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

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viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

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

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

Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

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

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

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

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

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365 comments to viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

  • You probably know this already, but the Pew data set has socioeconomic information:
    http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Privacy_SNS_Report_Final.pdf

    They don’t have the psychographic categories that you’re talking about, but they do have household income, education level of parents, race and ethnicity, and age.

    Like other folks commenting, I would be watching out for change. The demographics of Facebook changed rapidly when they opened it up. They are likely to change further with new applications. Maybe developers will add apps to Facebook that have more media and decoration features, so kids who want music and more pictures will be able to have those things on Facebook. Without more research, it’s hard to say how much of the relative preferences have to do with overall visual style, vs. features, vs. preferential attachment. Not to mention, sns’s are the subject of fashion, like physical clubs. What is considered “cool” will change in different social groups, too.

    I don’t see an increased concern about the creation of a caste system. People group themselves, that is nothing new. A person will go where their friends and perceived peers are. We’re talking about MySpace vs. Facebook, so digital divide access issues are factored out. The percent of teens who have sns profiles are the same across broad family income categories (over and under $50K family income).

    Free social network services have much less built-in stratification than: selective colleges; the ability to pay for higher education or private education; racial profiling in shopping areas and on the street; clothing; transportation; neighborhood safety… any number of factors in the real world that differentiate strongly by income inequality.

    There are a lot of very serious concerns about increasing inequality and decreased opportunity for social mobility in the US. And if I was looking for domains to worry about it, Facebook and Myspace would be somewhere near dead last.

  • Fantastic essay–even if it is just an articulation of thoughts and observations made thus far. When/if this essay grows into a book (or part of a book), I would absolutley buy it.

    While you include contextualizing factors and disclaimers when necessary, I think it would be worth mentioning and even investigating whether or not Fox’s buying Myspace had anything to do with some of the “hegemonic teens” leaving/neglecting Myspace or not getting an account all together. It certainly explains the increased commercialization of the site (music videos, film trailers, themed page backgrounds on the login main page).

    Myspace was purchased in 2005 and I remember web discussion boards across the net flooded with rants and rumours about it. They better not make us pay a fee! (for instance). I got a myspace account in 2004 and remember a kind of “haha, I had a myspace before they were bought” feeling.

    Most of my college friends are on Facebook and many of them have Myspace accounts too–which they update less frequently.

    The only reason why I got a facebook account (at the beginning of 2007) was because it was essentially the only reliable way to keep in touch with one specific college friend.

    Greg’s comments (posted June 24 @ 18:28) are right-on as well.

  • ewan

    Interesting thoughts, although I am not sure that you are seeing what will really form a long term pattern. You comment yourself about the different origins of the sites, and a lot of the patterns that you see will stem, at least partly, from this rather than from some fundamental class divide. However, I am not sure that this is really the most significant problem you will have with this study.

    More important is the fact that the web moves so fast that one, or both, of these websites will probably be old hat quite soon: as soon as something new comes along. Things are still quite compartmentalised. Yahoo, google, youtube, myspace, bebo, facebook, personal blogs and countless other things overlap in one way or another. Whoever is most successful at bringing things together – video, photo, blog, networks, applications etc etc will lead the pack and people will quite readily switch their allegiance. Especially if they offer consolidation of relict content at your old favourite site.

    So, if you want to study class and the internet, how about asking whether there is ever time for the class structure to truly establish itself on the internet before things move on. Does the internet form the ultimate classless society? Does it facilitate social climbing? Are you essentially anonymous on the internet?

    One last thing that I would say is that class is not the same as being a dropout or an emo kid or a jock. These are more like networks than class divisions because you choose to join them. Unfortunately, and this is why people are embarassed to talk about class, your class is defined by everyone apart from yourself. This is why class mobility is so difficult. Of course, class alone would be a fascinating topic for study in this day and age. The definition of class used to be far clearer, yet despite the fact that it has become murkier and murkier it still survives. Why/how/who?

    Lots of stuff to be going on with I think!

  • I find that, though your article is interesting, it is incomplete. It takes into account only a very small portion of the topic, choosing to eschew factors for joining one site over another that are not class related. This may have made your article watery and making the focus on class nearly immpossible.
    There is a large number of users who are on both Facebook and Myspace and your article did no research on these users. It might have helped to ask the users who were interviewed why they joined either site in the first place; this may have cleared up any gray areas about relationships between class and site usage.
    An earlier commenter mentioned the “glitziness” of Myspace as opposed to Facebook, and this has drawn, in my experience, many users to use both, or to mostly abandon Facebook. Myspace has appeal because it is customizable, and Facebook now recognizes this by allowing music, picture wall comments and downloadable programs to customize your page. You simply can not change the “face” of your Facebook like you can on Myspace.
    It was also mentioned above that Facebook caters to the longevity of established networks while Myspace offers the opportunity to MAKE social networks. It is open to all users and designed to make it easy to search for users sharing common interests, locale, or age groups and befriend them. Facebook, however, shuts members out if they are not connected to these groups, and, as far as I have learned, you can only be a member of two networks. I may be wrong on this, but I had to delete my college network from my profile so I could join my city’s network, thus allowing me to communicate with others in my city, not just my college.
    I think that this is a thoughful report, and I hope that you may consider including more factors in the future.

  • Eve

    This might seem like a simple comment, but I believe its something absolutely left out of the article, issues of privacy. On Facebook, users have significantly more control over privacy. In fact, they can make themselves unsearchable by different categories of people, they can control the privacy of almost each and every line on their profile which makes it attractive to those who are interested in guarding their information but actively participating in social networking forums. Myspace has fewer privacy control features which makes it less attractive to those concerned with privacy. Another simple factor which can explain the choice, whichever a person is introduced to first. Maybe someone simply didn’t hear about Myspace? Or didn’t hear about Facebook?

    The symbolism and analysis in the article are great, but sometimes I believe that academics [even those stressing that their papers are non-academic, but writing using academic terminology e.g. valence, theory, etc…features of a sociological essay] have a tendancy to ignore more obvious factors seeking only to emphasize nuance and their unique viewpoint. This runs the danger of ignoring more obvious points (which don’t lose their explanatory value simply for being conspicuous!)

  • i think your article is interesting but that you really don’t account for certain factors and you generalize about a lot of factors that you don’t back up with statistics. for facebook you used to have to have been attached to a college or university to sign up. you don’t anymore. also, when i was in college myspace became the rage. younger people today in 2007 often gravitate towards facebook. however, a lot of my friends and i prefer myspace and refuse to sign up for facebook. we view facebook as something for the younger generation. i should add that i am 27, graduated from uc san diego and have an mba from uc davis. i know i am not the exception because the majority of my friends have attended university and many are on myspace but not facebook. i’m sorry but, really i don’t think it the fragmentation has much to do with socio economic class. i think that some young people prefer myspace because it is more familiar and all their friends are on it and they like the features. and i believe that some young people like facebook because of the creative features (for example people know every time you change your profile or status). keep in mind that many teens will also have BOTH a myspace and a facebook profile. i was an ethnic studies major and i see plenty of university educated whites and asians on both facebook and myspace. as i said, many of me and my friends prefer myspace and we are all have university degrees. please do more research before making potentially damaging generalizations.

  • Anthony Lucci

    this was an amazing article. i just hope that you can find actual figures to support your arguments. since there isn’t much material on the source to begin with, that task would be very hard.

    as a soon-to-be college student with a myspace account that i have weaned myself off of to develop my facebook. i find facebook more appealing for the exact reasons you mentioned, and entirely agree with everything you wrote here. i also liked the way you begrudgingly used generalizations. i realize that using them is harmful to fair perception, but they need to be used when addressing a population.

    how did you end up studying and interviewing the facebook and myspace community?

  • Anthony Lucci

    this was an amazing article. i just hope that you can find actual figures to support your arguments. since there isn’t much material on the source to begin with, that task would be very hard.

    as a soon-to-be college student with a myspace account that i have weaned myself off of to develop my facebook. i find facebook more appealing for the exact reasons you mentioned, and entirely agree with everything you wrote here. i also liked the way you begrudgingly used generalizations. i realize that using them is harmful to fair perception, but they need to be used when addressing a population.

    how did you end up studying and interviewing the facebook and myspace community?

  • Rene C

    By definition the future “hegemonic” class of the United States has always come from our colleges and the officer classes of the military. Given the origins at Yale (oops Harvard), the initial limitation to .edu, and the later limitation to invitees from .edu to college-bound high schoolers, there would have been an enormous selection bias embedded in who could actually get into facebook. Even with a later removal of such limitations, there would be an embedded ‘tradition’ from the legacy membership.

    I’m a bit old for facebook, but I have had a MySpace account for over a year. MySpace is purely and simply a commercial endeavour. It is trashy, flashy, and as subtle as a neon lit strip in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, or Shanghai. It is designed to attract, engage, and sell. The fact that it provides social networking capability is almost coincidental. That is not intended as a criticism, but as an observation. Once again there is an element of self-selection involved. A person engages with MySpace to ‘interact’. I find the idea of adding musicians, authors, and entertainers as ‘friends’ to be somewhat pointless. That said, it would appear that a great many MySpace inhabitants feel differently. The idea of building a massive network of ‘friends’ to impress others is also foreign to me, but not to others. People who are interested in building these networks, interacting in these ways, and showing off their connections and networks will be attracted to MySpace.

    Overall, my initial assessment of the social layering you detect in facebook and MySpace is that it results from inherent selection biases, both initial and systemic. Facebook by intent was built upon the future leaders of the U.S., i.e. college students and the college-bound, and the people they chose (choose?) to invite into facebook. MySpace is promiscuous (technical, not sexual definition), commercial, and targets ‘consumers’.

    If you visited a college, and then visited DisneyWorld, and did a comparison of the people you met in each place, you might find the same sort of social stratification that you find in facebook and MySpace.

  • Snerd

    Hi Danah —

    You’ve got a lot to say, and you do great analysis, and for the most part, you express yourself very well.

    A good move for you, though, since you’re an academician and a writer, would be to take a course on writing. Yes, I understand this wasn’t a serious piece of academic research, and that it’s more of a thoughtful informal essay. But for something as widely read is this piece is, a little more polish would have been a good thing.

    A good place to start would be by keeping the term “hopefully” out of all your written communications. We all say it when we’re speaking, but in written English at any level, it’s bad news. It doesn’t mean the same thing as “I hope,” although people seem to think it does.

  • Alan Carrier

    Your description of MySpace kids as “art fags” and queer kids is deeply offensive. I not that you didn’t sau niggahs or kike kids however. A little typical jap slant. Grow up and read a book.

  • Just wanted to say, great essay! I go to a high school of MySpacers, and I’m in an orchestra of FaceBookers(?), and your observations confirmed many subconscious suspicions I’ve had about differences in the two groups. Also, thanks for keepin’ it real, as it were, by using imagery more people can identify with rather than hard facts and figures that would be less informative on this subject.

  • Katy

    you put a lot of thought into this, however i cannot agree. i refuse to believe that american teenagers can be so easily categorized into “facebookers” and “myspacers”. as one of those typical american teenagers, i have both myspace and facebook, and i have a disgusting amount of experience with each. frankly i find the terms “hegemonic” and “subaltern” a bit derogatory, and i cannot see any distinguishable difference between first of all, the races, second of all, the “classes” in high school, or third of all, anything with anybody. yes, there might be a slight percentage higher of whatever at some given time, but i just cannot believe that something so broad as american social classes can be so easily classified via a demonstration of simply two different social networks.

  • Sean

    Something that factors into my personal choice of SNS, is that Myspace’s system does not hold up well under the insane amount of traffic it receives. It is slow. Perhaps you should consider the actual code, and the types of people who would appreciate the technical aspects of SNS. (These people maybe too few to notice, I don’t know.)

    Similarly, advertisements are not nearly as streamlined in Myspace as Facebook. (It’s like Tabloid vs. Newspaper, although I read neither.)

    Also, I’ll refute that the use of “art fags” is inappropriate (insensitive, sure). Many “art fags” are self described.

    I very much liked the military segment. I had wondered why my buddy got a facebook. Now I know.

    What about people who decidely are against SNS all together? Many days I feel as though the whole thing is a joke.

    And finally, I find your distinctions far too simplified. You seem to define “Bad” as many and “Good” as one. I can’t believe that under such a distinction “Good” comprises only one type of person. And if you’re going generalize, then why make the much more varied subdivisions of “Bad” so obvious?

    Well, I’ll be the first to tell you, I use Facebook (but have a Myspace, used less frequently) and while perhaps privlaged I am far from “Hegemonic.” In fact, other than typical class exemplifications (ie: money and education) I find myself fitting more the description of “Subaltern.” And yet, I use Facebook. My social network, I would imagine would self-identify simliarly, seeing as I chose them. And I choose my friends as most people choose theirs, because we have common ground. Much like your coffee catering bretheren who are far from stupid, but are still “working class.” I wonder what SNS do they use?

    Hope ya read this. And it’s good to see someone finding new questions in a new world!

  • Sean

    Something that factors into my personal choice of SNS, is that Myspace’s system does not hold up well under the insane amount of traffic it receives. It is slow. Perhaps you should consider the actual code, and the types of people who would appreciate the technical aspects of SNS. (These people maybe too few to notice, I don’t know.)

    Similarly, advertisements are not nearly as streamlined in Myspace as Facebook. (It’s like Tabloid vs. Newspaper, although I read neither.)

    Also, I’ll refute that the use of “art fags” is inappropriate (insensitive, sure). Many “art fags” are self described.

    I very much liked the military segment. I had wondered why my buddy got a facebook. Now I know.

    What about people who decidely are against SNS all together? Many days I feel as though the whole thing is a joke.

    And finally, I find your distinctions far too simplified. You seem to define “Bad” as many and “Good” as one. I can’t believe that under such a distinction “Good” comprises only one type of person. And if you’re going generalize, then why make the much more varied subdivisions of “Bad” so obvious?

    Well, I’ll be the first to tell you, I use Facebook (but have a Myspace, used less frequently) and while perhaps privlaged I am far from “Hegemonic.” In fact, other than typical class exemplifications (ie: money and education) I find myself fitting more the description of “Subaltern.” And yet, I use Facebook. My social network, I would imagine would self-identify simliarly, seeing as I chose them. And I choose my friends as most people choose theirs, because we have common ground. Much like your coffee catering bretheren who are far from stupid, but are still “working class.” I wonder what SNS do they use?

    Hope ya read this. And it’s good to see someone finding new questions in a new world! Also, I’d love to be part of your research. I’m 21 and in college. Email me, if you’d like.

  • I liked your essay a lot – I feel SNS are some of the most important sociological phenomena and their should be far more study of them; I’m only a sophomore in college but I want to base my thesis on some sort of cybernetics, probably SNSs.
    I support the theory that class divisions play into the stratification between facebook and myspace users, however I think that the shift is part of a far larger phenomenon. The internet, where people used large scale network technology to forge connections where no such connections existed (for example, buying stuff from people you don’t know via craigslist, meeting new people or adding normally unapproachable bands on myspace etc) is being replaced by an ‘intranet’, that is to say, a system that reinforces and facilitates pre-existing connections (so ordering from chain stores e.g. dominos, ikea on the internet, talking to pre-existing friends on facebook…)
    Of course, there’s more to it than that; this is where the class stratification sets in. People with more wealth and power generally have bigger social networks; a Mr. Burns type millionaire hiding in a castle is an extreme rarity. Even if you have less ‘friends’, per-se, you will have more people you interact with. In the consumer world, being of a higher class means that you purchase not only more, but a higher variety of items, so you’re going to more stores and better stores. The store where a LC kid buys their clothes is less likely to have an online store than, say, ralph lauren or j crew. Similarly, the UC kids are going to generally spend more time in education, which fosters the growth of social networks, and go to residential colleges, whether they’re private or state – further allowing social growth. LC kids, on the other hand, will be forced either into the workforce or commuter colleges, which are harder to forge social networks in. These colleges don’t give out e-mail addresses, so they’re not supported by facebook.
    When it comes down to myspace customization… alot of people don’t understand why people spend hours customizing it, or make it so extensive (‘garish’, even). It’s the same phenomenon that Michael Albert describes when higher-class people can’t understand why working class people spend all of their income on clothes and entertainment – because without it, you have no ability to create a social network, which is taken for granted by people who go to school or work in a place that fosters social relationships.
    That’s my two cents. I’ll write a full essay in response to this at some point. If anyone’s interested in talking more about SNS sociology or collaborating, shoot me an e-mail at cline (a) riseup (dot) net

  • Jenny Cline

    You wrote:

    “MySpace is the primary way that young soldiers communicate with their peers. When I first started tracking soldiers’ MySpace profiles, I had to take a long deep breath. Many of them were extremely pro-war, pro-guns, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, pro-killing, and xenophobic as hell. Over the last year, I’ve watched more and more profiles emerge from soldiers who aren’t quite sure what they are doing in Iraq. I don’t have the data to confirm whether or not a significant shift has occurred but it was one of those observations that just made me think. And then the ban happened. I can’t help but wonder if part of the goal is to cut off communication between current soldiers and the group that the military hopes to recruit. Many young soldiers’ profiles aren’t public so it’s not about making a bad public impression. That said, young soldiers tend to have reasonably large networks because they tend to accept friend requests of anyone that they knew back home which means that they’re connecting to almost everyone from their high school. Many of these familiar strangers write comments supporting them. But what happens if the soldiers start to question why they’re in Iraq? And if this is witnessed by high school students from working class communities who the Army intends to recruit?”

    If you really believe all this, you’re a bona fide, academically-blinkered idiot. You make all the tired, typical ivory tower assumptions — wrong, of course — about a monolithic, scary military culture. I am just longing for someone, someday, to study us with an open mind. But you, my dear, clearly are not the one to do it.

    MySpace is popular with soldiers, while Facebook is just catching on. As soon as Facebook starts eating equivalent bandwidth on military servers, local IMOs (“info management” e.g. the geek squads) will seek approval for a policy to cut off access to Facebook as well. There’s nothing sinister about it.

    You seem to be missing the point that military bandwidth is for government use, not personal use. Soldiers who use their own computers from their own internet connection have absolutely no restrictions placed on them. However, soldiers who use government computers to access the internet for their personal use (as is the case downrange) are subject to reasonable restrictions on that use.

    For example, we don’t hog bandwidth by visiting music download sites. We don’t visit porn sites (a huge no-no). The exact list of sites that can’t be accessed varies between the services and in many cases, varies from unit to unit. There is nothing monolithic about it.

    You do the “scary” military too much credit by suggesting that restricting access to MySpace is deliberately intended to stifle Soldier commentary on the war. Give us a break! Military leaders are really not that cleverly conniving, although it suits degreed residents of the ivory tower to say so (a reason to kill further trees and thereby gain tenure).

    If your comrades lost the straw man of the military-industrial complex, oh my, whatever would you do? Evidently, they’d start coming up with new and interesting ways of rehashing a tired, discredited paradigm. Which is, apparently, what you’re trying to do here. But Rapunzel, you need to climb down from that tower (or throw yourself out of it). Either way, please come down to earth.

    I suggest you go back to the library, do some further research to better frame and structure your arguments in the purple prose of the ivory tower, and then try again. Your dribbling ignorance of military culture, as paraded in this half-baked essay, puts the lie to whatever academic credibility you might otherwise possess.

  • Will Warner

    Snerd, I wasn’t aware that the usual use of “hopefully” was controversial, and I do thank you for bringing that to my attention, but I still agree with Michael Quinion that it is acceptable today.

    http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hop2.htm

  • Jack

    I believe the class argument is a valid one. But I also think that the primary indicator of who uses what is that average Myspace users tend to put high value on openess and artistic expression than their Facebook using peers. This value of artistic expression may very well correspond with ethnic and cultural lines and the inherent value individual cultures place on it.

  • Russ

    Not sure anyone cares, but I have some insight.

    In the ancient year of 2001 at Harvard, before we had social networking sites where we could tell complete strangers our income and favorite bands, we were all issued Facebooks, which were physical paper books with pictures and names of all the undergrads.

    People of both genders mostly scoped out potential mates with this device. I don’t recall if it listed email and phone numbers.

    Facebook the website was an extension of the standard-issue Harvard equipment, and serves some practical functions such as finding classmates and finding people in clubs you want to join.

    Your essay failed to mention these very school-specific functions and how they might influence who uses the site.

  • jnring

    You are right in that you really need to change the terms you use (“hegemonic” and “subaltern”). They are symptomatic of just how shot through this essay is with the all-too-easy assumptions of a standard academic view that falsely separates the world into a mythical patriarchal-military-industrial-racist-classist-sexist complex on one hand, and a marginalized challenge to the status quo on the other. Sociological work suffers greatly from the lack of challenge to this assumption, which reifies complex work in order to build an ideological basis that encourages clannist tendencies among researchers and a paranoid desire to purge impurities from oneself and one’s colleagues.

    For instance, I am sure you are well aware of the much higher tendency to self-report “alternative” sexual orientations among the middle and upper classes and the college-educated. I find your assertion that queer kids identify more with Myspace to be dubious without numbers behind it – although it lines up perfectly with a kneejerk identification of “marginalized” identities with each other where data connecting the two is nonexistent outside of vague literary and cultural analysis.

    That said, I do have anecdotal experience of working-class friends gravitating more towards Myspace, although I’ve experienced less disdain from frequent users of Facebook towards Myspace than the other way around – many view Facebook as a haven for the elite, although most of these are unaware that Facebook no longer requires a college-issued e-mail address to join. I suspect that if Facebook does an adequate job of marketing itself, the class differences you and I observe will even out.

  • It seems as though you left out a social class which I feel I fit into. I’m of hispanic and polish decent. I was raised in an upper-middle class environment, went to a “blue-ribbon” high school, and have a BFA in Advertising Design. I don’t consider myself upper class, nor lower, which I’ve also come to understand through my college education that nobody really thinks of themselves as either upper or lower class. So where do I fit in to your class system, being a 28 yr old, middle class, caucasian male with only a myspace profile?

    I find that you actually subdivided the class system with moral values as well. This could be charted should you gather enough information but some moral judgement would be necessary.

    There are the SNS users that:

    are “good” and act “good”.
    are “good” and act “bad”.
    are “bad” and really aren’t. (read: image seekers)
    are “bad” and are “bad”. (read: stalkers, sexual predators, etc)

    I find that much of an individuals “class” is made up of their education. Without some form of education you cannot be “classy.” Perhaps this is the reason why many of the sexual predators found by police nationwide are less educated individuals residing in upper class areas. Perhaps this is why those same under-educated individuals target younger (10-17 yr old) people with the same mental status. Have you found any correlation between this?

  • One place you didn’t go is into porn. Er, I mean to say, plenty of porn stars have a virtual home on MySpace. In fact, there’s a site that lists them: pornstarsofmyspace.com. (Warning: wardrobe malfunctions aplenty.)

    No such site yet exists for the porn stars of FaceBook. About the only comparison you can draw on the FaceBook side is the recent contretemps about Miss New Jersey’s racy photos on her FaceBook profile. The one I saw is kinda racy. But in the photo, even while her virile friend has clamped his mouth on her boob, Miss NJ manages to smile and keep her shirt on.

    So see? That’s high class right there.

  • Faisal

    This is an excellent essay Ms. boyd/danah.

    I’d put myself under the “hegemonic” kids category. You see, I was one of the kids you interviewed in Los Angeles at Hami. As I think back to the interview, I remember you asked me why I switched from myspace to facebook and after reading your essay, I understand. I think subconsciously, myspace- in my mind- had turned somewhat “ghetto” and immature, but you were able to put this into words for me.
    As for the hegemonic kids, I do agree that some actions are being masked. There are truly good kids too though. However, I would like to add that though the “good” kids are doing the same things as the “subaltern” kids, the “good” kids still do well academically. Furthermore, though the “good” kids commit these actions, I do feel that they will grow out of it. Therefore, they shouldn’t be completely looked down upon.

    Those are just some rambled thoughts. They may not be that important, but i just wanted them out there.

    So sincerely, thank you for that essay and interview.

  • Nicolas Cynober

    I think that internet will re-create networks and areas for specific cultural classes. Indian networks are driven by casts, the society works around separated communities in the real life and it will do so on internet. Internet had to be a free space where differences were cleaned up but finally the human nature and the real life come back quickly.
    I bet that if you create 100 new network sites they will all be populated by a specific community: Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, –
    The fact is, we had only one network site for teen: MySpace and at the beginning everyone enjoyed it. But now it’s time to provide specific portals to specific communities and not only for teens.
    I’m not so surprised that the hegemonic teens have been the first to be separated, they always have been. You are part of the “cool” guys or you are not, and it’s not only the case in US.
    It’s very interesting to see so much people moving from one service to another. I suspect it will be the same among each new social network creation.
    Danah said that “Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus “class.”. For me the next splitting will be geographical, in fact Europe is more and more on MySpace and Facebook and even if MySpace is creating a MySpace.FR, I’m pretty sure that the French community would prefer his own web site.
    In my case, I haven’t found a SNS which fits. Maybe I’ll create it 
    Anyway Danah, you should not talk about class divisions but community divisions.

  • I’ve written a lengthy response to the critiques of this essay and to the comments here. For anyone interested, check out my response.

  • thomas

    The U.S. has become a more Class divided society over the past 25 years.

    From 1933 when President Roosevelt and Congress began to address Social Issues in the US with Social Security, Work Programs, Labor Unions granted more rights,etc. until 1971 or so the average American could expect to do better then their parents.

    The US was the world’s manufacturing and technology center at the time. Also the US has the world’s largest Oil Reserves and Production.

    Oil Production Peaked in 1971 and has declined since.

    The U.S. manufacturing base is second rate now with the European Union, China and Japan leading industrial powers now.

    In Science Journals the European Union surpassed the USA in 1995 in the number of journals published and China advancing rapidly.
    In Basics Science the E.U. is rapidly replacing the USA and How do I know this? Cern Particle Physics lab, Iter Fusion Project, Renewabe Energy Projects(Wind, Solar, Biomass, Ocean Energy,etc),European Space Agency,etc,etc.

    The E.U. is exporting 2.5 Trillion dollar of Goods and services with a 7-8% growth rate.

    China’s Exports are growing rapidly and so the USA is now Third in Exports with a huge Current Account Deficit close to 1 Trillion yearly.
    We also have a Deficit in High Tech products which goes against the believe we are ahead in the Technology field, which we are not!

    The E.U. along with Japan own many assets in the USA and have been buying our Companies, Land, Resources,Treasury Bills,etc for over 25 years now making us a sort of Colony.(neo-colonialism).

    We are the world largest Debtor nation and so we sell ourselves out to the E.U. which is the a true superpower along with Japan which is also a huge Creditor Nation.

    The Gini-index in the USA is approaching 50 while in Europe it averages 32 and in some countries like Denmark it averages 24.

    The USA has 50 million people without health insurance and many, many more with substandard insurance. We are ranked 37th by the World Health Organization.

    We have the Highest Tuition rates in the World.

    IN Germany for example the typical student pays around $600 to 1000 Euros yearly and in some German States the Tuition is Free.
    Poor German Student receive up to 645 Euros Monthly to live on while attending college for living expenses/healthcare also paid for.
    German Students can rent student apartment for less then 200 Euros Monthly and the school cafeteria along with local pubs and Restaurants have special deals worked out where students pay $1.50 for a meal.
    Students also can buy a Transportation pass for 9 months($50.00) which gives them the right to ride the bus and Subway system in Germany.
    This also pays for Insurance on students personal belongings which might be stolen or damaged.
    A Medical student in Germany can go to school for $1200.00 Euros yearly and sometimes for Free.
    Why?
    And if they are from a Poor Background they can receive the above mentioned benefits.

    Europeans Receive over 50 Days a Year off-paid!
    Also many European have Sick days-Paid!
    Americans take on average 6-12 days off with 25% of the workforce taking no vacation.

    The Europeans have Universal Healthcare also.

    The Median U.S. wage was ranked 20th by the mercer survey in 2006 and our health system was ranked 37th in the same report.
    That was including cost of living and taxes!

    Why is the Euro-dollar $1.37 compared to the U.S. dollar?
    In 1969 the U.S. dollar was King.
    The Swiss Franc, German Mark, Yen, etc. worth 350% to 400% less then the U.S. Dollar but nolonger! All are closing in on parity with the U.S. dollar and the Euro is now worth more!
    That is a good indication of our international standing over the last 35 years.

    U.S. life Expectency when ranked with other countries comes in at 47th in the world.
    Why?
    30 years ago we were in the top 5!

    The Genuine Progress Indicator stated in 2006 that the U.S.A. reached it’s peak in the 1970’s and has been falling since.

    The U.S. has 8 million citizens in it’s Correctional System on parole, Prison, Probation and in immigrant jails.
    Why?
    No other country comes close!
    In 1980 it was closer to 1 million!
    We have the Death Penalty while over 100 countries have suspended it. Why?

    Our students are consistently ranked towards the bottom when compared to other nations.
    Why?

    We are one of the world’s largest pollution problems. Why?
    And this is even more amazing considering we lost most of our manufacturing base
    The E.U. has 40 million factory jobs while the U.S. has 14 million.
    Why?

    U.S. military is also shrinking even though they throw more and more money at it.
    The Navy, Airforce and Army are less then half the size of 20 years ago.
    If the U.S. cannot defeat Iraq, How is it such a powerforce?

    I would say it is a Good thing we are defeated since they have killed over 600,000 Iraqis trying to take their oil but it is another sign of our decline.

    What is the big Secret about Rich-poor Gap?

    And the wider the gap Becomes, the less of a Democracy this will be.
    It’s not a Democracy, it’s a Dictatorship !

    The U.S. economy is slowing failing and we are all paying a very, very big price for this.

  • Fi

    i would like to say “duh” from personal experience.
    danah, i’ve read your stuff and heard about it before, but this descriptive essay illustrates my personal experience perfectly.
    i’m 22 years old and just graduated from ucla.
    i had the most difficult time to get some of my best friends from high school to join facebook. this difficulty also illustrats the growing gap between us during this period.
    sadly, i think the gap finally grow to the point that we are not severed.
    another interesting point i have observed is that kids from brand name universities are more active on facebook. this is personal experience as well, friends from the the name schools, whether private institutions such as penn, chicago, or public ones like u.mich, cal, or liberal arts like amherst, wellsely, are all very active facebook users. the msg turn around time is short, often instant, whereas the msg turn around time could be days, even weeks when sent to my friends who attend very local schools. i guess this supports your observation that many people who attend non brandname universities (okay, i know.. this is a bad term) stay much more connected to their proir to 18 y/o life than those whose lives revolve mostly around the universities. the “good kids” use myspace as the supplementary component, and the “subalt” who end up in a facebook circle use facebook to stay connected to the new environment.
    this whole thing is soo soo sooo bad.!
    this is a badly written comment as i am running very late for work!

  • Thank you for posting this. This is exactly what I talk about in my standup comedy. If anybody thinks racism is dead, they are sadly mistaken. Granted class and education plays a major role. But this study shows us it’s alive and well and very much an issue, even on the net. Has anyone checked the out the Craigslist personal ads?

  • Excellent read. I come from the world of Internet Business, and what you say rings very true. When I mention MySpace as a tool for social networking to bring extra traffic to a client’s website, It’s always been met with some form of criticism. Lately however, I’ve been hearing more and more of “I don’t own a MySpace account… I’m on Facebook”.

    In related news, Facebook may go IPO soon. Won’t that be fun :).

  • Andy

    This article is timely as I have just received emails from friends who are not teenagers nor college students but adults ranging from 35+ some 50 inviting me to join facebook. Until now I had not heard of this and had only been introduced to the sns concept over the past year through my teenage daughters who have very vibrant myspace sites.

    However being time poor and by admission would prefer to talk to my teenage daughters and get on the phone and hear my friends laugh and cry, I won’t have time to take a photo, fill in the details and then hope to god that my friends will join.

    However I have been encouraged by my company to get on it as a way of increasing awareness of our service etc so I am very interested in you progressing this study and encapsulate the Australian market; in particular -the more mature age group and the business community. Our political leaders and their parties both have their own online network now….could be fun.

    Is this is a tool that will allow relationships both business and social to foster?

    I still live in hope that people will have the courage and move back to face-to-face contact however I must admit I do enjoy learning about the changes that life brings and in some cases beiing part of that change!

  • Jon Anderson

    This is brilliantly observed. As an anthropologist, I have no problem with what sociologists call ‘qualitative’ research to uncover frames of reference, schema, or ‘languages’ that people use to express, and sometimes to understand, themselves. In that regard, it’s interesting that you find inspiration in Willis turn to social reproduction. But for hegemony, if you also know James Scott’s essay on ‘hidden transcripts’, you might find useful the critique of it by Susan Gal (Language and the ‘arts of resistance.’ Cultural Anthropology. 10:3:407-424, 1995).

  • I can across your writing with googling to validate some thoughts of mine on MySpace versus FaceBook. In all honesting, I did not read it completely. (It is 1 AM where I am and way past my bedtime.)

    Anyway, have you read “Class: A Guide Through the American Status System” by Paul Fussell? It deals a little with the class issues you talk about. He defines “X Class” sort of as people who could be something else but don’t. I’m simplifying. But I thought you would be interested in the reference.

  • I am originally from Jamaica where class is constantly talked about behind closed doors but it is easier to separate.

    I describe the difference Facebook and MySpace quite simply and plainly, based my experiences using both:

    MySpace is the urban/city area while Facebook is the suburbs.

    I have sat down in public libraries and never seen someone go up and try to log on to Facebook, but I do see tons of people playing around with their MySpace profiles.

    The funny thing however is that if you go to ANY Apple store, you will often come across a gaggle of teens (mainly white suburban ones) fooling around with iPhoto to take pictures and upload them to their MySpace profiles.

    It got so bad that my apple store has blacked MySpace!

    I asked one of the senior employees there to explain why the kids were so obsessed with coming to the store to log on to MySpace and his answer exposed a ton:

    “Their parents don’t let them use MySpace at home”

    I personally prefer Facebook because it is ‘cleaner’, more organized and the level of education is obviously much higher (also the group that I target for my business). FB also has features that I find far more useful than anything on MySpace.

  • Rachel

    I know it’s really unnecessary for me to comment because so many others have, but I just found your essay that interesting… I’m not sure I agree 100% but I’d say at least 90%. My family doesn’t make tons of money, and my dad didn’t go to college, but my parents value education and it was always an obvious assumption that my sister and I would both go to college. I got MySpace my senior year of high school because some of my friends had it and told me to get it (I graduated in 2005, so Facebook wasn’t open to high school kids yet). I got Facebook the minute I got back from freshman orientation, where I had gotten my college email address, and I got rid of MySpace at the end of my freshman year, when it told me I couldn’t make my profile private unless I was 13 or younger (although I think I heard they changed that now). In my opinion, MySpace is tacky as well as creepy. As has been repeated often, people do stupid stuff to their pages so they’re hard to read, take forever to load, and hurt your eyes. I know this sounds really elitist but I definitely think as Facebook has gotten more open the quality has decreased dramatically. At least the privacy controls are still there, but I have definitely noticed that in “global” groups you get way more whiny, unintelligent high school kids, or antagonistic trolls, or any other kind of obnoxious contributor. Apps are interesting but annoying in that they let people junk up their profiles almost as badly as if they were on MySpace. There are some comments other people have made that I definitely agree with–for example, Facebook being (at least for the original user base) a way to replicate existing real-life social networks online, with MySpace being more of a tool for building social networks with people you don’t know in real life. Personally, that creeps me out. My roommate meets a lot of people on MySpace, and I kind of just want to say, “Can’t you go out and meet people in real life… maybe even people that go to college?” but I know that would be bitchy and elitist.

  • W T WASP

    I found your article / essay by complete accident while looking for something else pertaining to the likes of MySpace & Facebook, and I am SO GLAD I found your writings!

    I have read the initial essay, as well as your response to all the misinterpretational feedback you received (and in fact have kept a copy for myself in a document file, for my own easy referencing back to at my leisure, for I found it to be quite brilliant), and for what it’s worth, I totally “get you” and what you were trying to relay in your writings (including the response).

    I am not surprised that so many missed your points, either in part or entirely. I have my own theories as to why that is, which are similar to your own, but I have a couple of embellishments on a couple of points. (“As a white woman, I probably perpetuate all sorts of racists views without even realizing it, but I don’t see how noting what is happening makes me a racist. I’m still hoping someone could clarify this for me” – I definitely have my theories on this! Feel free to e-mail me anytime and I would be glad to impart my ideas your way, and discuss this with you more in-depth!)

    This may be due to the possibility that I come from a similar school of thought and ideals process as yourself, or perhaps other reasons that I could speculate on all day, but at the end of it all, I not only “got” what you were trying to say, but I even learned a lot – had some very informative answers to some perplexing questions I was at a loss for finding answers to on my own, pertaining to Facebook and the problems of, for lack of a better term, discrimination I experienced with them recently.

    If you ever do write a formal or any sort of follow-up piece on this topic, I would very much like to read it – and given I found your informal essay by chance (in a Google search), I would not like to leave it to chance that I might find your future writings on this topic later, so please, if it’s no trouble, please add my e-mail to a “subscriber’s list” or send me a link where you regularly post your works. Even feel free to e-mail a copy directly to me! :-)

    I find it so refreshing to finally find someone who sees things the same way, or at least as similarly, as I do.

    Thanks so much!

    WTW

  • William Masek

    I think it’s safe to say that Facebook and Myspace will be the next and most successful advertising mediums on the net.

    William

  • Have you heard about SpaceLift?

    Spacelift enables users to import their MySpace profiles onto Facebook so they don’t have to deal with the MySpace interface. Definitely a useful app, especially as more and more people are making the transition to Facebook.

    More from CMSWire:
    Facebook’s decision to keep a tight grip on its form, while letting users experiment with its functions, is a formula that forces users to focus less on the appearance of their profile pages and think more about collaborative opportunities.

    If you’re a social networking site, that’s what you want: for users to interact with one another on your platform. This keeps them coming back.

  • Fascinating article, it has the same feeling of talking about real teenagers that _The Nurture Assumption_ has and some of the same statements about kids getting around parents if the parents try to control them.

    Sorry you took all the abuse for it, but that happens to people sometimes who do interesting things with deep connections to our nature. Look at the abuse E.O.Wilson took.

    Anyway, thanks

    Keith Henson

  • shelli

    I work for a company who creates social networking sites for business and government, and one of the things I find most interesting about this whole discussion is that it proves how important the Brand of the community is (i.e. the trust of the environment and the expectations of the community).

    Because one thing this article has made clear… If YOU (the provider) don’t brand your network, it will brand itself.

    – Shelli Wright
    Neighborhood America

  • Claudia

    As the mother of a 15 year old daughter bound for college I found this very interesting. I have a MySpace account and Facebook account because of my job and church activites. My daughter has accounts on both sites. I can see from your observations some real truths to what you speak. Thanks for an engaging and thought provoking paper.

  • CMG

    As this is the second time I have come across your article I decided to respond as concisely as possible:
    At first glance I was most definitely incensed that you would even write such an article, but upon further inspection I became more curious as to why you would write such an article. There are plenty of “tangible” socio-economic idiosyncrasies to explore, which I think would lend themselves to a well-rounded rounded study of class divisions in the United States. I think perhaps if you had started the essay with the military’s ban on MySpace and led into the so-called divisions you’ve found among students, readers might be less quick to jump, and or lash out.
    As an African-American graduate of a “hegemonic” high school and a diverse college with both MySpace and Facebook accounts, I think that your article is unfair to the people (teens) that you apparently care about. (Personally, I think that ones choice of one SNS over another has to do with user friendliness and amount of friends that are members). As a result I can only imagine that you are genuinely concerned and got off on the wrong foot, or you are just looking for attention. Either way it seems that youth has enough to deal with these days and your stereotype-perpetuating article has most definitely done more harm then help. I can only hope that the people you are talking about are not as offended I as am for them. Regardless of the fact that socio-economic divisions exist, I don?t think they are as neatly played out anywhere, save for free social networking sites. I suppose if you had to pay for one (Bronze membership being for the “subaltern” and Gold being for the “hegemonic”), or members were denied (a la country clubs) then you could write till your hearts content.

  • Mark Ritt

    I note that my criticism of the appropriation of particular values as “middle-class” has been removed. Perhaps the author might note that any feedback that reflects criticism might be deleted.

  • Becca Moss

    I just read your article during homework research for my Intro to Sociology class. Wow! I did not even know that Facebook existed and had never put any thought into class division and Myspace. My brain is churning away now though! The woman that used your article (as a reference for a brief essay), received the most feedback of any other posted work. I was intrigued by the content of her paper, and I am happy that I let my curiosity guide me to your blogs.

  • Social classes have always, and will always exist. There is the patriarch or monarch, and then you have those who serve that structure.

    America is no different. Externally, we appear to have a system that is constructed through the will of the people, that is not really the case. The Electoral College is our stumbling block on the road to a true democratic experience. Your paper was not about that issue, but this is where my argument takes shape.

    Because the internal workings of our government are not in the hands of the people, there will always be the “haves and have nots”, and this is entirely based on one truth; no one, I mean no one on this planet has real wealth unless they own something from the ground. That being energy sources, building sources, and sustenance sources. Everything else is a blip on a computer screen and is not real, but only based on faith. The whole economic structure is based on that one commodity.

    Having said that, the power structure will always be based on the fact that it is good to be king, and every other person in the kingdom is simply a subject. In all structures of this sort you have the peasant mentality. The example you used in your paper comparing two people making 14K having a completely different outlook on where they fit in society was right on the mark. This is a condition of class rule that has more to do with cultural dogma than anything else. The average person from a lineage of shopkeepers and self made peoples is more likely to want to own their own business than a person who is from a tradition of hourly wage earners.

    The class divides today however are blurred, like you stated in your paper. This can be attributed to mixing of families, rather than traditional relationships that existed in years passed, plus the availability of information. People today are exposed to more lifestyles than before, so the ideals they have can be shaped from the combination of traditional family values plus marketing.

    You do not have to worry about the young, they will find balance. I am a Boomer and my parents thought the same things about me that you are thinking about the youth of today. Nothing is really any different, and every generation thinks they invented badness. Sorry, you are not that original.

  • RPB

    Very thoughtful and interesting essay, particularly in light of Microsoft’s recent purchase of Facebook. Looking at this acquisition from a social or class perspective provides a lot of grist for the old speculation mill, huh? Just a thought…

  • Leslie

    I’d be curious to know if any of these phenomena are also playing out in the multitude of dating social networking sites. I’ve noticed over the last year new ones popping up aimed at niche communities. I’ve also heard eHarmony became more selective about its acceptance of new members and I’m curious to know of those two things are related.

    A friend’s personal use of these tools revealed, in her experience, that eHarmony tended to offer her religious and morally “good” (i.e. no drinking, smoking, pre-marital sex, etc.) date options. Conversely, she did not observe that phenomena when using Match.com.

    It’s a little more frightening to me if these class divisions and issues play out and get perpetuated through relationships developed via dating SNS. Think about it: all the “upper class” people meet up w/ each other in “their” dating SNS, while “lower class” people do so within “their” dating SNS (and all those classes in between w/ their dating SNS)…I realize this sort of thing happens offline all the time, but I guess I feel like there’s more risk of homogeneity of societies when people mix socially online than F2F. Anyway..just a thought.

    I’ve appreciated your writing and candid thoughts on this matter and will be sharing your experiences with this blog essay in a faculty development workshop addressing ethical implications of new media in higher education and scholarship – My segment will be addressing digital scholarship and “new” notions of peer review it encourages/discourages, etc., so I hope sharing your experiences can be a starting point for a rich discussion w/ faculty on these issues around what “scholarly” work and knowledge production is and means these days – and what that means for our students as we try and teach them to critically consume the information they’re bombarded with everyday (I’m a reference & instruction librarian).

    Thanks!

  • Jessica Lichy

    Very much enjoyed your work on MySpace and Facebook. It take guts to tell the truth and some people (your critics) just couldn’t hack it. Tough! Life is too short …
    I await your next piece!
    Jessica

  • In my opinion, the time when nearly every single high school and college student is signed up at facebook has already came. Myspace through it’s crappy service, UI, ambiguous usability issues was doomed from the beginning. The targeted audience for Myspace would be probably only housewives and old grandma’s

  • In my opinion, the time when nearly every single high school and college student is signed up at facebook has already came. Myspace through it’s crappy service, UI, ambiguous usability issues was doomed from the beginning. The targeted audience for Myspace would be probably only housewives and old grandma’s

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