Facebook for the Rich; MySpace for the Poor?

Earlier research showed that the social networking choice between Facebook, MySpace and Xanga was based on the users’ race, ethnicity, and education, with Latino students trending toward MySpace, white students trending toward Facebook, and Asian and Asian-American students trending towards Xanga. Interestingly, there were no discernable social networking trends for black students.

In the meantime, Danah Boyd discovered that white teenagers believe some social networking sites like MySpace are “ghetto” (their words), while others are “more cultured” (again, their words), which dictated why one SNS gets used more often than the next. Boyd explains,

It wasn’t just anyone who left MySpace to go to Facebook. In fact, if we want to get to the crux of what unfolded, we might as well face an uncomfortable reality… What happened was modern day “white flight.” Whites were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. The educated were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from the suburbs were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those who deserted MySpace did so by “choice” but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.

Now a new consumer behavior analysis firm has completed additional research confirming that digital migration is taking place on SNS primarily along class lines.

Call me naive, but I always assumed the rise of Facebook usage, at least among my friends, had more to do with usability than any other function. MySpace was created as a band promotion site, not for individuals, whereas Facebook was created for individuals to connect. And to date, MySpace seems more design and tech clunky than Facebook does — that is, if I ignore all your invitations asking me to join your farm/restaurant/mafia ring. Nevertheless, the evidence appears to be stacking up in a way that reveals a new kind of digital divide, one in which social groups are choosing not to connect with or communicate with one another.


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81 comments for “Facebook for the Rich; MySpace for the Poor?

  1. October 3, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I’ve always associated Facebook with an Ivy-league, white, privileged userbase. When they opened up membership to everyone I avoided it for years, but finally relented because socially people began to rely on it (and not having a presence there made scheduling things difficult). Overall I find social networking a bit of a bore, though, so I don’t use it for much else.

    I don’t think this is so much about white people preferring Facebook as it is that white people don’t really like socializing with those who aren’t white, so they follow their crowds wherever those crowds happen to go. In this case that crowd went to Facebook. I suppose there is some faux class-mobility too, as Facebook is/was an extension of a privileged, white academic culture.

  2. Robin
    October 3, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Considering that Facebook originally required a university email address to join, back when it was imagined as a professional networking tool, I’m not surprised. Even though it’s been open to everyone for a long time, it makes sense that the user base would grow from those original members. Obviously, groups with more privilege are more represented among those who choose to/are able to go to university. And those who go to university are more likely to have parents, siblings, cousins, and friends who come from similar backgrounds. I don’t know if it really represents white flight so much as the insularity of privileged social groups.

  3. Meg
    October 3, 2009 at 10:19 am

    I have black and asian friends who use Facebook, but very few friends of any sort who I know use MySpace — or who ever did, really. For the record, I’ve never even heard of Xanga, so clearly I don’t use it. And while I hadn’t consciously thought of it in terms of class before, I had considered in terms of age (many of my students seem to use MySpace) and, indeed, taste. I think it’s important to recognize that class issues are not *always* harnessed so tightly to race issues.

    In facebook, you can’t put repeating pictures of “Hot nakked ladies” behind your words (yes, I stumbled across this more than once). The format of Facebook does a lot to limit discourse choices in relation to arranging your texts and presentation, which also coincides with making them easier to access across users: it’s simply harder for me to read MySpace given the often poor choices in font-color/background combos. This freedom is, indeed, a major pitfall for usability. I don’t necessarily want that much ability to personalize in what is basically a way to keep track of friends in far-away places and schedule my weekly “Hey, let’s go get wine!”

    I’ve seen the same patterns of design in my students [college freshmen] during a basic HTML/Webdesign assignment. I started having to put in my schpeal about how to change font colors/background colors: “You *can* make the font neon-green on a neon yellow background. But remember, I’m blind enough already, and this is a writing assignment. If your reader can’t read your writing, they won’t get what you’re trying to say. And they may not appreciate the headache.” I usually end up with a neon-teal on lavender page at some point, but most of them get the message.

    I think it’s also an age thing (my bad eyes aside). When I was “first adopting” a networking technology, I actually went with LiveJournal. This is more a blog, but I was keeping in contact with a small group of friends from undergrad. I also adopted Facebook at the point when you had to be a college student, which had the allure of the gated community; Hey, no creepy guys my dad’s age are going to be using it to find me and/or hit on me! Privacy standards have come a long way since then, and I assume there are ways to limit access to MySpace profiles, but at the time it seemed like MySpace was more dangerous, while Facebook was just an extension of the Fuck Finder. In my current graduate program, I use Facebook much more intensively, because it’s used as a community message board to get people from point A to point B without spamming.

  4. October 3, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Considering that Facebook originally required a university email address to join, back when it was imagined as a professional networking tool, I’m not surprised.

    I was thinking of that too. It gained popularity right before I graduated from college and lost my .edu email address, so I stuck with MySpace for a long time even if I didn’t use it. I joined Twitter and FB late and was surprised at how heavily my online and meatspace friends had adopted both.

    One other thing I was thinking is how the design features function on FB and MS. One mimics newer platforms (FB, think the Mac aesthetic) and the other mimics older platforms (MS) — and considering how Twitter and Google Office and other new platforms are used by more urban techie groups (white, insular, early adopters) it follows that they in particular would trend toward FB.

  5. Melancholia
    October 3, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Facebook was, by design, originally for “privileged” people because you had to have a .edu to join. I joined waaay back (2004 or 2005) back when only college kids could join. People go on SNSs to keep in touch with existing contacts, not to met new people, so it makes sense that the colleg set would flock to a site designed to keep college people connected, rather than stay on Myspace which was very annoying with all sorts of random groups bands models etc trying to friend you

    Now Facebook is open to everyone! I bailed facebook when my parents joined. The whole appeal of facebook to me was its limited access. It feels much to open to me now.

    That facebook has a privileged demographic isn’t all too surprising given its history, but now that it’s open to anyone maybe the trend will be in the opposite direction.

  6. October 3, 2009 at 10:35 am

    MySpace wasn’t originally intended as a band promotion site, at least not the way I remember it. They originally appeared as a more customizable alternative to Friendster, definitely trying to recruit individuals off that network, and a lot of people abandoned it in droves, in part to make (imho hideously ugly) customized Myspace pages with music and blog posts and more extensive comment walls and other features Friendster didn’t over.

    Basically, I agree — the main driver of people from one site to the next has to do with features and usability. Facebook swung back away from visual customization, which many people found garish on MySpace — I’m obviously one, but there’s been a lot of describing of MySpace as trashy or “ghetto” precisely because it’s not clean-cut with white backgrounds… and that definitely says something.

    I was not super surprised by Boyd’s research when it first came out, although it was telling. The officer/enlisted divide in the military between the two sites is interesting too, as was the fact that MySpace took the brunt of the “social networking scares” of a few years ago, was banned by the military and many high schools, etc. Facebook escaped as much scrutiny by being the “good kids” site that was exclusive to “college and college-bound students” inititally. Oh obviously parents don’t have to worry about sexual predators and drug-dealing on that site, phew! It’s classic in some ways.

    At this point, the composition of Facebook has changed irrevocably from its classist, elitist roots, but that doesn’t mean the roots were never there. There’s a huge population on Facebook over 40 and even over 50; lots of pre-teens are (illegally) on Facebook, etc. I haven’t seen similar numbers having to do with income level or race, but they’re probably out there somewhere. I suppose the age differences may be attributable to family members joining, but I suspect Facebook has become a broader town square. Eventually it WILL be eclipsed by whatever the next big social platform is. Google Wave? Who knows.

    • October 3, 2009 at 10:43 am

      MySpace wasn’t originally intended as a band promotion site, at least not the way I remember it. They originally appeared as a more customizable alternative to Friendster

      God, I completely forgot about Friendster. Where did I pick up on the band promotion thing? I’ll have to refresh my memory.

      Now Facebook is open to everyone! I bailed facebook when my parents joined. The whole appeal of facebook to me was its limited access.

      I like the privacy options in FB much better than those in MS, exactly for those reasons. Also, be careful: My mom is totally going to be your FB friend now. Hi, mom!

  7. Zoe
    October 3, 2009 at 10:56 am

    I’ve definitely noticed that sentiment, that people are leaving Myspace for Facebook. I think there is definitely an education gap in these people, which does make sense, considering Facebook was originally for college kids. I remember being irritated when high school students started getting Facebooks but now it doesn’t bother me, only when they treat Facebook like Myspace. I mean that in how Myspace, it’s more acceptable to friend anyone. Facebook, to me, is more for networking with people you know. I’ve had high schoolers younger than my little brother who try to friend me and I have no clue who they are. To me, it defeats the purpose.

    Anyhow. I also think Facebook is a lot easier to use and has less advertising than Myspace, which makes it more appealing.

  8. Lance
    October 3, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Something to consider: MySpace began to lose ground to Facebook around the time that NewsCorp purchased MySpace. The corporate takeover came with a greatly increased (and obnoxious) advertising presence on MySpace. Facebook never let the advertising presence on its pages get anywhere near where MySpace did. Could it be that the people who left MySpace for Facebook did so because they were less tolerant of advertising?

    If I were more conspiracy-minded, I would wonder if NewsCorp had a hand in all these recent “Facebook white flight” posts that have been cropping up recently. Who has been funding this social network demographic research, anyways?

    Calling the shift from MySpace to Facebook “white flight” is absurd, even if some researchers have managed to catch a few idiot high school kids using the word “ghetto” to describe MySpace. (I wonder how often that really came up, or if this is just a case of one or two quotes being repeated so often that they suddenly appear to be the trend, rather than outliers.) White flight was what happened when white people left areas because they did not want to be neighbors with black people (and people of color in general). There haven’t been any findings that indicate that the presence of people of color or poor people in the user-base of MySpace was the cause for the migration to Facebook.

    Not liking a social network’s layout is not the same as not liking its users, or being prejudiced against those users. The people pushing those “white flight to Facebook” idea need to get that straight.

  9. Becca
    October 3, 2009 at 11:08 am

    When Facebook just started, you didn’t just need a .edu address, but only *certain schools* could join. Harvard first, then other Ivy Leagues. When I was a freshman in college, Facebook was suddenly this new cool thing but we couldn’t join it yet because our (small) college wasn’t listed yet. So not only was there a university bias, but only certain universities were listed and others added later.

  10. October 3, 2009 at 11:21 am

    As usual, it’s a combination of things. I’m perfectly willing to believe that shifts from one social network to another are driven largely by features, good-looking design, user-friendly changes in how advertising is integrated, and general usability. But I wouldn’t claim that demographics play no part in it — after all, news of new products, and pressure/incentives to use them, spread along demographic lines. This is especially true of social networks; people go to where their friends are. Facebook was ivy league, then more colleges, then finally it was public. The way it spread along race and class lines should be no mystery at all, even if it’s not exactly “white flight,” even if there was some element of that. But the patterns it created are pretty clear and pretty race/class-divided; just look at Boyd’s research. (Even though it might be kind of behind the explosive demographic trends by this point.)

    People generally don’t need a “strong reason” to segregate themselves, it “just happens” and people go along with it. That’s not really any “less segregationist,” it’s just systemic segregation that people can wash their hands of. But all the most deep-seated problems of oppression in our society are systemic, not about people being naughty and having bad thoughts and doing bad deeds. Snort.

  11. propercopperpot
    October 3, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I joined Facebook when it was still college-student only, but I easily could have made a Myspace page before then. I just didn’t, because I had been so irritated by how ugly and obnoxious all of the Myspace pages I had ever seen had been: in addition to the much-abused customization options mentioned above, many pages played music automatically whenever you viewed them. Not to mention the privacy issues. No thanks.

    In my opinion, Myspace is and always has been simply an inferior service/tool for individuals, and that’s why an open Facebook is now outperforming them in terms of users, unique visitors, and especially growth. But because there’s absolutely nothing preventing anyone from having both a Myspace and a Facebook if they choose, I think the “white flight” analogy doesn’t hold up. Without analogous institutional and class barriers that kept the suburbs inaccessible to many people of color, this just becomes another story about how kids tend to make friends with and do the same things as peers of their own race. It’s a side story to the one about the endgame between two competitors who got their start at different times, targeting different demographics. It would be my guess that if Facebook keeps growing at the rate it has been, you’ll see more and more people either switching or using both. (Anecdotal, but: I know three different people from my old neighborhood, who only had Myspace before, who have done this within the past two months.)

  12. chingona
    October 3, 2009 at 11:47 am

    I had always associated this with age, not race – that high school kids were on MySpace and older people were on FB. I was a very late adopter, so I got on FB in 2008 because everyone I know was already on FB. And I’m white, and like a lot of white people, the majority of my friends are white. However, all my non-white friends are also on FB and looking at their friends, all their (also) non-white friends are on FB.

    As someone else said, we tend to use social networking to keep up with the people we already know, not to meet new people.

    The vast majority of us are college graduates, though there are a few who aren’t. It kind of makes sense that if you had MySpace in high school and didn’t go to college, you and most of your friends would keep your MySpace accounts.

    I’m wondering if the racial divide is influenced by the class divide – that is, what you would see if you showed the choice by race and education level.

  13. October 3, 2009 at 11:56 am

    It’s weird that people feel that Facebook is less private that MySpace. I recently started using Facebook and was surprised at how quickly I received friend requests from people I’m not used to seeing online. My mom, friends’ parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And the constant updates on everything make it hard to say or do anything on there and have it go under the radar. I guess maybe I’m not utilizing the settings tools properly or something, in which case, it doesn’t seem to me to be a whole lot more user friendly than MySpace. On my MySpace account, I used to post lots of political blogs and pictures of friends at parties and so on, but I’m a lot less likely to express myself in that way on Facebook.

  14. October 3, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I’ve stopped using MySpace because the layout is awful.

    It takes forever to load, has music on autoplay, and the background images many people use just hurt my eyes.

    I know I can’t be the only one to have left for those reasons.

  15. GrannyT
    October 3, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t know how many other people had the same experience I did, but I joined Facebook because my friends and family kept talking about what they had posted and read there. Among my 35 Friends are high school classmates, old work friends, kids, grandkids and relatives I previously communicated with by Christmas card. It never occurred to me that Facebook was “white” or “rich”. MySpace? The few of my grandkids who have accounts there don’t like it, and say they never check their pages on it. The idea that they don’t use MySpace because it’s for a different race or ethnic group strikes me as a tad bizarre.

  16. romham
    October 3, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    i left myspace because my 300year old computer couldnt handle it. most of my myspace was folks posting pics and other stuff that took ages to load, so it was kind of useless for me. i held out on fb for a very long time, and now enjoy it because it doesnt take (literally) 30 to 40 minutes to look at a handful of pics.

  17. jemand
    October 3, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    they are both free! And I don’t see any current differential access… if you can afford a web connection, there’s no inherent bias toward myspace or facebook…

    It’s not at all like suburbs/inner city, where you have to exclusively choose one, or the other, there are differential access issues, and cost differentials. I just don’t see how this is an issue.

  18. Lance
    October 3, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    @Holly, it’s obvious from the research that there are demographic differences between MySpace and Facebook. It would be good to bridge these divides, to the degree they can be bridged, to have more diverse user-bases for both services. (And for social groups in general.)

    However, when terms like “white flight” start getting invoked, the discussion loses any validity. There is no benefit from invoking that kind of language other than to shame those in the privileged demographics. It turns the discussion into an attack, and even if the attack is against the privileged it doesn’t make it either valid or helpful for the discussion.

    • October 3, 2009 at 2:50 pm

      Uh, yeah Lance, I can see how Holly calling something “not quite ‘white flight'” has caused the thread to lose any and all worth that it may have had.

      Also, pretending for a moment that it’s what Holly actually did do (and she didn’t), heaven forbid we shame privileged folks. Indeed, as someone who would be considered among the privileged demographics in this conversation, I am deeply insulted at the very thought that my actions might be called into question and treated as though they are not beyond reproach.

  19. debbie
    October 3, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    And I thought I was the only one who remembered friendster. I got a facebook account when it became available to everyone – my recollection was Canadian universities were not included (maybe because we don’t use .edu?). I got one because everyone I knew had one. Most of my friends are addicts, but I don’t get it – it just seems really boring to me.

    For a while Toronto (where I live) had more facebook users than any other city, and it was largely attributed by the media to a strong tech sector presence, a relatively highly educated population, and class (the average income in Toronto is about 20% higher than the rest of the country). There are also four universities in the city, so there’s a huge student presence. There was no discussion of race in the media coverage that I can recall, which is interesting because Toronto is known for being a racially diverse city.

  20. QLH
    October 3, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I HATE FACEBOOK. The layout, the functionality, it’s terrible.

    I use MySpace every day. Much easier, much more user-friendly.

  21. jemand
    October 3, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    shame privileged folks? for moving from one free SNS to another? why again? there’s a lot of things we *could* shame people for but… is it *really* you know, a class barrier to bar someone from typing in “facebook.com” instead of “myspace.com” while online? Really?

    • October 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm

      As I said in the previous comment, Jemand: No one shamed privileged folks here. At all. Lance is the one who brought up shaming. I was merely pointing out the absurdity of a line about how shaming privileged people for their actions causes a discussion to lose all of its validity.

      Also, I don’t believe that anyone claimed that there was a class bar to typing out a different URL. I think the argument is that a class barrier has erected around the two sites, and that the conversation is based around the way that many privileged folks view and refer to a site that they believe is used by people of a lower class.

  22. K
    October 3, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    However, when terms like “white flight” start getting invoked, the discussion loses any validity

    I used to live in Dallas, a metropolitan area in which white flight has created bedroom communities 2- and 3-hour drives outside of the city’s downtown. See this page at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire for graphic representations of what I’m talking about.

    The white flight in that city is so obvious, it isn’t even really denied among whites. It’s just worded a bit carefully. You hear complaints about music being played, loudly or otherwise; you hear complaints about houses being painted garish colors (and that can include any color, any shade that’s not some variety of beige); you hear about too many people coming and going; you hear the fear that just anyone could wander into the neighborhood. White people don’t say–at least not initially–that they wanted to get away from Latinos and African-Americans. They say “we wanted something more quiet, more peaceful, more private.”

    They say, in other words, everything I’m reading in this thread about why Facebook is preferable to MySpace.

    So I’m sorry, Lance–was I not supposed to notice these similarities, lest the conversation lose all validity? My bad.

    • October 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm

      Also, I think that K makes some excellent points, and that if others find them “shaming” then oh well. Because, again, a conversation’s validity does not rest on making privileged folks nice and comfy.

  23. jemand
    October 3, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I guess what I can’t get over is the fact that, ok, even assuming there’s more of a switch instead of just differential sign up rates, following in this case takes *just a click of the button.* It just… doesn’t seem to equate to situations where privilege is actually in effect, such as in the ability to move out to the suburbs or something.

    How exclusive can you get when your club is protected by simply typing in a different, publicly know, URL? There’s got to be something else at work here.

  24. Josh Jasper
    October 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I prefer live journal to them all. Clean interface, no annoying “super poke” aps. It does what I want it to do.

  25. Azalea
    October 3, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I had a Facebook page long before I even knew what MySpace was. I attended a private university and it was there I discovered Facebook- right in its beginning stages. I had a nicely diverse group of peers (about evenly split amongst whites, blacks, latinas and asians). The bulk of us had and still have Facebook pages.

    I doubt its a white priviledge thing as everyone I ever went to school with now has a facebook page (starting from my days in pre school- most of us went on to go to college/university and eventually joined Facebook through our school’s network) and the vast majority of them are black. I think it has a lot more to do with academia than anything else.

  26. October 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    I stopped using MySpace when my account got constantly phished, I got 10 spam friend requests a day, and random messages from creepy dudes informing me that they were jerking.off to my photo. It was very rare that I had a person I actually wanted to connect with contacting me.

  27. LaurensMom
    October 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    No I am not going to be friends with any of YOUR friends….really!!!!!!!!

  28. Azalea
    October 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    There is absolutely nothing stopping people from coming or going to either site. But if you want to connect with people and actually know who you’re connecting with then Facebook was the place to go. Because you had to use a student e-mail address and verify it and THEN use the name associated with that e-mail address for Facebook, it was safe to assume you knew the people you were connecting with.

    When we consider how MySpace was mared by the suicide of a few people, the stalking and/ or rape of others and then how easier it is to keep in touch with friends, peers, colleagues and everyone else when you don’t have to wait for 50million gigs worth of graphics to load- Facebook is just easier and to some safer. When it opened its doors to everyone- more people started leaving. I guess what’s really happened here is that more Latina/Latinos decided they were happy with MySpace or decided not to delete their MySpace pages If this was a whites getting away from undesireables issue then we all KNOW blacks would be the first to be alienated.

  29. October 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Lance, I have a short temper and the only thing that saved your comment from deletion was my nap. Please heed the concerns co-bloggers Cara and Holly have raised here. I’m cranky.

  30. October 3, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Azalea @31: Safety is an illusion online. I am just as easily stalked and attacked as a blogger as I am on a social network. If you participate online, eventually, all the details are coming out.

    In fact, it’s a data point in favor of Boyd that one can insinuate that MySpace is a dangerous ghetto full of stalkers and scary people while Facebook is an unfettered digital playground.

  31. October 3, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I use facebook, MySpace and LiveJournal as marketing tools. I like LiveJournal best, because I’ve been using it since 2002. My life is on LJ. Everything from potty-training to marital fights to book releases to silly icon memes. My f’list is mostly writers. The nice thing about LJ is that it is customizeable, but if your friend INSISTS on posting neon green on black, you can view it in your own style (mine is brown on light yellow).

    MySpace has ALWAYS sucked. I never liked using it. The customizeability leads to pages that take whole minutes to load, to auto-play music and other crap. And there is no good way to read the people who insist on writing in black on dark brown. Other complaints: a kazillion porn models and small bands. Also, bad BAD blogging interface with my linux OS. I friend everyone who friends me (except spammers) and my f’list is very diverse.

    Facebook confused me for the longest time. I finally got the hang of some of it. I can repost my writing blog posts to facebook and reach a wider audience. I like the Pieces of Flair app. But mostly, I use it for fooling around and keeping up. Yes, my Facebook f’list is whiter than my MySpace. It’s mostly folks from my 100% white high school, or writers I know from LJ/MySpace. There are no rap bands friending me on Facebook.

  32. October 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I don’t have a lot to throw in about Myspace and Facebook that hasn’t already been discussed, but I want to throw in another facet of the conversation: elite social networking sites.

    At these SNS’s you have to prove you make X amount of money or know the right people to have access… it basically amounts to the online version of a private club that requires a gigantic buy-in. For example:

    “ASMALLWORLD is a private international community of culturally influential people who are connected by three degrees.”

    “Membership to Affluence.org is completely free but requires a demonstrable minimum household net worth of $3 million US; or a minimum annual household income of $300,000; or successful invitation of 5 other people that qualify for membership.”

    And I’m sure there are many more.

  33. Kristen J.
    October 3, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    Hmmm…wow, that is completely contrary to my experience/perception. I always assumed myspace was more for the kids since it was more customizable and facebook was more for the adults because it’s more user friendly. My dad, who can barely check his email, is on facebook. My goddaughter is on myspace. I have both for that reason, although I spend more time on facebook because it does seem to take less effort to use.

    Reading the whole of Boyd’s article, I’m not sure I agree with the “white flight” theory. Clearly, the comments of one of the teens she spoke with indicates that she (and likely her friends) engaged in that behavior, but there were others who gave other reasons.

    I read the shifts as more as a reflection of peer group dynamics. Within a group of kids you’re going to find stratification. As Boyd notes herself, the “good” kids are on facebook, emulating adult behavior while the “not-good” kids prefer to avoid adults on myspace.

    So I’m not sure how this is different from the realization that the AP kids hang out by the library while the band dorks hang out behind the gym.

    As for the condensation she mentions, I’m not sure how this different from the social dynamics that leads to bullying. Kids are the most vulnerable members of our population. Is it any surprise that they attempt to exert what little power they can scrap together and bully each other with it?

    So, I don’t see this as typical “white flight”, I see this as a continuation of the problems kids have and face, generally. The race/class privilege comes in, not at the end, in the decision to migrate from myspace to facebook, but at the beginning when kids form their peer groups. In that moment they are likely mimicking the prejudices of the adults in their lives.

  34. Tlönista
    October 3, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Another factor people haven’t directly brought up yet is geography. The SNS Bebo is commonly used in the UK alongside Myspace and Facebook, but it’s almost unheard of here in Toronto. It’s true that you can make an account for any SNS from anywhere in the world, but what’s the point if none of your friends are on it? Most of the people you add on Facebook you’ll probably have met at school, or work, or your town.

    And localizations matter. There are SNSs that will be inaccessible to many areas/groups of people because there won’t be a version in their language (or else the localization will be of poor quality.) This article mentions several East Asian social networking sites that I haven’t even heard of.

    Technology, too. Gree (mentioned in the article above) is accessed by mobile phone (with software/tech/phones we don’t have). And South Korea, for example, is a lot more “wired” than North America—blindingly fast connection speeds, pervasive wifi. Here (especially in Canada, where I live) population density is not very high, and so it’s not yet practical to develop infrastructure to a point that would let us go on the Internet as much/as often/for more things.

    So the prevalence of any SNS will be heavily constrained by geographical factors, which of course can’t be separated from race, class, academia.

    For the record, I’m only on Facebook, and most of my friends are from the small town I grew up in, where everybody knows each other, and the university I attended. Overwhelmingly middle-class, White or Asian, “well-educated”, and from southwestern Ontario.

  35. Rhode Islander
    October 3, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    I suspect it’s a cycle. Facebook attracts wealthy elite college students, so then advertisers pay more to be on Facebook, which then allows Facebook to turn around and hire more developers to work at Facebook.

    Also I’m curious about what the backgrounds of the employees at Facebook are. I’m currently a grad student at Brown in the Computer Science, and I’m always surprised at how much money companies (including Facebook) are willing to throw at recruiting Ivy League students. This week Oracle had a “resume raffle” where students could throw in their resumes for three chances to win $250! When I was in undergrad, my classmates and I would usually drive out to UMass for recruiting events, and the events there were far less lavish, even though the CS department at UMass is more highly ranked.

  36. McSnarkster
    October 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Is it really “white flight” when the whites were already there to begin with? As so many people have pointed out, Facebook started as something exclusively for college students (ergo, wealthier and whiter by default). I don’t know how much Facebook’s demographics were compiled back when it was college-only (or if those statistics were saved), but I bet if you dug those up you’d probably find the average income of a Facebook user has gone down in the past few years, and the diversity has gone up, after they became open to anyone.

    Facebook has serious security issues, but if you know how to manage your settings, it’s much easier to block your information from anyone but your friends. MySpace, to my knowledge, never did it make that easy or possible.

    In Chicago, lots of wealthy white people live in the Gold Coast area. None of them “fled” there, unless you go all the way back to 1880s & Potter Palmer establishing the area. The Gold Coast isn’t an example of white flight but an example of an area that’s been segregated since it began. The same is true for Facebook.

    (That said, “white flight” is a terrible analogy. Social networks aren’t the same as city neighborhoods by a long shot.)

  37. Mara
    October 3, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    I switched from Myspace to Facebook because Facebook’s privacy settings are a lot easier to use than Myspace’s. Also, Facebook’s layout is much simpler, because profiles don’t have page customization as RedStapler mentioned. It just allows for more privacy, which I appreciate.

    Virtually everyone I know primarily uses Facebook, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.. The area where I live isn’t particularly diverse, however, at least, not racially. Nearly all of my friends, regardless of race, use Facebook. Granted, the area where I live isn’t particularly racially diverse, but is is quite socioeconomically diverse, and it seems that my richest and poorest friends are all on Facebook.

    After all, Facebook and Myspace are both free, so there are no reasons why someone living in poverty would be less able to join Facebook than they would Myspace.

    I believe that it’s likely that where people live has more to do with choosing Myspace over Facebook than anything else. If a person lives in a very poor area and a few of their friends get Myspace accounts, that person is going to want to get a Myspace account and “friend” their real-life friends. If a few people started setting up Facebook accounts, the trend would be towards Facebook accounts, or so I would imagine.

  38. Laurel
    October 4, 2009 at 6:04 am

    Anecdotal, but–I teach at university that has about the same number of African American as Caucasian students. When I took them to the library and walked around to make sure everyone was on task, one-fourth of them (three African Americans) were on another site instead–Facebook. (Nobody who was not doing the actual classwork was on any other site.) When I worked with uni athletes, the ones I knew were all African American and all had Facebook accounts. Whether any of them are on other networking sites I don’t know.

    People whose privilege makes them feel ashamed when it’s mentioned have probably spent a lot of their time being insulated from any mention of their privilege. To demand more of the same insulation is the opposite of doing anything to change, or even become more enlightened about, one’s privileged status.

  39. October 4, 2009 at 6:42 am

    I think danah boyd doesn’t capitalize her name.

    I’m surprised by how many people feel comfortable talking about how tacky myspace is as if what we view as “tacky” isn’t influenced by our perception of race and class. There’s not a lot of real difference between a rapper’s house and the catholic church literally painting ceilings gold using gold except that one is young black men and the other old white men.

    Please do not act as if aesthetics exist in a magical world free of racism.

  40. Meg
    October 4, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Natalie, likewise, don’t act as if white people can’t be tacky. While Aesthetics are tied to race, the aesthetics of MySpace are far more likely tied to age and class. Race and Class are NOT so yoked together that they are fully equivalent.

    And just a thought, @Rhode Islander: I heard recently that FB was “finally” making a profit. Their ad revenue per-user is actually one of the lowest in the business. They had a really hard time figuring out how to make money at the whole social networking thing. Supposedly, they make something like 1/15th what Yahoo does per-user, or less. I think there’s more to making money than necessarily “more white people = more money”…

  41. October 4, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Meg: I don’t think I was acting as if white people can’t be tacky.

    What I was trying to suggest is simply that “tacky” is not an absolute.

  42. Placebogirl
    October 4, 2009 at 8:20 am

    There is some evidence that one’s perception of what is welcoming or usabble is influenced by one’s background and culture, too (see, for example, Duncker 2002 JCDL). I don’t think that we can so easily say “facebook is more usable” without putting usability itself in the context of the whole user experience–if a place is using cultural norms and interaction styles that you fid unwelcoming or alien, you won’t stay long if there is an alternative (cf many of the comments here about MySpace).

    Lance, in response to your comments about whether boyd is “sensationalizing” a few comments; I know her work well enough to know there is no way she would take that approach; her paper was written on the basis of what she had seen with extensive ethnographic work including interviewing teens from diverse backgrounds.

  43. William
    October 4, 2009 at 11:14 am

    In Chicago, lots of wealthy white people live in the Gold Coast area. None of them “fled” there, unless you go all the way back to 1880s & Potter Palmer establishing the area. The Gold Coast isn’t an example of white flight but an example of an area that’s been segregated since it began. The same is true for Facebook.

    The gold cost might not have experienced white flight, but it did so by keeping low-income (read: people of color) people out long enough that they developed their own communities and then backed their segregated status through political connections, high entry fees, and occasional violence (less than Bridgeport or Sauganash, but its still something worth noting).

    Still, Chicago as a whole is a very good analogy for the movement of people by race and class through different SNS systems. Facebook started off exclusive and opened it’s membership slowly, moving along an upwardly-mobile and predominantly white path. By their very nature SNS systems are online communities, and people move to communities where they will know or be able to relate to other people in the community. Facebook, by the very way it organized it’s community and acquired members, all but guaranteed that it would attract members who were primarily white, educated, and upwardly mobile. It keeps out the rabble by appealing to the aesthetic of the group they wish to attract and reducing the ability for members who are different to express and advertise their difference (on Facebook, everyone’s page looks more or less the same). Its a very good model of the Goldcoast in Chicago, a model of a community which began white and maintained it’s whiteness throughout a changing atmosphere.

    From there you have other sites which offer different things to different populations. Xanga is popular with asians because there are a lot of asians on Xanga. Myspace is popular with younger and “lower class” people because it isn’t about professional networking and never required a college address, and it’s services reflect the demands of the population it serves. As the sites specialize, so do their populations. People who see another site as more attractive (a community that better fits them, features they prefer, customizable pages they find less repugnant, etc) they move out of one SNS to another. To get back to your Chicago analogy, just take a drive down Western Avenue and watch the neighborhoods change from black, to Jewish, to Indian, to white, to Latino, to hipster, then back to black again.

  44. October 4, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    I still refuse to participate in any social networking dealio.

  45. October 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    It is interesting this article sites that there is no trend for black users, where as all of my high school students show a definite divide: the lower income, African American kids use myspace and the more affluent, white kids use facebook.

  46. Kristen
    October 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    I had a myspace in High School and then joined Facebook when I got to college (yes, when it was still .edu only). Why?

    Mostly because I was sick of the inappropriate messages I was getting on myspace. I don’t like being cat-called or sexually harrassed online anymore than on the street. I found this behavior to affect me FAR less on Facebook than Myspace. The switch caused me to drop the poetry blog (for better or for worse) I was running on Myspace, but I found the opportunity cost worth not finding abusive or inappropriate messages in my inbox.

  47. B
    October 4, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Facebook is demographically skewed white and wealthy?

    Uh, duh. It was started by Harvard students, and spread throughout the Ivy League to more universities and only then to the larger public. Because people often make social networking decisions based on where their friends are, it is no surprise to me that a social networking site with those origins skews towards that crowd, even now that it’s become open to the wider public.

  48. Betsy
    October 4, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    @Rhode Islander:
    Also I’m curious about what the backgrounds of the employees at Facebook are.

    I don’t know about the employees, but the founders were Harvard undergrads.

  49. October 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I still have a few friends that use Myspace, but most of them moved to facebook when it opened up to the public. Back home, few people could afford broadband internet until recently, and some people still live too far “up the holler” for the cable company to give a damn. Myspace is a DSL killer. I guess that’s sort of the opposite of these findings: they moved to Facebook because of a lack of privileged.

    For me, it’s an accessibility issue. Because I’m colorblind, it’s impossible for me to read anything on layouts that are “busy background with black text” or “solid black background with blood red text” or “solid neon green background with yellow text”… which eliminates most people’s profiles. Accessibility is something a lot of people (both Myspace and the internet in general) don’t think about when creating web design.

  50. wondering
    October 4, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Interesting. I think I buy the class divide more than the race divide; at least from what I’ve seen. My sis-in-law is Colombian – one look at her friends list leads me to believe that there are a lot of Hispanic folks on Facebook. I’ve got friend connections in eastern Europe and Israel as well as western Europe, North America, and Australia, and what they have all got in common is that they’ve all been to university (although not necessarily completed) OR have a relative who did. That’s a pretty wide net, I admit, but I think if you’re looking for a racial and cultural silo you should examine LinkedIn.

    Nobody in my family graduated from university, but they’re on Facebook in droves. But we very recently leapt the great divide between working and middle class. (Family epicenter is Buttfuck Nowhere in northern Canada – area is redneck to the core and there is a pretty high high school drop out rate, since young men (and it’s mostly young men) can get good paying jobs in the resource industries without a high school diploma. Young women are more likely to graduate, as otherwise they’re stuck in retail and restaurant jobs.)

  51. wondering
    October 4, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    @ Comrade PhysioProf – And commenting on a blog isn’t social networking?

  52. Amy
    October 4, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Meg- “taste” is obviously understood through a social class lense.

    Agreed with most everyone else. Facebook vs. Myspace is so obviously drawn on class (and intersecting race) lines for the reasons discussed. People go where their peers go and social networking is yet another place where race and class division is prominent. The folks in this discussion who don’t see that strike me as uncritical.

    wondering- race divide and class divide are largely synonymous for purposes of this discussion. the divide is largely class- i would agree. however, the class using facebook is largely white.

    Some really interesting points drawn. I love you Feministe community!

  53. Robin
    October 5, 2009 at 1:53 am

    I (white, upper-middle class, male) joined facebook when I graduated high school because I heard it was for college students. My impression of Myspace was clunky visuals and widespread rumors of sexual predators. I didn’t even know about the race/class divide until reading this article.

  54. Bunny
    October 5, 2009 at 5:40 am

    This is very interesting. Personally, I left Myspace because it was hard to locate friends, there were constant large ads everywhere and I was sick of random strangers contacting me either to promote their band or their crotch. There is something decidedly creepy about someone sending out a standardised, made-for-bulk email that states “Hi, you look really cute and sexy, wanna chat?”

    I’m white, working class and female. I did attend university but never finished. It’s weird – almost everyone I knew moved onto FB and I didn’t notice any race/class trends, but if there was an overall pattern based on race and class that does raise questions.

  55. kahri
    October 5, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Natalie’s quote: I’m surprised by how many people feel comfortable talking about how tacky myspace is as if what we view as “tacky” isn’t influenced by our perception of race and class.

    I think this is a great point.

    I agree, but I want to add something to it.

    From what I’ve synthesized from other comments above, several “tacky” features of MySpace are identified as design elements of the user’s home page: for example, music that starts up on page load, repeating images in the background, repeating pornographic images in the background, text and background color choices that are impossible to read, difficult to read, or that hurt the viewer’s eyes.

    If one was to take an Intro to Xhtml/CSS class at a local community college (as my husband is doing currently), part of the curriculum would be learning what design choices to avoid at all costs for the sake of usability and standardization. For example, bright colors, moving backgrounds, music onload, a large file size that causes a page to take several seconds to load… all of these things are defined by the web design industry as bad things to do.

    This seems to me like an important angle to investigate– does education in standard, textbook web design principles influence a SNS user’s perceptions of what design elements are “good” and what others are “bad”? What else might influence these perceptions? What are the other standards of SNS page design that exist apart from those defined by professional web developers? Is it possible for a researcher to survey or talk to SNS users to find out what design elements a given individual prefers or doesn’t prefer and why? How do race, class, age, and gender identity affect which design protocols a given user might be most drawn to?

  56. Amanda in the South Bay
    October 5, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Well, Facebook is headquarted in Palo Alto, which is about the most privileged self centered stuck up city imaginable.

  57. October 5, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Hey, watch what you say about Palo Alto, Amanda in the South Bay! I’m from /Los Altos/, which could kick PA’s butt in the snooty contest any day!

    Another anecdatum for the pot:

    As you can see from my usual link, I have MySpace page. I don’t have ten million friends. I certainly don’t friend any weirdo who comes along. (There’s also a rather nasty warning against wannabe Romeos or aspiring models.)

    I also have a Facebook page, with a somewhat toned-down warning. (If I don’t know you in real life or as a blogging friend, don’t bother.)

    If I think about the different ways that I use these two (not to mention LJ and Blogspot) it does become a bit curious. Facebook is where family and friends (all white or Asian) are watching; MySpace is pure vanity. If my RL contacts were in MySpace, it might be the other way around. It might also be the more ‘subcultural’ aspects of MS that makes it feel more open (to me) than FB, where the serious people live. And that, of course, is coded with all kinds of privilege for this over-educated middle-class white girl.

    Interesting stuff…

  58. chrissy
    October 5, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I have no love for either site. Just to make this clear to the author, the original purpose of Myspace was not to promote bands, those functions largely came about a few years into the existence of myspace. I should know, I had one of the first bands on the site, and trust me…the site was already a pretty big social networking site at that point. Trust me when I say this as well…myspace music was a poor replacement of the extremely well designed original mp3.com. Myspace originally kind of resembled a dating site when it first started. The problem with myspace is when it allowed for html editing and graphics/video/music to be imbedded into the pages. On top of the banner ads, it pushed many people away. I remember when myspace started doing this stuff, and it ultimately became a laggy site that most people wanted to avoid. It was not always a bad site, when it was its most simple, was when it was its most usable.

    About the demographic breakdowns, I think it largerly has to do with the origins of the individual sites, I think if you look a couple of years from now these aspects will vanish. Also both of these sites had quite a few that predated them…including livejournal, and from what I remember there used to be a site specifically tailored to college students that predates facebook as well.

  59. Sarah TX
    October 5, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I’ve heard the “usability” argument before, and I understand that there’s a certain defensiveness among privileged people who don’t want to be “forced” to use Myspace. The fact that Facebook is more usable explains why privileged folks gravitate toward it, but it doesn’t explain why other teens are sticking with Myspace.

    On a slight tangent, I’ve been sort of interested in how the white response to these studies has been to talk about how “clean” the FB interface is, how usable the site is, the privacy features, etc. etc. etc. It reminds me a lot of what white families say when they move to a gated community – “Our kids love the pool … the golf course is so close! … we feel so safe with the guard at the gate …”

  60. William
    October 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    part of the curriculum would be learning what design choices to avoid at all costs for the sake of usability and standardization. For example, bright colors, moving backgrounds, music onload, a large file size that causes a page to take several seconds to load… all of these things are defined by the web design industry as bad things to do.

    This is a good point, but its closely connected to issues of taste, expectations, and aesthetics. The judgments about what is “preferable” and what becomes standard are influence by the values and tastes of the individuals in a position of making decisions, training students, and hiring eventual designers. At each point, you’re running into a primarily white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered, middle-to-upper class decision maker influencing which design options will be favored and which will be rejected.

    Lets say I was designing a sound track to be played over the speakers at a retirement home in Florida. Chances are I’d choose Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and big band era standards over Parliament-Funkadelic or Enslaved. The standards I would be using would be greatly influenced by my expected audience. More importantly, the way in which those standards were developed would be almost wholly based upon the values of the audience I was aiming to please. If I continued to pump out retirement home soundtracks, theres a good chance that this aesthetic would become entrenched, that the basic rules I used to decide what songs to include, how to balance music, how to organize a set, would be determined by this initial audience group.

    To bring it back to your specific example, a large file size is really most important to people who are going to be checking something quickly. A lack of automatically played music is valuable to individuals who expect and demand not to have their environment intruded upon by someone else’s personal tastes even when they are in someone else’s space. The absence of moving backgrounds appeal to individuals who want to cull information quickly. Comparatively duller color combinations attract individuals who do not like bright, clashing, “tasteless” displays of color. All of these esthetic judgments are based in values that intersect with race and class, and at least some of them (I’m mostly thinking of the music example) are bound up in privilege. I don’t think its a mistake that the site which minimizes these things in favor of more “standardized” pages attracts a group of people who are in a position to be part of the culture which determines the standards.

  61. Gentleman Cambrioleur
    October 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    This is sounding very familiar to me.

    When I was in high school, the popularity of free hosting servers like Geocities and Angelfire was at its peak: lots of people, many of whom had no formal education, dipped their toes in the online world by creating a home page dedicated to their favourite authors or bands, or their grandchildren, or their summer vacation in Cuba. I also remember that people started sneering at Geocities and Angelfire servers as being (their expression, not mine) “Internet trailer parks”: full of tacky, unwieldy, misspelled, *insert oxycontin joke* kind of pages. Teachers were just beginning to accept online sources as legit, but they would specify: no Geocities. And reading this discussion, I just realized that I haven’t seen a Geocities page in a long, long time.

    I wonder where the people who wrote those pages are now: whether they felt the stigma, and withdrew from the Web. What we lost when they departed.

    I wonder whether those working-class Latin@s are still going to have their Myspace page 5 years from now, or whether they’ll be forced to compromise on their aesthetic in order to fit the “professional” model, whatever that means.

    I think we’re missing the point if we’re making this about Myspace’s profit margins vs. Facebook. It seems to me that it doesn’t really matter which one an individual uses and which one “wins” in the end. It’s about how some people are made to feel unwelcome, even in a space as supposedly cosmopolitan as the Internet, and how the few sites that cater to their sensibilities are slowly wasting away; how this gets dismissed as being due to objective factors like “professionalism” and also how, considering these sites are now used for serious social networking, these same people might be excluded from certain employment opportunities. Of course, it’s *wholly coincidental* that these excluded people are working-class people of colour.

    For the record, I’m white, educated, I have a page on both sites, and I use neither :P

  62. eanad
    October 5, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    @ Jenny Dreadful

    My mom, friends’ parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And the constant updates on everything make it hard to say or do anything on there and have it go under the radar.

    I think that’s exactly why older prefer FB, while teenagers stick to MS. If you are using your real name and know that whatever you share could be seen by your mom and your boss, you are most likely to write just nice friendly things, post refined pictures and share interesting articles. All which give the site a safer, cleaner feeling.

    And it makes sense that privileged people would feel comfortable in an environment of self-censorship, which just mimics university, family gatherings, church and work.

    Another point is that privileged people usually have a computer as a tool for their work and are more familiar with netiquette and usabilty, while people with less education are more likely to use their computer time just for fun, which would make adding songs, backgrounds and videos to their spaces something logical.

  63. lemur
    October 5, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I always considered Facebook the more “grown up’ version of Myspace. You use myspace in highschool, and then when you go to college you get a Facebook. I guess I was wrong.

  64. NthnBrazil
    October 5, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    When I saw the original article referred to here about “white-flight”, I agreed with the trend, but differ on the causality.

    My social circles encompass a few different groups due to the eclectic nature of my background (probably not uncommon with divorce/re-marriage rates what they are):

    – A number of neices/nephews that are suburban white teens and young adults
    – A number of cousins who are urban hispanic ranging in age from teens to mid-thirties

    Add to this family representation 2 more groups:

    – A number of computer science engineers ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-thirties from various ethnic backgrounds
    – Several random metro-NYC area middle-class to upper-middle-class professionals of various ethnic backgrounds.

    There are more, but those are the key groups because they cover age ranges, ethinc groupings, and technical proficiency, which all seem to be at play in the article.

    My anecdotal experience is that every single group above with the exception of one has migrated either from MySpace onto facebook over the last 12-18 months, or started using facebook where they had never used any SNS before.

    Which group remians on MySpace? The urban hispanic teens and young adults up to about age 25. The one’s over 25 have followed the broader trend and gone to facebook.

    Since I know all of these folks personalluy, I have my own theory about what is happening here: Desire for anonymity while allowing only the people you want to find you.

    One of the things that most people like about facebook is how it allows you to inter-conect. You find one friend you went to junior high school with and once you get linked up you find 5 more that they already found. This snowballs and soon, you’re all back in touch. One of the upshots of this is that sometimes you have to keep a lid on some of your vices – who you’re fooling around with, that you smoke pot, that you got fall down drunk last night – especially if your mom or dad is on your friends list. And it’s all so easy – you just need to find the person’s name.

    MySpace, OTOH, is completely opaque to an outsider. Most people are still using screen-name pseudonyms instead of real names. Even if I know someone on MySpace and I look at their friend list, its not always easy to pick out the potential mutual friends. I don’t know who bunny67589 is and their profile pic is a Hello Kitty gif, but it might be someone I know. It takes digging to work it out. Add to that the customized profile look & feel and neither mom nor dad are going to spend anytime checking you out on Myspace.

    My 2-cents. YMMV.

  65. October 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    It’s about how some people are made to feel unwelcome, even in a space as supposedly cosmopolitan as the Internet, and how the few sites that cater to their sensibilities are slowly wasting away; how this gets dismissed as being due to objective factors like “professionalism” and also how, considering these sites are now used for serious social networking, these same people might be excluded from certain employment opportunities. Of course, it’s *wholly coincidental* that these excluded people are working-class people of colour.

    I think this is an important point. Throughout this thread and on every thread on boyd’s research I’ve seen (there was a long one on jezebel IIRC) people aren’t just content to say they prefer facebook, there’s a trend for bashing myspace as tacky and horrible and trashy. What is that if it’s not delegitimizing an online space populated by people of color? Shouldn’t these be able to count? Even if you’re not personally into them?

  66. Amanda
    October 5, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    I always considered Facebook the more “grown up’ version of Myspace. You use myspace in highschool, and then when you go to college you get a Facebook. I guess I was wrong.

    That statement right there – WHEN you go to college – is very telling of your privilege. For many lower-income people and POC, going to college if an IF, not a WHEN.

  67. October 5, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    As a hack designer, I think the web standards conversation is really interesting. Of course there are some things you can do to make a site more user-friendly for more people, but class aesthetics are a part of what makes people complain about the “tackiness” of one site over another (not to mention some of the truly tacky behavior I’ve seen on FB has been pushed by white dudes, just prettied up since I don’t have to listen to their Asher Roth auto-loads while I get smacked across the face with their politics). And part of this is what I was getting at with calling it a “Mac aesthetic” above. If I were more standards-competent I could elaborate on this better, but I think William, krissy, and kahri are doing quite well without me.

    When I was an undergrad I did a long research paper on teenagers and web presence. This was five years ago before SNS really took off in that crowd, so I looked at all kids with a web presence who were sophomores at a local high school, and the ways in which they developed an online persona, and how it gelled with the real-life persona they performed in school. My theory was that kids worked out their “authentic” selves online in a way they were too restricted to do amongst their parents and peers to whom they were accountable in real life. What I found were kids who were discovering queer identities, for example, or working through depression, whatever, by finding fellow travelers online, commiserating with them, representing themselves with color, song, words, pictures, all while just happening to learn CSS and HTML to further the personal journey. And it makes sense: I wear a black shirt to work and no one looks twice, Sally wears a black shirt to school and everyone calls her goth, Timmy makes a black website and decorates it with pictures of Marilyn Manson and his parents put him in therapy. Colors, pictures, words, they all have meaning. I found that kids really play with those semiotics online. Teenagers take every facet of their online presentation very seriously because it is an opportunity to search for their own authenticity.

    Or to bring it back to Feministe: We’ve done some discussion over the years about ol’ gun girl at the top of the page. When this was a one-person site I put her up there because I thought it was whimsical and played with the stereotype of the raging feminist harpy. What I found out later was that readers associated gun girl with me, Lauren, the one person, and not Feministe itself as a commodity or a brand. When discussions about problematic race and representation come up, gun girl becomes a topic of conversation because the readers don’t feel she is representative of the site, the authors today, or the readership. They think she is limiting.

    All of which is to say that, again, these semiotics have greater meaning than clean aesthetic, or privacy features, or user friendliness. I wonder whether the defensiveness about the user modifiable features of MySpace isn’t a reaction against, or a confusion with, the greater online self-representation that is available to folks who feel limited in their meatspace representation. It’s a feature, not a drawback.

  68. MotherB
    October 5, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    There was a small sidestory in last week’s Business Week that indicated more affluent and older Facebook participants are using that site. As a result, it is being considered that FB may start charging for some services, including photos that members download.

  69. October 5, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    I’m not sure that calling it “white flight”is at all accurate. I have rarely accepted a friend request from someone I didn’t know in person on either SNS. I have no way of knowing the overall race or ethnicity or sex or gender or sexual orientation or hometown of anyone who uses that website that I don’t already know in real life. I don’t know anyone else who, unless they are a musician or public figure, is “friends” with anyone they do not already know. If this is the general trend with users, then there can be no way that a “white flight”is even possible.

    I think that pastel glittery animated GIFs are tacky. This does not make me a classist or racist. Would you rather I force myself to try and appreciate that type of aesthetic? Because I’m 26, and that kind of design is reminiscent of a 12-year-old’s desire to be attention-getting. I’m sure it was my favorite at that age, but now, I consider it wholly unappealing, and it has nothing to do with class. I’m not even sure where that argument came from. It’s weird.

  70. October 5, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Cacophonies, I think the point is that aesthetics and what we consider “tacky” are class-based concepts. Often “tacky” is code for “low-class.”

    I think part of the problem with this thread is that people are reading it and going “OMG YOU’RE CALLING ME RACIST!” and posting all kinds of silliness about how they just hate Myspace because of the graphics but they aren’t racist or classist. (And this isn’t directed just at Cacophonies; it’s been an issue throughout this entire conversation).

    So, look. I also hate MySpace and never use it. I do use Facebook. I also hate getting creepy messages on MySpace; I hate the loud backgrounds; I hate the annoying music. I hate the photo after photo of chicks in lingerie making The Sexy Face, and dudes flexing their biceps. I hate that so many profiles read like extended text messages from 12-year-olds. I got on Facebook back in 2003 when it was only open to five or six universities. Yes, reading through the comments about White Flight from MySpace and how Facebook is the online equivalent of an all-white neighborhood feels… uncomfortable. But then I try and remind myself that we can have a conversation and it’s not all about me. No, my choices aren’t made in a vacuum and no this conversation isn’t theoretical, but there’s a lot of space between “theory” and “Jill.” So maybe it makes sense to look at the whole of the situation and instead of going “But it’s not white flight because I’m white and I’m not racist and it’s just my preference and I’M not flying anywhere!”, maybe consider that there are greater forces and trends at work that are worth discussing and examining. Maybe take a moment to consider that we can discuss classism and racism in the context of activities in which you yourself partake and it’s not the same as someone calling you a classist or a racist. And maybe it’s worth considering that we make choices in a classist, racist and sexist society, and those choices will be filtered through all the messages we get and the position we occupy in the hierarchy. Instead of just a knee-jerk “But I’m not racist!,” maybe put your own feelings on hold for a minute and look beyond your own little slice of life.

    So, to paraphrase greater minds than I, It Is Not All About You. if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you.

  71. Mel
    October 5, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I think the MySpace/Facebook divide is mostly class and age–I’d like to see race and class statistics on both tested for correlation, if such data could be obtained.

    Example: I have a social group based around a particular hobby. It’s a fairly white hobby in a very white state (the only other statistically large population is Latin@, and they’re barely represented in the hobby). Looking at who uses Facebook versus who uses MySpace in this group, the ones on Facebook tend to be older and/or more educated; the ones on MySpace tend to be younger, less educated, and/or military. There are some people who use both extensively, but they’re a minority.

    Some of us think MS has a terrible, terrible user interface, but obviously this is not a problem for its users. But it does suggest that it might not be possible to design a UI that appeals across social classes and education levels (both of which I can see correlating with reactions to UI much better than race on it own). As much as I have issues with FB’s business practices (and I’m not a fan of how cluttered with applications and Twitterlike it has become–I liked it better when it was just a basic way to track down long-lost acquaintances), if it disappeared today, I absolutely would not switch to MS–not because none of my friends use it (some do), but because MS layouts are too much of a pain in the ass for me to read.

    Also, I’m not sure MS and FB are really very comparable because FB more-or-less enforces real names and MS doesn’t. I think MS is more comparable to blogging–which can be done under a pseudonym–or the old-school DIY website. So people who want anonymity aren’t going to use FB or LinkedIn, they’re going to use MS or Livejournal or Blogger or something like that. So I’d be interested in comparing demographic statistics between LJ and MS, for example–and I know LJ’s stats are nothing like Facebook’s, even if you leave out Livejournal.ru.

  72. October 6, 2009 at 3:02 am

    I went to a high school for college-bound students, who were upper-middle-class, suburban and mostly white and Asian. MySpace was never incredibly big; Xanga was for a while, but by junior/senior year there it was eclipsed by Facebook.

    From the conversations I had with people about MySpace vs. Facebook (which was really topical a couple years ago, when I was a high school senior), the choice between the two largely was an ageist thing. MySpace was seen as the site for moody 13-year-olds; Facebook was the land of college students. Most kids and teenagers see it as cooler and more sophisticated to do what the older kids do rather than what the younger kids do, and so that’s why I think we preferred Facebook. It’s easy to read the choice to “be like the college kids” in a privileged, “put your foot in the door” sort of way, but honestly, for us it was simply just wanting to be like the big kids.

    Privacy was also a big one, but you really have to put that in context before you interpret it as wanting a “gated community.” At the time, it seemed like every week there was a new story in the news about some young girl who had been abducted through MySpace. “To Catch a Predator” had just started on NBC. We had presenters come in to talk with us about privacy on the Internet. Most of us who used a blog-like site like Xanga at some point had a comment or two posted that made us feel icky. It felt like the “sexual predator” menace was everywhere, and as a teenager using SNSs I often felt put in the “damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t” position of how private to make my sites. Sites like Xanga and MySpace, while offering privacy settings, are designed so that the more private you make your site, the less you get out of it. Sure, you might feel safer, but you’ll also get less comments, and be able to use less features. There was always a trade-off between privacy and expression.

    So when Facebook came along, which was designed for communication with *people you know* rather than anonymous strangers, where closed-only-to-friends was the default and privacy settings were easy to use and find, it made sense that a lot of teenagers who were sick of hearing horror stories about their sites in the news, and having to dodge suspicious parents, would flock to it. A lot of people felt like Facebook was the “safe place” where they “wouldn’t have to worry about creepers.” I don’t think it was so much about “we don’t want you in our exclusive little club!” as it was about “I want to be able to express myself without having to worry about that being used to hurt me.”

  73. a lawyer
    October 6, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    And it makes sense that privileged people would feel comfortable in an environment of self-censorship, which just mimics university, family gatherings, church and work.

    Sorry for quibbling with one point rather than engaging the entire post, but since when is self-censorship any more prevalent in privileged communities? All communities have extensive social norms. People in those communities are required to conform to those norms, and if they don’t they’re subject to punishment through shaming, ostracism, and so forth. I’ve never heard of any evidence that the social norms of privileged communities involve more self-censorship than the social norms of other communities, and I would be shocked if there is. I’m not sure how you would operationalize “self-censorship” to do a study of its relative prevalence but extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.

    When people from less-privileged backgrounds enter more-privileged spaces, I presume they have more trouble with the kinds of self-censorship demanded by those communities. They haven’t been socialized into the norms of (those types of) privileged spaces, so they need to learn how to conform if they want to fit in.

  74. October 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    The main problem I have with this entire discussion is the fact that both SNS’s were created by young white guys, are open to the entire public as long as you have acess to the internet for even 5 minutes to create an account, and neither do anything whatsoever to prohibit anyone from joining. Facebook used to do this, when they were only available to people with .edu email addresses. Now they are open to whomever. This discussion seems so trivial and utterly senseless in the grand scheme of things. Anyone can join eithersite! What is it that we’re arguing about? People making choices to join one or the other and how that’s related to their race or income level? Gah. No. I just can’t possibly get behind that being detrimental in some way.

    As far as the “tacky” argument… ugh, it just frustrates me, I don’t agree with the fact that it’s “code” for something derogatory toward any class, race, etc., at least not in this particular circumstance, but I don’t have the time left on my lunch break to try and formulate a good argument about it. Which means it’ll probably just become fodder for some blog post inthe near future.

  75. October 6, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Meh, I re-think my last comment. I’m reading the origin of some of these comments made by the young teenagers, and I see where the discussion of racism came from.

  76. October 7, 2009 at 7:04 am

    I wonder what the stats are for blackplanet.com in comparison with these findings. That’d interesting to know… I really don’t think danah’s (omg shes the ani lyrics lady!!!♥) observations can tell us much without looking at blackplanet.com… just seems no study of social networking sites can be complete without including blackplanet.

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