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

  • chad

    “Munchy”, Tall Style………I liked it. Made some good points – it was weird. I’m 31 – I’ve had a myspace acct for about 2.5 yrs. Just got a facebook acct. I had heard about it about 6 mo. ago – but figured -its the same damn thing! But, for highschoolers – that shit matters.

    I support Bush, and the war. I found your take on blocking Myspace by the military thought-provoking. The sad thing is though, is that you listed a bunch of legitimate reasons – some ok, the bandwidth – which I can see being an issue, and the disillusionment from being at war with an enemy you can’t see until you’ve been fired upon for so long, knowing that your enemy has the luxury of a press that IS willing to give them the benefit of the doubt; with no end in sight an equally legitimate excuse – I hope its wrong, and it is the bandwidth, but its something that will have to stay on the radar. We’ll never know the truth about that one. But still, a clever insight.

    Also, I think as we age and mature we understand our surroundings and environment better. Stop worrying. Were you so worried when you were their age? Thats the curse of experience I guess. We don’t have any when we’re young so we’re ignorant of what can go wrong so we just plow ahead anyway.

    What happened to the blacksmith when Henry Ford came along? Remember the A&P? Nobody does – they were the corner grocery store in urban areas at the dawn of the 20th century. Stop worrying about McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Maybe everybody’s ass got big all of a sudden because people are starting to figure out how to use this new fangled technology and don’t have to do manual labor, or better yet, have fun on their computers and thus don’t take a walk, or grow a garden because of the shift in how we use our free-time. Thats the beauty of capitalism – we can build and destroy without the blessing of an autocratic bureaucracy continually worried if the next technological breakthrough threatens its survival. If anything, you should feel better about teens using this technology to forge a community. “Back in my day” we didn’t have this shit!

    We’ve always use something, anything to differentiate ourselves, and bind with others, we something to define us along the trip.

    I really enjoyed your paper. I’m always interested in a good class breakdown!

    Well done.

  • Great post Danah, definitely opened up a controversial “can of worms”

  • When the facebook craze first hit colleges, it took them about 6 months to add my school to the network. Up to that point, I had joined myspace because all of my friends who didn’t go to college back home were very into it. Up until recently, (and I’m 22) I had left the page do its natural defaults out of protest against the “bling” culture as you noted and also as a symbol of my “sudden” ineptitude with a new “technology” (I started a software company when I was in middle school). Your paper highlights themes that I have noticed with increasing alarm. I work in urban community development. I’ve worked extensively to fight racism for years now and I’m beginning to notice that while inequities along racial lines are still clear, they are beginning to follow lines of class rather than race. Continue your great work. I wish you the best of luck. If I can in any way help you, you have merely to let me know. Thanks a lot.

  • Good stuff. I think tribalism is inevitable but technology will reduce the walls between online communities — my blog will collect responses written anywhere.

    Two typos: “It’s popularity on the coasts” and “lack of worth ethic”.

  • Great post. But Facebook was limited to those with a college/uni email address before so you would expect to find more graduates on it. Could that explain the “class divide”?

  • Holly

    I just wanted to say this was a really interesting read. Any article that includes the phrase “le sigh” is automatically tops in my book. Hehe.

    I didn’t really read through the above comments… So this may have already been mentioned… A few years ago I took a class called Inequality and Society. One point that I took away from this class was the idea that we are all basically taught that we are middle class. It lulls us into this sense of being normal, average, etc. It also keeps us from feeling the ever growing divide between the people who have resources, and those who don’t. It’s just another way to distract us from the REAL goings on in the nation. Perhaps that’s some of the disconnect/discomfort you are feeling in speaking to these people. Maybe it’s more that they don’t really KNOW.

    Nonetheless, I definitely enjoyed reading a sociological analysis regarding the internet. I think it’s a whole new world (almost literally) that is not really at the forefront of study. Thank you. :o)

  • Very innovative approach to this competition between social enviroments. I enjoyed it alot.

  • Thank you for an insightful perspective on today’s teens.

    Did you talk to homeschooled kids at all?

  • Lynn

    Greetings-
    I just read an article on bbcnews that referenced this essay and your research. Within that BBC article it didn’t mention whether you had looked at the marketing tools of facebook and its origin. Seeing as how it began as a college online yearbook of sorts, it only makes sense that wealthy white students are represented. The founder happened to be attending Harvard at the time, clue? Facebook is very much a representation of the statistics of college-bound America. While the site has opened to high school students, it is still very much seen as a college networking site and on. High school students who are planning on attending college (students who take honors courses, are more active etc) are likely to choose Facebook based on its history. Your observation seems merely an observation of America’s numbers.

  • Thom Cleland

    Hi danah. Fascinating; thanks. You probably know of this ref, but if not you might be interested — it’s another of the efforts to parse the fairly unacknowledged American class system. It meshes with your thesis pretty well, and might offer some shared language to describe your work. It’s often painfully true, and often funny as well.

    Paul Fussell. “Class: a guide through the American status system.”

    Thanks. But ouch. I suppose it was inevitable.

  • Carlos

    “Americans aren’t so good at talking about class and I’m definitely feeling that discomfort. It’s sticky, it’s uncomfortable, and to top it off, we don’t have the language for marking class in a meaningful way.”

    Uncomfortable? Discomfort? Similar to that which you feel when you try to ignore an elephant in a room?

    Your analysis is slightly flimsy (you get too far up your head), but good. Staying away from class critique, however, renders it superficial.

  • I print out your essays using my office computer and read it during office hours. So listen, have them in black and white because, eventually, my boss will find out! 😉

    But you do realise that facebook was very very targeted at first before eventually opening up to the public. so that might/could explain some of the “class divides” to a certain extent.

  • Very interesting article, Danah! I don’t find the findings very surprising, though:

    As choices by my peers do effect my desision making, even a slightly higher chance of liking something because my friends do can have a dramatical impact on the overall affinity of different groups to different networks. It’s therefore only natural that members of different sociodemographic groups making choices in dependence of the choices of their peers are a perfect example for power laws at play, resulting in the divide witnessed. Even a minor skew of the early adopters within each network towards a certain sociodemographic (which clearly existed between Facebook and MySpace from the get go) is therefore very likely to result in a permanent skew in the sociodemographic affiliation.

  • naseem

    This is extremely interesting. And I do think your attempt to document the MySpace/Facebook divide is novel, even if some individuals think it obvious. This is definitely the first time I’ve seen or read anything about it.

    I wanted to note that what jumped out at me in this article is the racialization of the phenomenon. You mentioned briefly that hegemonic kids are mostly white; that doesn’t seem to surprise me, as high SES and whiteness are very highly correlated in this country, and low SES and racial minority status are very highly correlated. I’ve always felt that the root of this stratification is racism and historical discrimination, but that these trends are now being perpetuated and self-reinforced. Poverty is, after all, a vicious cycle (which your cafe-working, Engels-reading friends are not actually stuck in, hence your observation that they’re not actually working-class or poor).

    Anyway, given that SES is sometimes just a proxy for race — especially in academic literature — I just wanted to suggest the possibility, perhaps more explicitly than you did in the article, that a lot of the Facebook exclusivity may come down to racism, plain and simple. So perhaps racism, and its associated stereotypes and assumptions, might explain why Facebook, and in turn, MySpace have developed the way they have.

    Just a thought. And again, very interesting — thank you for bringing it to light.

  • I have used your studies in workshops I help lead on good youth development through online social networks. I personally engage young people through both of these social networks and see things slightly different from you.

    This recent work of yours seems to completely abandon the notion of what you have called in past studies “identity production.” If by there programed nature the two sites differ in ID production abilities this maybe what you are seeing.

    An example from my own work. I volunteer once a month as a part of my job at an LGBT (Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual and Trans-gender) teen center in my city. These students hands down use MySpace. They completely snub their noses at Facebook. When I asked them why they liked MySpace over Facebook the answers where all the same. “Facebook profiles are boring.” It is well documented that the need for identity production (online or off) in LGBT young people can last well into their late 20’s. This social group needs the ID production of MySpace more than they need the networking capacity of Facebook. It has nothing to do with economics as a majority of the young people I work with at this center come from white, suburban, upper-middle class homes.

    When you look at the development stages of young people their need for identity production is more common between the ages of 12-16. Which is why those that work with high school juniors and seniors will commonly hear from them, “MySpace is so Junior High.” Juniors and seniors, college bound or not, are in the life stage of wanting to hold on to those that for four years they have considered “bff’s” and at the same time are looking for the adventure of what future relationships will bring them. For them, identity production becomes insignificant and networking capacity becomes paramount. This is a relationship issue for the students not a socioeconomic class struggle.

    Your assumption that Facebook/Myspace usage is an either/or decision is over worked. Our organization recently did an online survey and found that over 68% of respondents used both social networks. We do see as students get older there is a transition in the amount of time spent on each network, but there is still time spent on both. Personally when I look at the percentage of users who return daily to these sites (50% FaceBook, 15% MySpace (self reported of course)), I wonder who really uses MySpace at all.

    I do think there is stratification of users on these two sites. I just personally believe it is between the need for identity production and the need for network capacity.

  • A few quick thoughts & questions on an excellent “pre-draft” essay. I completely agree that Bourdieu is the lens to explain this, as it seems that the issue is only partly class in terms of economics, but more in terms of cultural capital and habitus. Based on your discussion, kids choose a preferred SNS in part based on where they are now, but more based on where they want to be in the future. A poor but upwardly-mobile teen might go to Facebook to create an imagined community beyond their face-to-face scenario, using the site to gain cultural capital. Your barista friends may not be mobile, but they imagine themselves as part of a cultural sphere beyond their economic means.

    So how does this all relate to the classic rhetoric of imagined identity surrounding the Web 1.0? If “nobody knows your a dog,” how does an SNS allow for a different self-construction that’s more directly tied to your “dog-ness”? (Hope the stretched metaphor is clear…)

    And how do the actual coding interfaces impact these distinctions – is the freedom to self-design your site on MySpace a way of enacting a freedom that subaltern teens lack in other spaces? And might the recent opening up of Facebook’s API to allow for more “blinging” change these dynamics?

    Finally, I’m really curious about how these sites function as metaphorical geographies. Are there parallels to RL spaces that are similarly classed & culturally stratified? I’m thinking of suburban malls vs. urban shopping areas, auto shop vs. school music rooms, public vs. private recreational areas, etc.

    I look forward to reading (and teaching) the essay as it evolves!

  • Dear Danah,

    I’ve summarised and linked to your article “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace” on Social Networking Watch at
    http://onlinepersonalswatch.typepad.com/social_networking_watch/2007/06/is-america-spli.html.

    Please let me know if I can be of assistance as you work on future articles covering the internet dating or social networking industries.

    Mark Brooks
    OnlinePersonalsWatch.com
    SocialNetworkingWatch.com

    USA: 212-444-1636
    UK: 020-8133-1835
    Bio: http://301url.com/brooks

  • Byron Sonne

    Umm, to you idiots questioning the methodology of the paper… did you even read the bloody thing? It’s stated pretty clear that it’s based on rather unscientific observations.

    if you’re going to criticize, at least read. Idiots.

  • Another text that I’m vaguely remembering is Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style, if only because it seems to me from your post and from the comments that follow that the aesthetics of MySpace figures quite importantly in the choice of SNS provider. Like punk or other rebellious genres, the purposeful aesthetic repulsion of a dominant culture (as defined vis-a-vis that subculture — it could be class, generational, etc) seems to be one of the attractive features of MySpace to what you term “subaltern” youth.

    One thing I appreciate about your and related lines of research is your rejection of technological determinism. Culture, economics, etc. remain powerful forces, and those who proselytize a techno-utopian future had better work a lot harder at understanding the multiple currents that drive us apart in addition to coming up with neat but idealistic ways of bringing us together.

  • Erek Tinker

    I read over your article, but haven’t read many of the responses wanting to give my response fresh.

    One thing you seem to have overlooked is overlap. You give a cursory glance to the division between ages. MySpace is much more centered around entertainment and consumption whereas Facebook is much more about networking. It’s not just an aesthetic thing but an usability thing. I am 29 years old and I recently joined Facebook because an organization I am working with needed to do networking, and it is much more efficient. If you want to send out an invite you just invite everyone in certain categories, like i can invite everyone in my network from New York. With MySpace I have to click each person individually, it’s a pain in the ass.

    Another thing that you seem to have is this idea that one class is distinctly better than the other, that if given the proper tools the subaltern class would rather jump to the hegemonic class because it has better opportunities, but that is not necessarily true.

    You mention that you did not do much research in the rural categories. I think you should look into this, as there is a much greater networking culture in urban areas, regardless of class distinction than there is among rural folk.

  • Sandy

    “I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate this division for months.”

    Snobs. The word you’re looking for is snob, dear. Snobs setting up artificial walls between people, the way snobs have always done.

    Maybe you want to actually TALK to the uneducated riff-raff and ask them whether they’ve been to prison, or even know anybody who has, before you start making judgments that everyone who hasn’t been to college is inferior to you.

  • the_elephant

    People in these comments are missing the fact that those born to financial privilege deliberately reject people who will not benefit their careers.

    They avidly seek out “imposters” who are “Just trying to use my (important) family.”

    They believe, as so many right here in the comments section seem to believe, that wealth and intelligence are correlated. That one would never be an intelligent, liberal, kind, cultured, tasteful technically savvy person unless one can AFFORD an elite university.

    Fact: I was accepeted to elite private colleges, but my family could not pay for them.
    Fact: Financial aid does not cover the expenses for most children in my position.

    Fact: Many people who did not attend elite, expensive universities are being harmed lifelong, kept from making social contributions or decent careers, just because “times are tough, competiton is high, we may as well arbitrarily favor the well-off, oh, it’s embarrassing to feel sorry for those people or GUILTY, so…. we don’t really want to befriend people who are not going to reciprocate benefit for us!”

    So — why not justify it with the LIE that naturally all capable, healthy and kind people can afford the very most expensive schools, in fact, that the upper class is created from those who are TRULY superior as INDIVIDUALS.

    Blame the victim: Divide and conquer: unite with your clique and RULE

    The fact that individuals from disenfranchised and disadvantaged groups have made vital contributions in the cultural and techinical realms, again and again and again — oh, —- well…….

  • nalini

    I’m always excited to see discussions of class (and its explanatory power) problematized, particularly when it comes to ICTs and the Internet. I would like to clarify Danah’s gracious characterization of my research of lifestyle and class.

    Income definitely matters, in and of itself, as well as a component of class; in most societies, it matters a great deal, explaining people’s ability to survive and flourish. However, income alone is not class (most scholars/observers of class, of course, know this, of course, and it is the point Danah mentions in reference to her Engels-reading, cafe-working, $14K-earning friends). I just wanted to make sure that danah�s readers didn�t think I argue for the irrelevance of income, far from it!

    My dissertation work (to which Danah refers) argues that while class (income, education and occupation) explains a great, great deal about people’s technology-related behaviors, it is not the only way to think about similarities and differences between people at large (much less users of Facebook vs. MySpace). People�s lifestyles (their leisure behaviors and attitudes), even when controlleing for class and other demographics, explain how people in the U.S. and Canada, use technology, according to my analysis (article in progress).

    In part because class helps us understand and explain much of social life, it�s no doubt important in understanding the distinction between Facebook and MySpace (of which I know nothing). While I sympathise with, I don�t necessarily share danah�s heartbreak about the class divide being reflected and reproduced in this arena. The Facebook vs. MySpace difference provides an excellent opportunity to ask difficult questions of how people see themselves as like or unlike other people (and when and how that matters), and while class is unquestionably one answer, it cannot be the only one.

  • Forgive me if I repeat some comments from previous posts. I just could not get through the whole bunch! I did thoroughly enjoy your piece! Thanks!

    First comment:
    Facebook is becoming quite big here in South Africa. Myspace seems (to me though i’m sure it isnt) almost nonexistent. This is weird when you first think about it because you would assume South Africans to be ‘subaltern’. However, I think the reason for this is that current usage of social networking in SA is based primarily on access to internet. Since ‘subalterns’ dont have access to the internet, there is no one to choose myspace. The people joining facebook are the white South Africns and primarily highly educated black elite (black is used here to group together “African”, “Coloured” and “Indian” South Africans).

    Second comment:
    I found Jake Lockley’s post a bit offensive especially when he referred to more intelligent people using Facebook. Though I’m sure he didn’t mean it, he should have at least put intelligence in quotations.

    Third:
    Although I agree with most of the essay, I dont think that class divisions have more to do with lifestyle and social stratification than income. I think that ignores the reality that income is the primary (though definitely not the only) determinant of a person’s lifestyle/social stratification. The example of “anti-capitalist” college friends (and/or “hipsters”) who make 14,000 a year ignores the fact that their parents are from a wealthier income bracket. It was partly their experience in that income bracket that determined their choice of lifestyle. In fact, they in many ways choose to make 14,000 when they have the ability and connections to make a lot more. So I would say that these ‘alternative’ college students are still within the upper income bracket because of their parents’ income. I would caution you to not put to much of an over-reliance on the idea of ‘social capital’ which tends to mask the reality that culture is dynamic and one of its determinants is income.

    Fourth:
    Its very scary to see such a divide online – already. Its proving the concern many of us have about all the talk of how Web2.0 is going to fix all our social ills and how its supposedly the great equalizer. I do think that Web2.0 will provide us with a lot of tools to bridge social divides, for activism, and to reduce our dependence on the markets control over us (such as an independent media). However, I dont think it is the great equalizer. In fact, I think that the ideology behind Web2.0 mirrors neoliberalism in many ways. Because its ‘free’ its supposed to allow equal access to everything. However, we all know (or should know) that the market actually produces inequality just as Web2.0 is likely to produce inequality. I dont think this means that Web2.0 is bad but it does mean that we have to manage, restrict, and make sure it works for the benefit of the ‘subaltern’ and the ‘oppressed’.

  • David Ambrose

    I wanted to post this as a lot of my friends in academia and life have been sending me over to this page. Danah, you’re right on the money, but I’m surprised this late:

    “There’s a PhD candiatde at the USC Annenberg School of Communciation (which is up there in my book) by the name of danah boyd. (That’s right she doesn’t capitalize her first and last name.) News broke out today that her paper, “Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace,” is right on the money. You know what? She is, but she’s late to it. The PEW Foundation for the Internet as well as her own university’s Digital Future center have detailed this “hegemonic” phenomenon one year earlier. I started my own project 8 months ago and came to this exact conclusion, using HARD DATA. Her “ethnographic” approach is believe-by-words only. Here’s what she says:

    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.

    danah, please amuse me and present the hard data. I have mine right here for you:

    Despite the growth in connectivity of Americans, not all groups (older Americans are much less wired than younger Americans; minorities are less connected than whites; those with modest amounts of income and education are less wired than those with college education and household incomes over $75,000, those with jobs are more likely than those without jobs to have access, parents of children under 18 living at home are more likely than non-parents to be online and rural Americans lag behind suburban and urban Americans in connectivity) are on the same level.

    …the website was originally intended for a select audience of college and university students along the Northeast United States coast. Users generally came from a rich, suburban and white background. Although Facebook.com has expanded its demographic base, users of this sort still entail a high proportion of site traffic.

    If you want to read what I researched, take a look here (http://www.scribd.com/doc/100515/Virtual-Interactive-Communication-A-Bicultural-Survey-Through-the-Lens-of-Web-20). I leave you with words of wisdom from “fintheman” off Digg:

    “This research is very flawed as there are no true polling samples, only assumptions made.

    Please, tell the author to learn how to actually collect data correctly before trying to throw around words of “socio-economic divides”

    Anyways, if he was able to accurately assess that data, he’d be a millionaire just for having that kind of information as it is very valuable to any marketing company out there.”—–BINGO

    edit: there’s no right way to characterize the demographics of online communities, but there should be a balance. i believe qualititative and quantiative data are the means to this end.

  • nick s

    danah:

    does this tie in with your post about email/IM distinctions? To me, it feels like Facebook fills a gap for those who went online before ICQ, particularly late in high school or college, which accounts for the big thirtysomething takeup right now. To me, it seems easier to gravitate from being ’email generation’ to Facebook.

  • Celi

    I enjoyed your essay.

    I’d like to add my own perspective, as an avid Facebook user.

    I noticed that Facebook was for the “cooler” kids from the start, when in April its name had started being thrown around my school. I’d heard things, even seen the site, but could not register without being invited. I was hardly associated with any “cool” kids at this point, and since had no way of gaining access to Facebook, until, through a friend of a friend, I was invited. That was the start of my own experience with others in my school; before I was rather isolated from the other groups and clicks within my high school. Upon joining Facebook, I had quadrupled my ability to see what was going on with them, nonchalant and non-intrusive. I connected and reconnected with classmates and friends on Facebook. It opened up an entire world for me, and in a much better way than Myspace, which I think is probably part of the attraction.

    I think that before Facebook was open to the public, a recent member would gain a level of respect from fellow Facebookers.
    When they saw that you were also on the site, they realized that you were “in”; one of “them” had considered you worthy of the “club”, as it were.

    And even within Facebook, there is social class separation. Your rank in society is often subtly based on if you are in a city network in addition to a school network. It also depends on what your profile picture looks like, even down to the quality of the image (i.e., if you had a high-quality digital camera, and etc.), and how many pictures you are tagged in on Facebook – the more pictures, the more of a “life” you have, because people are taking pictures of you. Even the pictures you upload of yourself count – it shows that you have the digital camera, and the ability. This is spawned from the famed “myspace pose”, the phenomenon of taking dozens of pictures of your self at a certain angle and posting them on your profile. Often a characteristic of your “subaltern” labeled members, specifically “hardcore” or “emo” kids.

    And as far a unanimous opinion of Myspace goes, its considered “trashy”, “ugly”, “tacky”, and all-around, in a sense, just low-rent. Also, it is considered as “middle-school”, because it is flashy and immature. Additionally, you have to be in high school to be on Facebook. So really, Myspace is a less superior social networking site, because there are less requirements. You don’t have to be anything on Myspace, whereas on Facebook, you have to meet an age requirement. It gives Facebookers one up on a younger generation.

    (Though not to say that there aren’t people on Facebook that fit those characteristics; if those aspects of Myspace were available on Facebook, many would abuse them like nothing else.)

    So this, if nothing else, is a larger-than-intended rambling regarding my opinion of the Facebook/Myspace “rivalry”, as it were.

  • Hi there,
    I “reprinted” your article in my MySpace blog and am getting some interesting responses. Thanks for stirring the pot!

    http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.ListAll&friendID=81817452

  • brian619

    I found your observations and basic premise very interesting, especially in the light that you did not stay just with civilians and the young. That there would also be this division in the military, and that the military would ban the platform used by the enlisted and continue to allow officers access to Facebook shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.

    Until I read your essay I didn’t even know there was a difference in the profile of subscribers.

    Thanks for putting this essay out there, and thanks to all who have provided further input.

  • Tommy

    There are several problems with broad assumptions based strictly on numbers analyses like this. First of all, it doesn’t take into account users who are on both networks, such as myself and most of my friends (who are all of the college crowd). Second, it makes broad generalizations that don’t even come close to being true a significant amount of the time. For example, my parents did not go to college but I prefer Facebook to MySpace, and I’m sure there are plenty like me. Additionally, there are plenty of ‘burnouts’ and ‘alternative kids’ on Facebook. You forgot to take into account that Facebook includes city networks in addition to just schools, and that among the school networks are a majority of community colleges that would probably overlap the ‘lower income’ families which you claim to populate MySpace.

    In the end I don’t see what purpose numbers like this can hope to achieve. I’d be willing to accept that as a general rule, MySpace is populated by lower income children and offbeat kinds of people, and Facebook is populated by college educated folks. However, as I said, I fail to see any useful purpose to having that knowledge. Unless there is some constructive use to which this data can be put, it is nothing short of useless to make broad generalizations that run the risk of being very innaccurate just to slap labels on the social networking giants.

  • danah, this is a fascinating article. I can’t wait to see more hard numbers and the background research on the topic.

    Also, I hope that you plan to revisit the question again in a year or so – Facebook has been actively marketing to a different/larger demographic, and this will probably impact (a) who has access to it and (b) who/what drives people there.

    As someone who has only recently signed up to Facebook (in my 30’s, swore I’d never sign up for yet another social network, but am encouraged to by other people in my peer group who are hanging out and trying to do business there), I’m also interested in how the different technological capabilities of the two systems encourage certain behaviors. Myspace seems to be a geared towards people who are driven to creativity, whereas Facebook is more about presence.

  • That there is possibly / probably a class-based distinction between users of Facebook and MySpace–and what may be reasons for this, is very interesting. And, that these two sites have such huge numbers of members / users makes this more interesting than the demographic distinctions that might be observed between any two membership-oriented websites.

    But, I wonder how much the difference seen in people participating on each site is the result of the purpose of each site, i.e., Facebook is designed for a certain type of person, and MySpace is desgned for a different type of person.

    The types may be more generally “role” oriented than identity oriented. So, it’s not like one site is for surfers and the other for tennis players, but one site is for people who want to do X and the other for people who want to do Y. It’s possible that there are significant Xs and Ys, relevant to users, that are not specifically social connecting.

    If you generalize to “types” of people, while the types may map to class and other demographic distinctions, it may also reveal other significant drivers (in motivations towards membership) than social networks. Two obvious examples are the relationship between Facebook and the role of student, and the relationship between MySpace and the role of “fan” (of a band).

    In general, maybe a big role distinction is between people who want to perform the role of “student” (Facebook), and those who want a site where they perform not-student roles (MySpace).

  • Heytheremates

    Hehe, I’d just like to say I’m a complete nerd, farthest from mainstream as there is and definitely not a prep, and Myspace disgusts me, the minimalistic UI of facebook appeals to me much more.

  • I can’t picture myself adding to that huge conversation, but I promised I would do a peer-review grade comment on your coming papers (to prove blogs were just the right technology for academic discussion, and you just need to encourage your readers in making sound critics).

    I’m very happy that 90k people had access to a quality writer as yourself, and, as a charted statistician, I can assure everyone what you do is science, amazing and refreshing–and this is a great essay. I can’t imagine how you cope with all what was written here; if it can help, I’ll send you any form of crpes or whatever you fancy. Two brownie points for the author of the tree & forest image: it made my day.

    Regarding the reference format: I asked for such elements, because whether you like the tone or not, this is the best paper on a certain relation between class (a major social construct) and IT, and it might remain so for a while; I will want to point the (few) readers of my own academic work to the best available explanation on what is happening there.

    1. I’ve seen class effects on other networks in France (namely an instant adoption by a portion of the leading class that is trained since 14 y.o. to establish, structure, judge and use social ties) and I was. . . well, not happy of course, but interested to see more. I thing, though you focus on USA that you could try to classify all such mechanism to tell apart whether technology drives class, or if it the other way round; the reason to do so is to have cases with more or less explicit classes.

    2. The network effects are selecting a very limited number of SNS, two so far; are these two behaving like the two benches in the British parliament that lead to a two-party political system, or are they revealing the elephant in the room? Once again, I would be leaning in favor of an international comparison. How to build the paper without having you go against the only frontier in your work so far? Historic, maybe: would you know of a similar case where youngsters of another generation had to choose between to social tool and it revealed class (or not) in the USA?

    3. The Bourdivine arguments from _La Distinction_ are obvious (it’s a book in English too, right?); I would like to come back to that key point because I thing you touched something essential there without making as clear as needed, and it was understood very differently in your comments so far:

    – Social dimension in USA are: earnings, race, education; Marx, Bourdieu and others spectacular contribution was to say that those correspond to social ties, frames and behavior ; fine. That was last century social science masterpiece.
    – You mention “Hegemonic” and “Subaltern” as two possible “classes”. Though I love your two words, I’m not sure those are “classes” (neither that casts are for that sake; both are “social strata”: normative, exclusive, almost covering groups)
    * “Subaltern” from its etymology means “below and other, different”: that is the best word ever to describe you uneven bundle of “queers, art fags (etc.)”! It’s normative and still maintains a somewhat more decisive horizontal distance. It’s not just inferior, and that is what to love about it; it’s the ideal epithet for “sub-cultures”.
    * “Hegemonic” is not just normative per se either: it means dominant, but with a conquering, “I’ll force-feed my social frame onto you, no what how insensitive this proves I am” dimension that only XIXth century Colonization and that Good-Ol’ Red U.S. of A. are able to do. This is beautiful because it encompasses the jocks, “good kids”, grammar nazi in one form of narrow-minded dominance.

    You two groups are — of course blunt, etc. — but about attitude more then parental revenue or skill color. People go to FaceBook because it’s nice, and to MySpace because it’s ugly [Franck Z. 2006]; they are part of the same accepted, normative meta-frame: some force it onto everyone, other react to it–so we have a strength-induced, normative relation, but not the exact Marxian class struggle, neither the Bourdivine cross-race for the hype: people are simultaneously and consciously running into different direction.

    You paper is not about two classes that appear in America (though you have elements to do that, and it would be of historic importance in itself, and it would also be of historic importance that social science manage to isolate a phenomenon a generation in advance by observing the “siblings”, etc.) it is about two coherent, nation-wide semi-transparent loose pseudo-groups that are distinct by they attitude with the norm and, more importantly the others:
    – the Hegemonic Pilgrims that are Right and have the Sacred mission to Save the World from Indigence, non-WASPy-ness, spelling mistake and Lack of Features ;
    – the Sub-Cultural Rebels that are Cool because they are Against the Dominant Mainstream that is Uncool.

    I might have been over-interpreting. But I believe you should either consider the attitude to the social norm, or resolve to use “inferior” and “superior”.

    Whether mentioning it helps resolve the issue or not. . . It’s an important question. I believe understanding the problem is the first step of a long, political process whose issue is always difficult to forecast. This might induce MySpace into opening its service by allowing people to befriend accounts from other SNS–something I’ve been arguing for, for a year now.

  • Joe

    Facebook started for colleges.

    Myspace started for musicians.

    Learn history.

  • Fascinating post.

    A few random comments:

    As I think you realized you’ve got 2 divisions going on here.
    The first is in upper middle class schools between the straght-n-narrow kids and the alterna-kids. Because the latter do go to college- Yale, Oberlin, Bennington- those aren’t jocks.

    The second is between the upscale kids, who are early adopters of trends like Facebook and the downscale kids who find out about it a year later. Graphics, etc. are probably not the reason– the fact that MySpace is “so 2004” for the yuppies-in-training is more likely the reason.

    Interesting note about class not being tied to income. Check out the very popular new mom’s message board called urbanbaby.com. Class warfare in spades there since it attracts a very wealthy and very educated audience. They’ve coined a phrase: BPP (Bitter Poor Person) whose definition goes something like this: someone raised in an upper middle class family who attended a better college but is currently working in a low-paying white collar career (e.g. journalism, teaching, social work) who harbord intense resentment towards his/her peers who work on Wall Street and make 100 times as much money. Particularly because the BPP was likely a better student and more intellectual than the wealthy Wall Streeter.

    Back on track though– I suspect that as soon as the “downscale” kids discover Friendster, the Preppies will find a new social networking site to flock to. Again, I suspect that access to technology and living in a family/town/school where people are more tied in to trends is the deciding factor there.

  • great article.

    for the past year i’ve been involved in various guerrilla marketing campaigns on myspace and on facebook. in marketing to these two different demographics, i defined them the same way you did. my bosses had quite the hard time believing that this difference in users demographics existed, but since the campaigns were successful they came around.

    on a side note, there were similar observations made about the blogging community, in regard to the fact that bloggers were mostly white and male.

    and looking towards the future: i sincerely hope that technology and access to information will serve to overturn class, gender and race divisions instead of furthering them.

  • Person

    Scrolling through the comments, I’ve noticed the people who have the biggest problem with the paper based on their personal experience tend to be old enough that Facebook came out only after they graduated. Considering how the essay is focusing on how young people express socioeconomic-class identity via their Facebook/Myspace use, these people’s criticisms aren’t really relevant. This demographic was outside the dynamic of the paper. Similarly, if when VH1 first came on the air and a sociologist was interested in how teens and college students broke down in their preferences for either MTV or VH1 and how their expected life paths affected this, the fact that people 28 and older found that their experience with class, education and watching music videos differed from younger people’s experiences would also be peripheral to the main point and rather irrelevant.

  • Excellent essay. Very well thought-out indeed.

  • There’s no escaping human nature. We have social behaviors deeply embedded into us and so we congregate where others like us are.

    There’s a lot of comments about how the functionality is different between the two sites, but only technologists and maximizers would think about these sites this way. Without forcing a user to do research, both these sites appear similar in functionality, and sufficing users will ask first and foremost “which one are my friends already on” when considering one.

    All networks reinforce themselves by nature. To this point, Marketing is the part that worries me since these environments are designed to appeal to a certain group, and then those systems wall those users off into systems that don’t let them communicate to others unless they are also in the system. People are intentionally drawn in by the stuff they already know or already like. Close-mindedness has always been *the* social enemy of our times, and it is implemented as the aesthetics and content of a closed and marketed system.

    To ask someone to choose one system over another is to make a decision on something that has real social implications in terms of which friends are getting left out, what image is being promoted by the site, how outsiders view the users of the site and more. Unless these sites actively market and cater to all audiences equally, it makes perfect sense that class would ultimately get echoed into these systems.

  • Steve

    danah,

    I haven’t read the essay yet, but I worked my way through the comments. Here’s a few preliminary observations.

    If you were quoted correctedly as follows:

    “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.”

    Then I have to pick a nit about vocabulary. “Splice” means to join together. “Splice the hot wire to the high beam headlight wire”. “Slice” means to sever. “Slice that carrot into strips for the salad arrangement”.

    Aside from that, I am very happy that you have chosen to tackle the important subject of class considerations in online behavior. I have long felt that the study of online activity was inappropriately weighted in favor of the priveleged. Thank you.

    The storm of discussion around this article appears to have emerged because you chose to speak on a subject which is important, underdiscussed and emotionally volatile. I have noticed in the past that you sometimes appear to be sensitive to criticism – especially when it is unfair. I urge you not to let that bother you. Saying or doing anything that makes a significant difference will generate enemies for you. Choose your enemies wisely and wear them proudly!

    As to conceptualization of your two groups (couldn’t you have just called them uppers and lowers, or even tops and bottoms?), I have an idea. Years ago in my sociology classes, it was fashionable to express theoretical constructs with two-dimensional grids of 4 boxes. The two dimensions would be social variables of interest and the 4 squares of the grid would be labeled with the four possible high/low permutations from (high,high) to (low,low). Then each square would ger a name that was supposed to be evocative.

    So, for your analysis you could have one variable that would correspond to conventional notions of class. If you wanted to actually make up a metric for it you would probably have to pull together elements of family income, family occupational status, education (including educational background of parents and academic orientation of the subject) and race. This dimension (maybe just call it class) would represent how the subject is situated with regard to the larger society. It largely consists of elements which are beyond the subject’s direct control.

    Then the second dimension would be one of cultural style and would relate to how the subject’s social identity is constructed by self and others within the peer milieu. I envision the high and low ends of that dimension being conventional (e.g. preps and jocks) versus oppositional (e.g. goths, stoners, punks…)

    In this regard, I notice you quoted as saying something I think I’ve seen you say before which I disagree with. You identify the “goody two-shoes” kids as part of what I’m referring to as “conventional”. My perception, which may be out of date, is that adhering to the conventionally expressed norms of adult society (e.g. sobriety, chastity, obedience…) does not win points among a teen’s peers, but will get him/her looked down upon.

    (However, the rise of “Christian” as a salient teen social category is new since my day and may complicate that observation somewhat.)

    But, back to the grid, if you like the dimensions, then think up evocative names for the four boxes and fame and fortune will be yours 🙂

    I’ll try to comment more after I read the essay.

    You go, girl!

    -Steve

  • Will Warner

    Haven’t read any of the 187 comments yet, although I probably will soon. You practically need commenter moderation when you post something this popular.

    23 year old gay (kinda bi) male computer science major at the University of Texas here.

    I think you’re incorrect to include queer kids in the subaltern class. We’re in both, and not even necessarily more in the subaltern one, although maybe the kids who are out in high school are, since I can’t speak to that. Certainly the vast majority of my gay friends are relatively spoiled rich kids like me, and mainly on facebook like me. But I do keep myspace around, largely for a couple of hot friends who aren’t on facebook and aren’t rich. The often promiscuous and often closeted gay male subculture reaches across all sorts of divisions, and gay rights has come as far as it has as fast as it has largely because wealthy, powerful men like Roy Cohn kept coming down with AIDS in the 80s. As far as I can tell, the survivors and the estates of the departed have been bankrolling all sorts of things very quietly ever since, from the DNC to ACT UP.

    You compare facebook to Pottery Barn and myspace to Vegas, but I don’t think the comparison fits, because unlike Vegas decor and signage, flashy myspace pages actively interfere with communication. Plus, spam, Windows vs Linux servers, a coder founder– myspace is inferior in very real ways.

    As far as watching intertwined populations go online and continue to despise one another, you’re right, it is depressing. But there is hope. The groups already mix, people already switch between groups, and semi-anonymous online browsing, and having plenty of separate online identities, allow a whole lot more of that.

    In general, this article was fascinating and thought-provoking, and I thank you for it.

    If you want a window into facebook, I’d be willing to reset my password, turn it over to you for a while, then take it back and reset the password, although I would prefer that you use it read-only instead of posting anything. More to the point, I think very many others would do the same after reading this essay, although the ones who would and wouldn’t are a major selection bias, and if you get too large and open about recruiting them you might even draw the ire of the Terms of Service enforcers.

    Will Warner
    electronwill at gmail

  • Late to the party. but still chiming in!

    interesting ideas, looking forward to a bigger work!

    and I’d like to openly mock all the obsession with “hard data” (ooh my) and all the blather about how without numbers it’s not real research and we can’t learn anything with it.
    talk about “le sigh” – I’ll take one for the team here..

    Numbers can lie or be misinterpreted. In themselves they are no more or less true than other data (including anecdotes). Numbers can be derived from faulty premises, manipulated in the research process, or simply misrepresented at the end. Criticizing qualitative research for being qualitative is just plain silly. It’s as if hundreds of years of qualitative social science work does not exist!

    Qualitative research is real research. As was pointed out above, ethnography is a valid method, people, get a grip. And in specific studies it’s about validity, not replicability.

    also, Jake Lockely? scary. intelligence = class? intelligence – taste? What century is this? now that’s some sloppy science..

    and, yes, I think Bourdieu would be a theorist to apply.

    and whee! thanks for stirring the pot.

  • Will Warner

    What makes anyone think well-educated digitally fluent Engels-reading youth working at Starbucks have good prospects? The idea that they’ll fit well into a well-paying advertising, marketing, entertainment, or artistic job later? They aren’t likely to get rich from switching to jobs in farms or factories, or elsewhere in the service industry. Or perhaps you mean they could go back to school and become engineers or lawyers, or get jobs as civil servants on the basis of their knowledge of history, current events, and written English, but I have my doubts about those possibilities.

    In fact, I think this is the most important and most overlooked point here. What if Engels-reading baristas aren’t poor yet upper class, but are instead one component of the American middle class’s slide into poverty? What’s their health care like? What will it be like? Will their parents really leave them much wealth? Will they have kids? How educated will their kids be? Are we creating a whole multigenerational subculture of mostly-white educated poor people? Or is this just some brief slacker phase, and as they get older they really will find high-paying creative jobs?

  • Will Warner

    OK, I’ve now read all the comments, and organized my replies in order. Brace for a marathon post.

    Greg: Good point about facebook restrictions on whose profiles you can see and who can see yours, and demanding a real name. Those policies are snobbish, a response to predator panic, and irritating, and this is one of the few things myspace did right and facebook did wrong.

    Jake Lockley: You are wrong, and I don’t like your tone of voice. The things you describe are the result of skill and education, not intelligence, smarts, or “quality.” Facebook is not in any way less restrictive than myspace, but is instead better because it prohibits arbitrary html. (Admittedly, facebook users avoid ASCII art, which can’t be prohibited easily, so you do have a point. You just overextended it.) Claiming that “the masses” are “ruled by subconscious and emotional thought process” falsely implies that you, I, and danah aren’t. AOL and myspace/facebook have allowed idiots to create webpages, but also smart people who aren’t nerds. I defy you to give me a solid argument that the “Jackass generation” has any fewer intellectuals than your generation. Your claim that the net used to be respectful is belied by the grand tradition of the flame. I don’t know about yours, but if my internet were a real place it wouldn’t be disgusting and intolerable at all, but rather quite congenial, because I spend time at sites I like and not at sites I don’t. Finally, your whole post carries the stench of the writings of generations of bitter, immature, rapidly aging rich white boy intellectuals whose lives are such disastrous failures that they aren’t even polite and subtle about their snobbery, as they would be if they were successful rich white boy intellectuals, working as bankers or some such. Your misanthropy is socially acceptable, but your gross and irrational bigotry on the basis of age, education, and nationality is not. It is not too late for you to learn more and behave better.

    However, you do have an interesting point about outgrowing myspace and facebook. My friends seem to have switched from facebook to blogs and email sometime after graduation, and I’m curious how widespread that will be.

    James L.: I think you mean cachet.

    Karl: Myspace’s friend system is open.

    ian: I think facebook has emphatically been a dating service from the very start, even for my straight friends, and a homepage too, and is becoming more of a blog as well lately, although that one’s not working so well.

    Karl: You’re right that the patterns are changing fast, but if danah had used past tense and said that subaltern highschoolers that have gone to college have gotten facebook, and those who have gone to community college or none at all have not, I think it would have been a quite solid statement.

    Mark Federman: I agree wholeheartedly that what danah’s doing is valuable. Frankly, I think it’s the academic equivalent of good immersion journalism on subcultures– remember Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels”. But it would be better if it was backed up with statistics as well, and it looks like danah may do that and then publish. Immersion is deeply prone to bias, and statistics can help alleviate that problem, although the best solution is probably reading multiple independent researchers as they write about the subculture and one another’s work.

    Alyssa Gorrell: Please don’t take personal offense that the conclusions about mass behavior patterns don’t match your individual experience; you may well simply be an exception to the general pattern. Misguided, scattershot post.

    Jessica Margolin: Well, I like to think we can reject “the system” enough not to be dishonest or abstinent until marriage while still being part of “the system” enough to hold a steady job, vote wisely, and generally try to grow liberal American culture. You’re right that kids seem to be separating somewhat less now, though, which I think is an ironic and unexpected result of email and the internet, and cheap long distance phone calls.

    (Another) Greg: Oh, if only, if *only*, the sites would publicly publish their aggregate demographic info on their users. But I suspect that information is more expensive than the combinations to most bank vaults.

    Daniel: Yeah, why do people choose to act like star-bellied sneeches on the basis of things they can easily change? It’s an outstanding question, and a hard one. I think the best answer I can supply is that any group has its negatives as well as its positives, and so when kids choose to join the emo crowd and despise the jocks for being tasteless, or join the jock crowd and despise the emos for being weak, they’re both valid criticisms. To some extent, cultural differentiation is a matter of taste, and that can even include choosing a high-stress high-paying job or a low-stress low-paying one. On the other hand, no one ever chooses a boot on their neck, so it’s worth watching for subtle coercion, and not just constantly insisting that things are exactly as they should be. (I’m looking at you, Thomas Friedman, you boot-licking Pollyanna.)

    Karl: It’s a good point that myspace’s layout problems derive from some users, while other users stick to the nice, clean default (including me and somewhere around half of my myspace friends). However, the site is mostly the sum of its users, so it’s fair to say that if half of myspace’s pages are unreadable, the site as a whole is pretty awful, and there is a big policy difference coming right from the top about whether to allow arbitrary html in user pages. I think it’s warranted to blame myspace’s admins for its look.

    Jess: Again, remember that general patterns do have exceptions. Thanks for letting us know the military blocked facebook too though; that’s good to hear, in fact.

    Oh, and since there have now been several people vehemently offended by the thesis, I’d like to interject that I think the thesis, that facebookers tend to be richer and more educated and myspacers less so, is sound and fits my experience.

    Steve Petersen: Good point. And although the “rebels” fret about image in the sense of being sure to do a few things that make them look cool, on penalty of their friends not being impressed, it’s a very different thing for the “conformists” to fret about image in the sense of being sure not to do anything that makes them look rebellious, on penalty of missing out on a job.

    John: Must be a stifled creative impulse driving students to these sites. Not enough fingerpainting in colleges these days. Seriously, though, you just read and commented on a blog, and that kind of entertainment is a lot of the appeal of these sites. Additionally, I’ve found facebook to be better than any dating site. And it’s superb for sussing out whether some prospective friend has religious or political views that bug me, even if I’ve just met them and only very briefly. Which is creepy, I know– I’ve lost count of the number of times friends of mine, usually women or gay guys, have described doing similar things and then called facebook “stalkernet” with a nervous little laugh. I’m guessing the straight men don’t dare make that joke.

    Lee: What a great story about the Planet of the Apes crew! However, even if Soviet Russia was a flop, there’s still a big difference between a mostly middle class society like Canada and a society like Brazil with a few aristocrats, many peasants, very little middle class, and awful barriers to people moving between classes. So even though self-selection is part of the story, our actions can still increase or decrease other people’s social mobility, and it’s worth increasing. People can control some things about themselves and their lives, but on the other hand they are unable to control other things except with outside help.

    Rob: Ah, but we crazy liberals are ambitious enough to want to abolish “the norms and manners necessary for success,” so success is based entirely on actual performance and productivity and merit.

    shadeofmelon: Remember, the similarities that friendships are based on can just as easily be a love of a genre of music or a particular author– as long as we don’t let class differences turn into a rigid caste system.

    For those who’re appalled by how elitist Facebook is, check out aSmallWorld– it’ll blow your mind.

    Roadkill: Gotta be careful to distinguish between progress and mere change.

    notes on Lisa’s post: Elijah: MySpace and facebook are both indeed diverse, and do not *promote* segregation. But if the segregation is happening, surely pointing it out is not “demeaning, racist, and homophobic,” but quite the contrary! Were you one of those people who helped shut down America’s discussion of race in the 1990s by screaming “Racism!” at the top of your lungs every time the subject was mentioned? Falsely and sensationally reporting a myspace/facebook split could indeed produce a split. But what evidence do you have that danah’s reporting of the split is false? She has massive firsthand experience backing her claim that it’s true. And if there’s a myspace/facebook “battle that has recently erupted,” doesn’t that also support her thesis? Ken Roberts, about half of all undergraduate college students are indeed teens, and now that facebook has opened itself to high schools, teens make up an even larger percentage of users– and these were the users danah focused on in her interviews. danah’s work does simplify things and divide people, but isn’t that the way all sociology must work? It can’t be perfectly accurate, but it can be fairly accurate, and serve the purpose of demonstrating important divisions and distinctions within the set of all people. William Hija: You’re taking a scholarly study of masses of people as a personal insult, you have entirely failed to understand sociology, get out. Nora: What a relief your post is. Well said. Thank you.

    Jeremiah: I think two social networks are very much apples and apples, but you’re right, this is an essay on the basis of interviews, not yet a study. Reporting it as otherwise is a sad commentary on the way modern media rushes sensationalism into the news cycle with a stunning lack of careful, patient understanding.

    reyhan: It seems to me that the admins have steered the two networks by the way the policies they set at the top affect how each user interacts with the site. Facebook chose a minimalist, tightly controlled central design, whereas myspace, now owned by News Corp., enthusiastically welcomed in collaboration from users and third-party web design companies. Facebook is headed towards the myspace model.

    chad: We’re worried about McDonald’s and Wal-Mart because we’re not sure if we should loosen regulation and allow them to sell ground rat meat labeled as beef, or tighten it so much that no business can have more than 10 locations nationwide, or what. I’m just joking with those examples of course– we don’t want regulation to be anywhere near that tight or that loose. But it might be better for it to be tighter than it is, for example requiring a higher federal minimum wage, or clearer warnings about health risks from McDonald’s food, same as cigarettes, or higher tariffs on Chinese goods that are made with prison labor and compete with US factories that pay decent wages.

    Byron Sonne: The paper’s been edited since the first comments went up to address spelling and grammar errors, and add explanation of methodology. Tricky situation, that– maybe you could post a quick comment here each time you edit the original essay, danah, saying that you’ve edited it? An interface showing the changes made would be fantastic too, like the one wikipedia uses, but that may be too much hassle.

    Tommy: But aren’t you curious? Don’t you wonder how people move around in society, and associate, and group themselves? Won’t the knowledge help you understand where people are coming from better when you meet them, and teach you how to move between groups if you choose? I mean, who would mount a serious defense of ignorance for its own sake?

    Bertil: Interesting question about whether kids have ever before had to choose between using a rich social network and a poor one. I think mostly in the past they’ve been unable to make any decisions that drastic, and have simply gone to the accessible physical location. Rich people in urban areas can go slumming, but I’m not sure of any other examples. Most places have never had this option before, and although I don’t want to exaggerate, I think that’s a good new thing enabled by the internet.

    Steve: I don’t think the “good” kid distinction is really about chastity, sobriety, or even perfect obedience, so much as the ability to fit into a middle or upper class environment, get decent grades, and make similar friends– in short, a more general obedience of their parents intense demand for them to develop the ability to earn money in the corporate world.

    Finally, it’s wonderful to read all the fascinating stuff many of these posters have to say, like Alice, seb chan, drew, David Brake, albert, E.C. Hopkins, Theodore, Larry, Alana Perlin, mir, Roger, Gene Koo, and Noah Mittman.

  • I really enjoyed this and have some small observations from my own use of those spaces. The class distinction between FaceBook and MySpace is, I believe, well noted here. But I’ve seen yet another with the PeopleSpace.com site–more minority folks across the age spectrum seem to be going to PeopleSpace than the others. Though there may be some other aspects, one that I think tends to contribute to this is the group vs. individual one: MySpace seems specifically self-centered for all of it’s links, while PeopleSpace is more group centered.

    FaceBook is, I think, removed from this distinction because the educational part is more defining.

  • Response to Essay:

    “For the academics reading this, I want to highlight that this is not an academic article. It is not trying to be. It is based on my observations in the field, but I’m not trying to situate or theorize what is going on. I’ve chosen terms meant to convey impressions, but I know that they are not precise uses of these terms.”

    That’s totally appropriate for where you’re at with this work in relationship to the larger context in which you work and any academic that doesn’t get that is either a quantitative type who you’ll just have to put up with or a qualitative type who isn’t up to date and should be avoided. On a related note, I don’t buy into the quantitative/qualitative split but the reference is one academics should understand.

    That said, if you’re going to use terms like “hegemonic” and “subaltern”, you really ought to say a bit more and link out cause most academics wouldn’t even know what you were talking about.

    “She argues that class divisions in the United States have more to do with lifestyle and social stratification than with income.”

    Haven’t read the essay to which you link but your take leaves out the issue of access to capital. I’m one of those brainy underpaid people to which you refer but I was never homeless because of friends and relatives with more money than I. I guess that could go under social networks but it seems more specific and important than the larger categories you mention as alternatives to income.

    I so wished you’d mentioned the Methodological notes at the top of the page. That would have changed how I read this essay. Rather than wondering how you knew all this, I could have focused a bit more clearly on what you were saying.

    You’re doing excellent work. The discussion of class has been marginalized in the States and many of those who do discuss it use outdated frameworks. I know you don’t need me to tell you to just keep going but, please, just keep going.

    You may already be familiar with George E. Marcus’ Ethnography Through Thick & Thin. There’s some nice work in there about the necessity to focus on descriptive work during periods when established terminology and theory just won’t do the job anymore. It will give you some ammo for those who can’t follow your quite reasonable response to ever-changing conditions.

  • Terren

    Great stuff, and really appreciate the way you’re not afraid to communicate your uncertainty.

    Your ideas definitely resonate in terms of my 15 year-old cousin, who is such a great example why economically-based class labels don’t work. He’s from an affluent family, spoiled, but identifies with the gangsta subculture, which in his community is definitely an outsider group. Materialistically, he’s got everything he wants but socially is almost certainly a “bad” kid. Context is everything! It wouldn’t surprise me if he never heard of facebook.

    I share your worries about teens especially in terms of my cousin. We’re all concerned about what he’ll do when he gets out of high school. My guess is he’ll live at home until he’s 30.

  • Grisha

    Interesting reading.

    Not surprising that you’re catching a lot of flak in the comments, of course.

    I have accounts on Facebook and MySpace, but I rarely, if ever, check into them. MySpace is full of spam, and Facebook is too restrictive.

    There is another SNS called Tribe.net, which is much more about “community building”, and is the place to be for fringe/freak types (by the way, my classification scheme is “freaks” and “mundanes”) such as pagans, artists of various stripes, Burning Man aficionados, goths, etc.

    Anyway, thanks for the article.

  • Thanks for the article, danah. There’s not enough discussion along these lines, I think, and you’ve provided a great forum for it here!

    The aspect of your post that popped out at me the most — but it seems that it didn’t so much for others, from their comments — was not that the demographics of MySpace and Facebook are different, but that one is considered “safe” and the other not in a way that discriminates along socio-cultural lines. I’d call this out even more strongly — I think it’s a very important point. There are differences in the technologies themselves, of course, but it’s also true (but so often overlooked!) that innovations, in themselves, often just reinforce inequalities that are already present. You’ve described in other posts just how much the MySpace scare is overblown. Why hasn’t there been a (comparably overblown) Facebook scare, when the real risks probably aren’t that different anymore (arguments about “open” and “closed” systems aside — for instance, Facebook-stalking just within one’s network provides a wealth of profiles)? Could it be another instance of the infallibility of the “good” college-bound kids of the middle-class? Anyway, I’m very interested to see this develop further, and thanks again for stirring up such an interesting discussion.