Research: Myspace and Facebook are different class

Research by Danah Boyd suggests that the two social networking sites reflect existing class structures.

In my recent post 'Facebook and MySpace are like chalk ‘n’ cheese', I argued that the two sites have contrasting user-bases, and cater for different needs.

... essentially I see the two giants generally catering for the needs of different demographics — hence their distinct differences in terms of layout and functionality.

MySpace I suggested was much more a place for teens, and I borrowed Richard Wray's analogy of the site being like a teenager's bedroom: messy, decorated with posters, and with irritating music constantly in the background. In contrast -- and I was of course generalising -- Facebook reflected its college roots, and places greater emphasis on various kinds of career / social life networking, rather than self-expression.

What I failed to mention (in part because my views were based on personal experience, as well as simple observations from looking at the two sites) was that class plays a significant factor.

Enter Danah Boyd's research, published in an essay on her blog today.

First thing to note is that Boyd's definition of class is a modern one, having "more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income."

Boyd's research is based on qualitive interviews with young people in the US, carried out over the last six months.

On Facebook's user-base among younger people, Boyd writes:

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

In contrast:

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, "burnouts," "alternative kids," "art fags," punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

Boyd's research reflects something I've always thought props up class structures offline, and flies in the face of the notion of the Internet as a democratizing force. The middle / upper classes have always used their existing social networks (the offline kind) as a way of maintaining a privileged position, and securing the best opportunities in life.

However, what's most interesting is that Facebook's functionality -- and user-base -- reflects this. Remember Facebook profiles are hidden unless you are logged in and added as friend.

Mike Butcher writes:

... in the future the really powerful networks will be closed ones. You can't get to a Facebook profile unless you are registered and it's not open to the Web. On MySpace anyone - logged in or not - can reach you, and it also reflects a teenager's general "posture" to the outside world much more because of its public nature.

Boyd's conclusion is equally depressing:

It breaks my heart to watch a class divide play out in the technology. I shouldn't be surprised - when orkut grew popular in India, the caste system was formalized within the system by the users. But 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.

Related post: Facebook and MySpace are like chalk ‘n’ cheese

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