The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

June 27, 2007

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2007 08:26:50 EDT
Subject: [vel] Facebook vs MySpace

June 25, 2007

Social Networking and a New Digital Divide?

By the time they get to college, many students already have pledged 
allegiance to one of the two social-networking giants — Facebook and MySpace. (Plenty 
of young men and women have profiles on both sites, but even most of those 
students check one site more than the other.)

How do students choose between the two social networks? The sites’ designs 
and privacy settings might play a role, but Danah Boyd of Apophenia argues that 
the real divisions between young users of Facebook and MySpace seem to be 
coming along social and class lines. Ms. Boyd says it’s now possible to create 
rough stereotypes of what typical Facebook and MySpace users are thought to look 

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 in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and 
live in a world dictated by after-school activities.

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. These are the teens who plan to go into 
the military immediately after schools.

Obviously there are plenty of students who don’t neatly fit into one of these 
two categories. But Ms. Boyd’s argument is an interesting one: Have any 
campus administrators noticed a social-networking class divide?  —Brock Read
Posted on Monday June 25, 2007 | Permalink |

Then there are the older people (25+) who belong to Friendster because 
Facebook and MySpace came along after they graduated from college.

— Class of 2003    Jun 26, 07:39 AM    #
A higher number of graduate students, especially those in the Arts and 
Sciences, seem to use Livejournal.

— Amanda    Jun 26, 08:16 AM

Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

danah boyd
  June 24, 2007

Citation: boyd, danah. 2007. "Viewing American class divisions through 
Facebook and MySpace ." Apophenia Blog Essay. June 24 .

(If you have comments, please add them to the related entry on my blog. Thank 


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

I want to take a moment to make a meta point here. I have been traipsing 
through the country talking to teens and I've been seeing this transition for the 
past 6-9 months but I'm having a hard time putting into words. Americans 
aren't so good at talking about class and I'm definitely feeling that discomfort. 
It's sticky, it's uncomfortable, and to top it off, we don't have the language 
for marking class in a meaningful way. So this piece is intentionally 
descriptive, but in being so, it's also hugely problematic. I don't have the language 
to get at what I want to say, but I decided it needed to be said anyhow. I 
wish I could just put numbers in front of it all and be done with it, but 
instead, I'm going to face the stickiness and see if I can get my thoughts across. 
Hopefully it works.

For the academics reading this, I want to highlight that this is not an 
academic article. It is not trying to be. It is based on my observations in the 
field, but I'm not trying to situate or theorize what is going on. I've chosen 
terms meant to convey impressions, but I know that they are not precise uses of 
these terms. Hopefully, one day, I can get the words together to actually 
write an academic article about this topic, but I felt as though this is too 
important of an issue to sit on while I find the words. So I wrote it knowing that 
it would piss many off. The academic side of me feels extremely guilty about 
this; the activist side of me finds it too critical to go unacknowledged.

Enter the competition

When MySpace launched in 2003, it was primarily used by 20/30-somethings 
(just like Friendster before it). The bands began populating the site by early 
2004 and throughout 2004, the average age slowly declined. It wasn't until late 
2004 that teens really started appearing en masse on MySpace and 2005 was the 
year that MySpace became the "in thing" for teens.

Facebook launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only site. It slowly expanded to 
welcome people with .edu accounts from a variety of different universities. In 
mid-2005, Facebook opened its doors to high school students, but it wasn't that 
easy to get an account because you needed to be invited. As a result, those who 
were in college tended to invite those high school students that they liked. 
Facebook was strongly framed as the "cool" thing that college students did. So, 
if you want to go to college (and particularly a top college), you wanted to 
get on Facebook badly. Even before high school networks were possible, the 
moment seniors were accepted to a college, they started hounding the college 
sysadmins for their .edu account. The message was clear: college was about 

For all of 2005 and most of 2006, MySpace was the cool thing for high school 
teens and Facebook was the cool thing for college students. This is not to say 
that MySpace was solely high school or Facebook solely college, but there was 
a dominating age division that played out in the cultural sphere.

When Facebook opened to everyone last September, it became relatively easy 
for any high school student to join (and then they simply had to get permission 
to join their high school network). This meant that many more high school 
teens did join, much to the chagrin and horror of college students who had already 
begun writing about their lack of interest in having HS students on "their" 
site. Still, even with the rise of high school students, Facebook was framed as 
being about college. This was what was in the press. This was what college 
students said. Facebook is what the college kids did. Not surprisingly, 
college-bound high schoolers desperately wanted in.

In addition to the college framing, the press coverage of MySpace as 
dangerous and sketchy alienated "good" kids. Facebook seemed to provide an ideal 
alternative. Parents weren't nearly as terrified of Facebook because it seemed 
"safe" thanks to the network-driven structure. (Of course, I've seen more 
half-naked, drink-carrying high school students on Facebook than on MySpace, but we 
won't go there.)

As this past school year progressed, the division around usage became 
clearer. In trying to look at it, I realized that it was primarily about class.

Socio-economic divisions

In sociology, Nalini Kotamraju has argued that constructing arguments around 
"class" is extremely difficult in the United States. Terms like "working 
class" and "middle class" and "upper class" get all muddled quickly. She argues 
that class divisions in the United States have more to do with lifestyle and 
social stratification than with income. In other words, all of my anti-capitalist 
college friends who work in cafes and read Engels are not working class just 
because they make $14K a year and have no benefits. Class divisions in the 
United States have more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), 
social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income. Not surprisingly, 
other demographics typically discussed in class terms are also a part of this 
lifestyle division. Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, 
and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus 

I'm not doing justice to her arguments but it makes sense. My friends who are 
making $14K in cafes are not of the same class as the immigrant janitor in 
Oakland just because the share the same income bracket. Their lives are quite 
different. Unfortunately, with this framing, there aren't really good labels to 
demarcate the class divisions that do exist. For this reason, I will attempt 
to delineate what we see on social network sites in stereotypical, descriptive 
terms meant to evoke an image.

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.

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. These are the teens who plan to go into the 
military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a 
band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially 
ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

In order to demarcate these two groups, let's call the first group of teens 
"hegemonic teens" and the second group "subaltern teens." (Yes, I know that 
these words have academic and political valence. I couldn't find a good set of 
terms so feel free to suggest alternate labels.) These terms are sloppy at best 
because the division isn't clear, but it should at least give us terms with 
which to talk about the two groups.

The division is cleanest in communities where the predator panic hit before 
MySpace became popular. In much of the midwest, teens heard about Facebook and 
MySpace at the same time. They were told that MySpace was bad while Facebook 
was key for college students seeking to make friends at college. I go into 
schools where the school is split between the Facebook users and the MySpace 
users. On the coasts and in big cities, things are more murky than elsewhere. 
MySpace became popular through the bands and fans dynamic before the predator panic 
kicked in. It's popularity on the coasts and in the cities predated 
Facebook's launch in high schools. Many hegemonic teens are still using MySpace because 
of their connections to participants who joined in the early days, yet they 
too are switching and tend to maintain accounts on both. For the hegemonic 
teens in the midwest, there wasn't a MySpace to switch from so the "switch" is 
happening much faster. None of the teens are really switching from Facebook to 
MySpace, although there are some hegemonic teens who choose to check out MySpace 
to see what happens there even though their friends are mostly on Facebook.

Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion 
about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a 
negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and "so middle 
school." They prefer the "clean" look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and 
that MySpace is "so lame." What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be 
labeled as "glitzy" or "bling" or "fly" (or what my generation would call "phat") by 
subaltern teens. Terms like "bling" come out of hip-hop culture where showy, 
sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of 
MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the 
upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where 
people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its 
aesthetics. I'm sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed 
aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the "eye of the beholder" - 
they are culturally narrated and replicated. That "clean" or "modern" look of 
Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design 
house (that I admit I'm drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace 
resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that 
lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace 
and Facebook.

I should note here that aesthetics do divide MySpace users. The look and feel 
that is acceptable amongst average Latino users is quite different from what 
you see the subculturally-identified outcasts using. Amongst the emo teens, 
there's a push for simple black/white/grey backgrounds and simplistic layouts. 
While I'm using the term "subaltern teens" to lump together non-hegemonic 
teens, the lifestyle divisions amongst the subalterns are quite visible on MySpace 
through the aesthetic choices of the backgrounds. The aesthetics issue is also 
one of the forces that drives some longer-term users away from MySpace.

While teens on Facebook all know about MySpace, not all MySpace users have 
heard of Facebook. In particular, subaltern teens who go to school exclusively 
with other subaltern teens are not likely to have heard of it. Subaltern teens 
who go to more mixed-class schools see Facebook as "what the good kids do" or 
"what the preps do." They have various labels for these hegemonic teens but 
they know the division, even if they don't have words for it. Likewise, in these 
types of schools, the hegemonic teens see MySpace as "where the bad kids go." 
"Good" and "bad" seem to be the dominant language used to divide hegemonic 
and subaltern teens in mixed-class environments. At the same time, most schools 
aren't actually that mixed.

To a certain degree, the lack of familiarity amongst certain subaltern kids 
is not surprising. Teens from poorer backgrounds who are on MySpace are less 
likely to know people who go to universities. They are more likely to know 
people who are older than them, but most of their older friends, cousins, and 
co-workers are on MySpace. It's the cool working class thing and it's the dominant 
SNS at community colleges. These teens are more likely to be interested in 
activities like shows and clubs and they find out about them through MySpace. The 
subaltern teens who are better identified as "outsiders" in a hegemonic 
community tend to be very aware of Facebook. Their choice to use MySpace instead of 
Facebook is a rejection of the hegemonic values (and a lack of desire to hang 
out with the preps and jocks even online).

Class divisions in military use

A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook. This was a very 
interesting move because the division in the military reflects the division in 
high schools. Soldiers are on MySpace; officers are on Facebook. Facebook is 
extremely popular in the military, but it's not the SNS of choice for 18-year 
old soldiers, a group that is primarily from poorer, less educated communities. 
They are using MySpace. The officers, many of whom have already received 
college training, are using Facebook. The military ban appears to replicate the 
class divisions that exist throughout the military. I can't help but wonder if 
the reason for this goes beyond the purported concerns that those in the 
military are leaking information or spending too much time online or soaking up too 
much bandwidth with their MySpace usage.

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

Thoughts and meta thoughts

I have been reticent about writing about this dynamic even though I've been 
tracking it for a good six months now. I don't have the language for what I'm 
seeing and I'm concerned about how it's going to be interpreted. I can just see 
the logic: if society's "good" kids are going to Facebook and the "bad" kids 
are going to MySpace, clearly MySpace is the devil, right? ::shudder:: It's so 
not that easy. Given a lack of language for talking about this, my choice of 
"hegemonic" and "subaltern" was intended to at least insinuate a different way 
of looking at this split.

The division around MySpace and Facebook is just another way in which 
technology is mirroring societal values. Embedded in that is a challenge to a lot of 
our assumptions about who does what. The "good" kids are doing more "bad" 
things than we are willing to acknowledge (because they're the pride and joy of 
upwardly mobile parents). And, guess what? They're doing those same bad things 
online and offline. At the same time, the language and style of the "bad" kids 
offends most upwardly mobile adults. We see this offline as well. I've always 
been fascinated watching adults walk to the other side of the street when a 
group of black kids sporting hip-hop style approach. The aesthetics alone offend 
and most privileged folks project the worst ideas onto any who don that 
style. When I see a divide like this, I worry because it reproduced the idea that 
the "good" kids are good and that Facebook participation is good.

Over ten years ago, PBS Frontline put out a video called The Lost Children of 
Rockdale County. The film certainly has its issues but it does a brilliant 
job of capturing how, given complete boredom and a desire for validation, many 
of the "good" kids will engage in some of the most shocking behaviors... and 
their parents are typically unaware. By and large, I've found that parents try 
to curtail such activities by restricting youth even more. This doesn't stop 
the desire for attention and thus the behaviors continue, but they get pushed 
further underground and parents become less in-touch with their "good" kids.

While I think it's important to acknowledge that some of the "good" kids 
aren't that good, I don't want to imply that the inverse is true. Many of them 
are. But many of the subaltern teens that I talk with have their heads on much 
tighter than the hegemonic teens. The hegemonic teens do know how to put on a 
show for most adults (making it more fun for me to interview them and try to 
work through the walls that they initially offer me). As a society, we have 
strong class divisions and we project these values onto our kids. MySpace and 
Facebook seem to be showcasing this division quite well. My hope in writing this 
out is to point out that many of our assumptions are problematic and the 
internet often reinforces our views instead of challenging them.

People often ask me if I'm worried about teens today. The answer is yes, but 
it's not because of social network sites. With the hegemonic teens, I'm very 
worried about the stress that they're under, the lack of mobility and healthy 
opportunities for play and socialization, and the hyper-scheduling and 
surveillance. I'm worried about their unrealistic expectations for becoming rich and 
famous, their lack of worth ethic after being pampered for so long, and the 
lack of opportunities that many of them have to even be economically stable let 
alone better off than their parents. I'm worried about how locking teens 
indoors coupled with a fast food/junk food advertising machine has resulted in a 
decrease in health levels across the board which will just get messy as they are 
increasingly unable to afford health insurance. When it comes to ostracized 
teens, I'm worried about the reasons why society has ostracized them and how 
they will react to ongoing criticism from hegemonic peers. I cringe every time I 
hear of another Columbine, another Virgina Tech, another site of horror when 
an outcast teen lashes back at the hegemonic values of society.

I worry about the lack of opportunities available to poor teens from 
uneducated backgrounds. I'm worried about how Wal-Mart Nation has destroyed many of 
the opportunities for meaningful working class labor as these youth enter the 
workforce. I'm worried about what a prolonged war will mean for them. I'm 
worried about how they've been told that to succeed, they must be a famous musician 
or sports player. I'm worried about how gangs provide the only meaningful 
sense of community that many of these teens will ever know.

Given the state of what I see in all sorts of neighborhoods, I'm amazed at 
how well teens are coping and I think that technology has a lot to do with that. 
Teens are using social network sites to build community and connect with 
their peers. They are creating publics for socialization. And through it, they are 
showcasing all of the good, bad, and ugly of today's teen life. Much of it 
isn't pretty, but it ain't pretty offline either. Still, it makes my heart warm 
when I see something creative or engaged or reflective. There is good out 
there too.

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.

In the 70s, Paul Willis analyzed British working class youth and he wrote a 
book called Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs. 
He argued that working class teens will reject hegemonic values because it's 
the only way to continue to be a part of the community that they live in. In 
other words, if you don't know that you will succeed if you make a run at jumping 
class, don't bother - you'll lose all of your friends and community in the 
process. His analysis has such strong resonance in American society today. I 
just wish I knew how to fix it.

I clearly don't have the language to comfortably talk about what's going on, 
but I think that this issue is important and needs to be considered. I feel as 
though the implications are huge. Marketers have already figured this out - 
they know who to market to where. Policy creators have figured this out - they 
know how to control different populations based on where they are networking. 
Have social workers figured it out? Or educators? What does it mean that our 
culture of fear has further divided a generation? What does it mean that, in a 
society where we can't talk about class, we can see it play out online? And 
what does it mean in a digital world where no one's supposed to know you're a 
dog, we can guess your class background based on the tools you use?

Anyhow, I don't know where to go with this, but I wanted to get it out there. 
So here it is. MySpace and Facebook are new representations of the class 
divide in American youth. Le sigh.


Methodolological notes

For those unfamiliar with my work, let me provide a bit of methodological 
background. I have been engaged in ethnographic research on social network sites 
since February 2003 when I began studying the practices that emerged on 
Friendster. I followed the launch and early adoption of numerous social network 
sites, including, LinkedIn, Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, 
Dodgeball, and Orkut. In late 2004, I decided to move away from studying social 
network sites to studying youth culture just in time for youth to flock to MySpace.

The practice of 'ethnography' is hard to describe in a bounded form, but 
ethnography is basically about living and breathing a particular culture, its 
practices, and its individuals. There are some countables. For example, I have 
analyzed over 10,000 MySpace profiles, clocked over 2000 hours surfing and 
observing what happens on MySpace, and formally interviewed 90 teens in 7 states 
with a variety of different backgrounds and demographics. But that's only the tip 
of the iceberg. I ride buses to observe teens; I hang out at fast food joints 
and malls. I talk to parents, teachers, marketers, politicians, pastors, and 
technology creators. I read, I observe, I document.

One of the biggest problems with studying youth culture is that it's a moving 
target, constantly shifting based on a variety of social and cultural forces. 
While I had been keeping an eye on Facebook simply because of my long-term 
interest in social network sites, I had to really start taking it seriously in 
the fall of 2006 when teens started telling me about how they were leaving 
MySpace to join Facebook or joining Facebook as their first social network site.

While social network sites are in vogue, not everyone uses them. When PEW 
collected data in December 2005, it found that 55% of American teens 12-17 
admitted to having a SNS profile in front of their parents. 70% of girls 15-17. 
These numbers are low, but we don't know how low. In the field, I have found that 
everyone knows about them and has an opinion of them. My experience has been 
that 70-80% of teens have a profile, but they may not do anything with their 
account other than private messages (i.e. glorified email). The percentage who 
are truly active is more like 50. Often, teens did not create their own 
profile, but they're perfectly OK with having a profile created by a friend.

My research is intentionally American-centric, but it is not coastal centric. 
I have done formal interviews in California, Washington, Texas, Kansas, 
Nebraska, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts. When I do this, I do not capture 
parents' income but I do get parents' education level and job. In each of these 
communities, I have spent time roaming the streets and talking informally with 
people of all ages. I have analyzed profiles from all 50 states (and DC and 
Puerto Rico). I use the high school data from these profiles and juxtapose them 
with federal information on high school voucher numbers to get a sense of the 
SES of the school. I have spent time in cities, suburbs, small towns, and some 
rural regions. There are weaknesses to my data collection. I have spent too 
little time in rural environments and too little time in the deep south. How I 
find teens to formally interview varies based on region, but it is not 
completely random. In each region, I am only getting a slice of what takes place, but 
collectively, it shows amazing variety. The MySpace profiles that I analyze are 
random. I do not have access to Facebook profiles, although I have spent an 
excessive amount of time browsing high schools to see what kind of numbers show 
up, even if I can't see the actual profiles. Again, none of this is perfect, 
but it helps me paint a qualitative portrait of what's going on.


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