location but also a performance.”
    — end quote —

  • Martin Vernon

    From my dealings with Facebook in the UK I have to put forward that I think you’re right but not because of the social divide in Internet users more in the way that Facebook was made accesable. When they started over here they made themselves exclusive to the “Red Brick”, more established, older universities. The Universities that were more likely to house upper and upper middle class students and the fortunate few who worked hard enough to get in (not me). Its only been over the last 6 months that it has been accessable to everyone and in that 6 months I have seen more and more of my middle class and lower middle class friends adding themselfs. Because they now can.

    I’m middle class and I have had many an argument with a couple of friends of mine that went to red brink unis and the class divide is there, its only sensible then to presume that this divide is going to replicate itself through the use of a social network.

    As for mySpace, I find it hard to use. Thats the reason why I don’t use it.

  • Hi, to expand on myspace’s alignment with subaltern or marginalized youth I am commenting on social network’s relationship to the justice system. Recently, there have been several convictions in which the myspace profiles that Danah Boyd describes as considered ‘bling’ or ‘gauche’ to upwardly mobile youth have been singled out to aid in court convictions. One example is a young woman who was convicted on a manslaughter charge, based on her highly decorated glitzy myspace site depicting herself and friends drinking and socializing at bars. She had been involved in a fatal car crash due to her driving while drunk. The visual semiotics of her myspace page, with pictures of her drinking uploading after charges were brought against her, convinced a jury to send her to prison. I wonder what the socioeconomics of myspace versus facebook mean for how youth are tried in court? What examples are there of youth being given harsh sentences based on their facebook pages, rather than myspace sites?

  • ben

    Damn danah. I’ve been reading you for years, this is the first time I’ve heard you get props on Marketplace! Damn!

  • Very interesting, and probably right. I agree with most of your observations about today’s youth. I, too, am saddened by the same things you are, but I’m not at all surprised by them. I’ve been working with teenagers for close to 15 years, and at least in this aream there are serious, self-imposed class divisions between (just for starters) the kickers, the freaks, the rappers, the hiphoppers, the preps, the emos, the goths, etc. The divisions carry over into myspace, for the most part (I haven’t been using facebook long, so can’t address that). FWIW, the Austin area is slowly having more racial divisions as well. Sometimes progress isn’t.

  • mir

    Hey there,

    I haven’t actually read the paper yet (I say that to my professors too you know). But here’s my .02 cents;

    I agree that Facebook offers a more “trustworthy and austere environment” let’s say. And it’s genealogy is middle class: Facebook went to university, MySpace is the love child of a dating sites and spam-marketing.

    However, I actually think that the interface of Facebook is much more equitable than MySpace. For one thing it won’t crash your computer, so people running shittier machines can probably log onto Facebook and go find their friends without worrying that they’ll have to reboot their machines in 10 minutes.

    The user interface is easier; my bestie who hates technology figured out Facebook in about 20 minutes which is a world record as far as she’s concerned and actually seeing as they have the shittiest computer I have ever been forced to use, the above point also holds true.

    I agree with one of the other commenters who suggests that the way people friend on Facebook invokes different relationships. I have made it a policy on FB not to friend people who are asking me just so they can advertise their music, not a policy I would use on Myspace. It’s not necessarily a class thing, it’s a use thing? I don’t want to commercialize what I use as a meaningful social tool?

    Anyways I am sure that’s all been said already 😉 have a good summer.

  • POV: Older, non-academic with academic sociology background.
    1. Class is very important and downplayed. You are right to be concerned. After WWII, climbing the pinnacle of empire, the US created a large comfortable middle-class. Today there is a clear trend:
    – a disappearing middle economically and in outlook (obvious through observing housing patterns or reading the stats on income and wealth distribution).
    – reduced social mobility (still plenty of it but less every day and it looks like it will continue to diminsh
    – a big semi-digital divide (digital issues are part but not all of it). good paying unionized or public jobs or even formerly common low-level managerial jobs (at utilities, etc.) are largely gone. well educated digitally fluent youth (your hegemonics) have terrific prospects even if they for now work Starbucks. for the others…it’s grim

    The divide runs through what you have identified. It is not only a person’s soocio/economic/cultural class today, but their aspiriations and possibilities. Where they are today and where they expect to be.

    I see little on the horizon that seeks to change this (maybe Obama?).

    I live in a small town, transitioning to suburban. The divisions among the high school students (as you put it, hegemonic vs subaltern) feel like they are getting sharper over the 20 years I’ve been here. And the subaltern seem angrier and more depressed, bleaker than they used to be.

    Good luck in trying to craft what you feel and sense into the clarity and academic writing you wish to achieve. I’m guessing that your exposure to the large older but unsatisfying sociological literature on class is limited. It is not clear how useful it would be to you – some stuff has not changed; a lot has.

  • John

    Your essay is a very interesting read.

    I guess it is natural for any forum to eventually mirror society, as much as we’d like our new technology to create a level playing field.

    I come from the working class (UK) who jumped out of the drudgery and become educated. It came about because by grandfather was adventurous and travelled, an inspired aunt, and thoughtful and caring parents.

    That said, I still consider myself working class, and still find myself failing to understand much of the ‘networking’ and social constructs of the elite.

    This means that although I’d consider myself a good and well rounded engineer, I’m never going to make pots of money, and to be honest am not really interested in doing so.

    Reading about MySpace and Facebook was an eye opener. Although submerged in technology as part of my job, this was just not on the radar.

    Good stuff

    John

  • bhupp

    You know what’s the most scary thing about this article? Your “hegemonic” kids are ones who get educated and your “subaltern” kids don’t. How hard is it to teach a hegemonic kid? Someone that hangs on your every word, does everything they can possibly do, to influence you to give them the best grade you can: so that they can get into the best college? Versus your subaltern kid, who views the hegemonic kid as a “brown-noser” who gets rewarded for their behavior, and rejects the whole institution of education as a result? Are the hegemonic kids smarter than the subaltern kids? I would guess not. There is probably an even division of intelligence between both “slices” – maybe even more intelligence in the subalterns – less “lemming” effect. And yet we deny higher education (where the leaders of the next generation will come from) to the subalterns. That’s scary.

  • Posted by Elijah
    June 25, 2007

    Where exactly did Boyd get her statistics? I don’t think there’s any accuracy in her “report.” She is demeaning, racist, and homophobic. MySpace has been a success, and continues to be, because it is a diverse social networking site, not a site that promotes segregation, as Boyd seems to suggest.

    Posted by Justin Fox
    June 25, 2007

    Here’s Boyd’s explanation of her methodology (from the end of the essay I link to above):

    “I have been engaged in ethnolographic research on social network sites since February 2003 when I began studying the practices that emerged on Friendster. I followed the launch and early adoption of numerous social network sites, including Tribe.net, LinkedIn, Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Dodgeball, and Orkut. In late 2004, I decided to move away from studying social network sites to studying youth culture just in time for youth to flock to MySpace.

    “The practice of ‘ethnography’ is hard to describe in a bounded form, but ethnography is basically about living and breathing a particular culture, its practices, and its individuals. There are some countables. For example, I have analyzed over 10,000 MySpace profiles, clocked over 2000 hours surfing and observing what happens on MySpace, and formally interviewed 90 teens in 7 states with a variety of different backgrounds and demographics. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. I ride buses to observe teens; I hang out at fast food joints and malls. I talk to parents, teachers, marketers, politicians, pastors, and technology creators. I read, I observe, I document….”

    Posted by Laura
    June 25, 2007

    Hmmm. Maybe the reason facebook attracts more college bound students is because it started as a COLLEGE STUDENTS ONLY networking site. It was only opened to everyone a few months ago. Facebook tries to become Myspace every day with their new additions and changes.

    I agree with Elijah on his opinion of Boyd and the report.

    Posted by Elijah
    June 25, 2007

    We should keep in mind that Facebook used to be accessible only by students, so there is probably some sort of correlation there. MySpace has been available, since the beginning, to all kinds of users. Facebook only recently opened up to non-students.

    And what purpose, exactly, does Boyd’s analysis serve? I think erroneous studies such as this one help to perpetuate discrimination in our society, especially among teens. How are these statistics useful from an economical standpoint?

    The danger of offering information without proving its significance is that it could cause further disparities between particular groups — an “us” versus “them” mentality that’s very harmful not only to Facebook and MySpace, but to the real world that young people already live in.

    Finally, I also find it rather convenient that Boyd’s report appears during this “Facebook vs. MySpace” battle that has recently erupted.

    Posted by YMM
    June 25, 2007

    Ok, I started off writing a really long rant that I had to stop and reread it before I got it. The essay, if you can call it that, is purely anecdotal, and personal. I was really taken aback at first but her lack of quantitative detail to support her premise. It’s clear to me now its really more of an opinion of what she has seen without all of the necessary statistics to back it up.

    Ok so Justin, do you know of anyone working on academic papers considering the idea of socio-economic factors impacting the usage and adoption of social-networking sites? I can think of a couple of interesting concerns that would arise, say, who is graduating to LinkedIn – the importance being, continuing to build and develop connections into a professional experience, and become part of the larger business community.

    Just a thought, curious if you see anything interesting out there to read. This one…is ok at best…

    Posted by Justin Fox
    June 25, 2007

    I don’t know of anyone doing this kind of work other than Danah Boyd, and I agree that her stuff can be kinda impressionistic. So if anybody finds anything better, let me (and YMM) know.

    Posted by Ken Roberts
    June 25, 2007

    When I read this story on another site, I immediately wanted to yell out that Facebook started as a website for COLLEGE students. Only a few months ago did it start allowing in the teens. Of course people who go to college tend to value certain cultural elements over others. If we were all freaks as the writer suggests MySpace users are, then we probably wouldn’t have made it to college in the first place.

    This article is very insulting on many levels. First of all it labels Facebook users as “teens”, whereas most college students are not teenagers. Then it refers to people who use Facebook as “hegemonic”. Are we trying to dominate people now? Jeez!

    According to this writer, the world is simply made up of homogeneous successful people and a diverse array of freaks. You cannot simplify a population of people like that! It serves no purpose, is inaccurate, and divides people.

    Posted by William Hija
    June 25, 2007

    How undermining of others. What kind of ignorant fool would generalize on such a matter? Ill tell you who, one who is spiteful on the inside and believes they know all. I was in football and NJROTC and I have a myspace. Im going to college too. So I guess basically what I am trying to say is, go to hell racist. Thank you.

    Posted by Yadgyu
    June 25, 2007

    Danah Boyd = Pseudo Intellectual.

    She is making stuff up to get attention. She really doesn’t know too much about anything. She is another college student who is going to use the fact that she has a degree as a sign of intellectual superiority over others. She probably will end up writing a few books and will be on Oprah and other news shows to explain her “research” to drones who like useless information. Anyone, including me, can state an opinion and throw in some random generalities and present it as fact. This chick should just run for office already. Her lies and trickery would suit her well in Washington D.C.

    Posted by Juan
    June 25, 2007

    As a Latino/Hispanic individual I find this article to grossly misrepresent the tendencies of ethnic groups. It has already been stated in previous comments that most students using facebook are college students due to the fact it was previously open only to those attending college. I may not have taken a large sample as the author did, but in my experience every hispanic I know joined facebook upon entering college. Looking at the pages of facebook members it is probably more appropriate to label the members as being “hegemons” by virtue of their attendance in a higher learning institute rather than their social status.

    Posted by Nora
    June 25, 2007

    I like how people reflexively jump all over this woman’s assertions on class divisions in this country. They are her personal opinions on a very touchy topic (and boy, some people do really have their class/socio-economic panties in a bunch if one were to go on the comments on this thread). She made it crystal clear in the beginning of her article that what she was doing was sloppy and impressionistic, that it was simply anecdotal. She never said that this was definitive and backed by hard stats; her constant apologies over the inexactitude of her essay actually got rather bothersome. That being said, she brings to light some good points. Firstly, of course Facebook is college based. The question here is not to dispute that very obvious fact but to underline an interesting dynamic: WHY was a college-based internet network set up in the first place? The whole modus operandi of Facebook, from its very inception at Harvard, was to be elitist, to be the anti-MySpace. Only until recently has that not been the case. So it would only stand that those people who seek to differentiate themselves by class would be attracted to a network like Facebook. And differentiation by class need not be a consciously malicious action either, which some people here implied. You can be a poor Hispanic military guy and still go on to Facebook because a) your college friends are there and b) it’s such a tiny action that it really doesn’t register in your head. Yet that’s what’s so interesting, and sometimes so insidious, about class-based decisions. They’re so hum-drum and blase that they really don’t register. Only upon making a cumulative number of decisions (or those decisions being made for you) do you end up in whichever “class” you presently find yourself. And in this society, those decisions are very much predicated on the income you make, on the wealth you have. Since Facebook and MySpace are just so much of the cultural flotsam that surrounds us every day, we never really think about the class-inspired factors upon which their existence is based. It is in highlighting that reality that Danah did a good job, and so good in fact that plenty of you reacted like she had killed a baby seal or something. Oh, and I am a Hispanic lesbian female, if any of you wondered about my “allegiances”.

    Posted by Yadgyu
    June 25, 2007

    Facebook should go back to being for college students only. Those “lower class” members scare me.

    Posted by Elizabeth
    June 25, 2007

    It’s unbelievable how quickly this posting spread to other media outlets such Guardian Unlimited UK and BBC News. All this buzz around an amateur paper written by an amateur “academic.” Folks, this could’ve easily been a homework assignment turned in by an uninformed high school student.

  • Jeremiah

    A college-originated network will naturally have more college-educated users. Further, I think your cafe-working, Engles-reading 14K p/year friends have colored your view of the world a bit too much. You’ve compared an apple to an orange through the forced lense of “class”.

    One thing is for sure: That this paper should be heralded throughout the media as some sort of definitive “study” does harm to all of academia.

  • I think one of the most important things to note about Facebook (and the hegemonic group of teens, period) is that they *want* to be separated from the sub-alterns. Even if the sub-alterns come into their SNS of choice, Facebook, they will still be shunned by the hegemonics. It isn’t just a matter of each group choosing the SNS that appeals to them; the “upper” class in this case is trying to keep Facebook to themselves.

  • David Owen

    These are some interesting observations. I think you make too much of the good kid/bad kid “societal approval” distinction. To state the obvious, social networks grow via social networks- whether it is being invited to join online or whether you hear about which site is “cool” from your real world friends. Given that Facebook started in college-educated circles, it seems obvious that as it expands, its users will systematically reflect the demographic differences between the college-educated/college-bound and society at large. In other words, real world social networks precede online social networks. As others have commented, I think you also ignore the differences in utility between the two sites. I think that many who adopt Facebook over MySpace do so because of Facebook’s greater utility. I started using social networking sites after graduating from college, so I think my decisions were based more on personal utility than societal expectations. I first joined MySpace, and then Facebook within a couple months. I found that the recent activity updates on Facebook and the subsequent development of applications like marketplace gave me a reason to keep logging in, whereas MySpace was mostly static. This could reflect a subjective understanding of utility given that I was not interested in making “friends” with random people on the internet, but rather enhancing my real world trusted social network with internet capabilities. For someone who is a loner I could see how MySpace might provide greater utility in being able to connect with a virtual community. I think the demographic differences are largely be explained by 1)a legacy effect of Facebook’s origins and 2)differences in subjective utility

  • Hi danah, I saw this article linked to on MetaFilter today and as I was composing a reply to point out the differences between Canadian trends in MySpace and Facebook to the ones you described it turned into a much longer piece, wo I posted it to my own blog.

    Userbase Fragmentation in Social Networks in Canada.

    Just so as not to beg for blog hits, the gist of what I wrote is that in Canada Facebook’s roots of strong institional identification aren’t as strong. While MySpace did become popular first, it was limited to Indie Rock fans ans people who identified with a particular subculture, but one that did require even some small amount of creativity to participate in. Meanwhile Facebook became incredibly popular with people who never otherwise would have wanted any kind of online presence, these people get on the site to get in touch with friends, but don’t use it as a platform for self-expression the way MySpace suers intricately arrange their Top Friends to reflect their personal tastes and friendships.

    So in Canada Facebook is used by almost everyone, MySpace is still used mostly by people who have something to share. An x-factor taht doesn’t fit well into the class strata of the American users.

  • my own research agrees with the thesis.

    simply put, I believe the division observed is due to how the userbase grew — myspace was free for all, facebook was only for school kids with verifiable school emails. Further, MS tended to be ‘messy’ while FB reinforced consistency even after it opened its doors to all. For these same reasons you see a similar division between MS/FB and LinkedIn/Plaxo users — the latter thought to be a professional network with many more professionals/executives than the former. You could go further socioeconomically if you put http://asmallworld.net in the mix.

  • Josh Stern

    Hi Danah,
    I read this essay, and I noticed the way you used words like classed, problematic, hegemonic, and subaltern, and I thought, “wow, she really belongs in Brown modern culture and media.” And then it turned out you were at Brown. I’ve often thought that elite schools are interchangeable in terms of the type of people that they produce (generally even brighter, harder-working, and more liberal than when they entered), but perhaps there really is something unique about a school and the culture it imparts to its students. Although I suppose it’s possible that you didn’t take a single mcm class at brown and picked up this vocab at some later point. I found your essay thought provoking. Big up yourself.
    -Josh

  • You said myspace was dominated by fringe kids (among many other things). The thing that struck me was that those fringe kids aren’t necessarily socio-economically different – but they are the creatives.

    And that would make sense – myspace allows much personal expression visually and aurally, while facebook, to date, doesn’t. So the kids who want to connect first flock to facebook, while the kids who want to express themselves (and connect, too) use myspace.

    Just a thought…

  • Alex

    “I have analyzed profiles from all 50 states (and DC and Puerto Rico). …I do not have access to Facebook profiles…”

    Just a couple quick comments. I grew up on Guam, the US’s other territory, and I thought you might be interested in PFG (People From Guam), an old SNS that was for reconnecting people on the island with friends who had lived on the island and moved away, or vice versa.

    Also, you do have access to FB profiles – get an account, join your local network (most college kids will be in the network for their school, and one for the area they grew up in), and start surfing profiles. Also, once you’re on FB, you could probably take advantage of the SNS power available to you to collect further information (I believe FB now has a polling application).

  • reyhan

    danah — totally fascinating stuff, as your long, long list of commenters have noted. i’m curious whether you think that the people behind the sites have had much control over how this split has happened. clearly, myspace isn’t excited about being the scary social networking site filled with lurking pervs, but maybe subalterns have marketing advantages for them that the preppies lack? time has showed the SNS sites without flexibility sink. it’ll be interesting to see whether how myspace reacts to being banned in certain places, and tainted with the classist assumptions that go along with all the bling. facebook, too, has expanded so far beyond the first ivy networks that its growth makes it too unwieldy to steer. the proprietors of the sites will have to deal with the changes you’ve noted, and how they do so might be revealing.

  • CT

    Very interesting writeup, though I do not completely buy in to the need for a clear stratification.
    (Much of my thought about such issues has been influenced greatly by Amartya Sen[1]’s writings and lectures on identity, culture and the common mistake of ‘classification’ of intrinsically diverse and many-faced people. The notion of universally pervasive diversity, and the need to validate any sort of classification by making sure the identity of people is not understood in a one-dimensional sense.)

    Aside:
    You mention a class stratification within Orkut as well. Could you post some information about that, maybe the next time you visit this topic? Class is a different beast altogether in the Indian context, and I’d love to know what you have observed regarding class formalization in the internet social networks of the Indian subcontinent(Orkut is the behemoth, as I understand).

    1: Expounded in Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny, and oft repeated elsewhere in his work.