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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Race/ethnicity and parent education differences in usage of Facebook and MySpace

In June, I wrote a controversial blog essay about how U.S. teens appeared to be self-dividing by class on MySpace and Facebook during the 2006-2007 school year. This piece got me into loads of trouble for all sorts of reasons, forcing me to respond to some of the most intense critiques.

While what I was observing went beyond what could be quantitatively measured, certain aspects of it could be measured. To my absolute delight, Eszter Hargittai (professor at Northwestern) had collected data to measure certain aspects of the divide that I was trying to articulate. Not surprising (to me at least), what she was seeing lined up completely with what I was seeing on the ground.

Her latest article “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites” (published as a part of Nicole Ellison and my JCMC special issue on social network sites) suggests that Facebook and MySpace usage are divided by race/ethnicity and parent education (two common measures of “class” in the U.S.). Her findings are based on a survey of 1060 first year students at the diverse University of Illinois-Chicago campus during February and March of 2007. For more details on her methodology, see her methods section.

While over 99% of the students had heard of both Facebook and MySpace, 79% use Facebook and 55% use MySpace. The story looks a bit different when you break it down by race/ethnicity and parent education:

While Eszter is not able to measure the other aspects of lifestyle that I was trying to describe that differentiate usage, she is able to show that Facebook and MySpace usage differs by race/ethnicity and parent education. These substitutes for “class” can be contested, but what is important here is that there is genuinely differences in usage patterns, even with consistent familiarity. People are segmenting themselves in networked publics and this links to the ways in which they are segmented in everyday life. Hopefully Eszter’s article helps those who can’t read qualitative data understand that what I was observing is real and measurable.

(We are still waiting for all of the JCMC articles from our special issue to be live on the site. Fore more information on this special issue, please see the Introduction that Nicole and I wrote: Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship.)

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12 comments to Race/ethnicity and parent education differences in usage of Facebook and MySpace

  • I don’t think this is surprising either and it’s great that Eszter did the research to be able to share these numbers (and thank you for sharing). I remember thinking that your general hypothesis — that there were class differences between the users of MySpace and of Facebook — made sense.

    My problem was how you defined class, which seemed to be based more on social insiders versus outsiders (a John Hughes/S.E. Hinton freaks versus jocks viewpoint) than on socioeconomic status. This is what made it seem a little shaky.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • I was not one of the complainers, I am quite prepared to believe that usage varies by class and ethnicity and that adoption and switchign rates similarly vary. But while this is an interesting study, isn’t it limited in terms of class delineation given that all the respondents are university students?

  • Paul

    Having read “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” as well as your blog on class differentiation between MySpace and Facebook, I have a better understanding of “what” SNS’s are. However, I am still left with the question of “why”. Whenever I enter a SNS I am immediately struck by the superficiality of what happens in that space. I have yet to understand the underlying value of what is happening there, however, I suspect that as I continue to follow your research I will find out. Fascinating stuff.

  • danah, thanks for the post on the piece and all the help from you and Nicole on getting it in its final shape.

    John, I appreciate your comment about this paper being limited to a specific college population. I certainly agree that one has to be careful about generalizing and I make no claims beyond this population in the paper. Note, however, that if anything, the issue you raise is going to suggest that findings here will be conservative. Moreover, note that while it seems like this is a college-educated group, if you read the paper you’ll see that I mention the relatively low graduation rate at this university. By their second year, almost a quarter of these students will have dropped out of college, and in six years fewer than half will graduate so it’s best not to think of all these students as future college graduates.

  • To my eye, those numbers don’t seem all that strongly correlated. You might find a more dramatic difference if you do a study of high schoolers instead of first year University students, since for many kids it seems like getting a Facebook account is one of those things that you do to start college.

  • This is suggested by Bill Tancer and Hitwise:

    According to Hitwise, as of last week, the MySpace domain is one of the most visited domain amongst U.S. Internet users, accounting for 4.92% of all Internet visits. At its peak in June of this year, the site accounted for 7% of all Internet visits. Meanwhile, Facebook has been increasing steadily, currently taking the position as the ninth most popular domain in the U.S., accounting for 1% of all Internet visits. Even though both sites – being within the top 10 of all Internet domains – are somewhat ubiquitous, demographic and psychographic data on users indicates that there are some unique audience components to each service.

    On a per capita basis, MySpace has 4% more women visiting its site than Facebook. Facebook users tend to be more affluent, with its users skewing towards households earning over $60,000 per year, while MySpace users skew toward lower income levels, with 12% more of its users earning under $60,000 per year. Using the psychographic system Mosaic to track U.S. Internet users, it’s clear that there’s a class distinction between users of the two social networks. Facebook’s most predominant group of visitors in Mosaic is “affluent suburbia,” a group that Mosaic describes as “the wealthiest households in the U.S., living in exclusive suburban neighborhoods enjoying the best that life has to offer.” The predominant group for MySpace, on the other hand, is “struggling societies,” or households that are primarily single parent, single income, raising families on lower incomes and tight budgets.

    See more on
    http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1675244,00.html?iid=sphere-inline-sidebar

  • Erica

    Hey danah!
    You look warm and toasty in your picture. It’s SNOWING HERE TODAY!!! Gotta love Buffalo…First snowfall of the winter.
    Have you seen this yet? They embedded tracking devices in 10 kid’s school uniforms. Not sure how I feel about that. :-0
    http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/devlin/17027

  • Berlin

    Is there a class distinction? Is there a race distinction?

    Urkot’s users are mostly from Brazil. Urkot (a Turkish word) is a SNS owned by Google. 40% of Friendster’s users are from the Philippines. Friendster is based in Sunnyvale. It’s simply how the userbase was seeded. User number 91 on Friendster is Filipina -a friend of Abrams, Friendster’s founder.

    What about now? Is there a from of “white flight” in social networking sites? Are the more affluent white kids avoiding or leaving Myspace, now that minorites are joining? It’s possible, since were a lot more racist and prejudice than we’d like to admit.

    However, one’s decision whether to join or leave a SNS is not the same as how we decide which part of the city or which suburbs to visit or stay away from. Are there too many black, white or asian people there? The exodus to Facebook from every other social networking sites ‘still’ has nothing to do with race or class. It’s all about faddism.

    Too simple? Just a SNS owner’s point of view. Both Orkut and Friendster are useless to U.S. advertisers. So there’s a lesson to be learned from their mistakes.

    A site I’d like to recommend. “WHAT IS SOCIAL DESIGN?”
    http://bokardo.com/

  • Berlin

    Is there a class distinction? Is there a race distinction?

    Urkot’s users are mostly from Brazil. Urkot (a Turkish word) is a SNS owned by Google. 40% of Friendster’s users are from the Philippines. Friendster is based in Sunnyvale. It’s simply how the userbase was seeded. User number 91 on Friendster is Filipina -a friend of Abrams, Friendster’s founder.

    What about now? Is there a from of “white flight” in social networking sites? Are the more affluent white kids avoiding or leaving Myspace, now that minorites are joining? It’s possible, since were a lot more racist and prejudice than we’d like to admit.

    However, one’s decision whether to join or leave a SNS is not the same as how we decide which part of the city or which suburbs to visit or stay away from. Are there too many black, white or asian people there? The exodus to Facebook from every other social networking sites ‘still’ has nothing to do with race or class. It’s all about faddism.

    Too simple? Just a SNS owner’s point of view. Both Orkut and Friendster are useless to U.S. advertisers. So there’s a lesson to be learned from their mistakes.

    A site I’d like to recommend. “WHAT IS SOCIAL DESIGN?”
    http://bokardo.com/

  • Steve

    It will be interesting to see if at some point (or even already?) MySpace gets a reputation as being a site for “losers”. Is anybody tracking this kind of “SNS Meme”? If not, maybe somebody should.

    Just a thought,
    -Steve

  • IMHO you, Hargittai, and your cohorts should also be looking at how & why lower-class and non-white users are ending up at the less personally and technologically secure Myspace. My bias: I am a long-time user of Livejournal, not least because it gives me much more control over my online presence than Myspace or Facebook offers. IMHO this is one reason LJ’s user base is probably 80% female — women *need* more security online, especially the ability to discourage connections between cyberlife and where we are in the RW.

    I have discouraged my children from getting Myspace accounts and have counselled great caution on Facebook for these reasons. Myspace in particular has long struck me as being extremely cavalier about all kinds of security (from viruses to stalking) and has the smell of a SNS designed from the ground up for the sole purpose of making money instead of doing a good job. The fact that it’s now owned by Rupert Murdoch is just the icing on the cake: it was always aiming at the tabloid market.

    So my question is, why are the non-white people ending up in the dangerous part of town, even when no-one is paying rent? Or do different SNSs have “invisible rents”, which drive up the cost of LJ and other more geeky sites?

  • Hi everyone,
    I saw the graph quite interesting its been an issue when it comes while sharing knowledge.But there is some website where u will get some intresting and amazing Data where u do not get in this site
    so goto parenteducate.com

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