Social networking sites MySpace and Facebook may seem fairly similar from the outside, but the two sites are increasingly splitting along class lines, according to a new report.
In a nutshell, MySpace tends to be populated by teens who are younger and from lower-income families with less education, while Facebook is often the choice for the college and college-prep crowds, University of California, Berkeley, researcher Danah Boyd asserts.
‘Good Kids’ vs. ‘Bad Kids’
“The Goodie Two-shoes, jocks, athletes or other ‘good’ kids are now going to Facebook,” Boyd writes in her report. “These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. 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,” she added.
On the other hand, “MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, ‘burnouts,’ ‘alternative kids'” and others who don’t quite fit the typical mold of the popular high school student, she wrote. “These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school.”
Officials from MySpace and Facebook could not be reached for comment.
Boyd’s findings are based on interviews and observations over a six-month period. Some of her observations are to be expected — Facebook, after all, started off as a site for college students.
“Facebook was exclusive right from the get-go,” Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers,” told TechNewsWorld. “That’s a reflection of the legacy of where it came from. MySpace, on the other hand, is much more open. It has many more members, and there are no barriers to entry.”
Yet Boyd’s research goes well beyond the simple fact of each site’s origins. In attempting to divide “class” — which she recognizes is a tricky notion in a culture like the United States, as opposed to, say, India — she argues that class in this country has “more to do with social networks (the real ones, not FB/MS), social capital, cultural capital, and attitudes than income.” Income and education are a part, but geography, race and religion also play a role, she says.
“The issue of class is incredibly complex,” Mary Madden, senior research specialist with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, told TechNewsWorld. “It’s not just education or income.”
Higher-income families do tend to be more wired in general, Madden said, and the small proportion of U.S. teens who are not online tend to be from lower-income families. However, such overall trends don’t explain the separation between two apparently competing sites like MySpace and Facebook.
Boyd has spent many years studying Internet trends, and while she recognizes the positive value of social networking sites, her overall conclusions are grim.
The Military Ban
“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,” she writes. Then again, “It breaks my heart to watch a class divide play out in the technology,” she concludes.
Indeed, she even goes so far as to suggest that the U.S. military’s recent ban on MySpace — but not Facebook — reflects these same divisions.
“Facebook is extremely popular in the military, but it’s not the choice for 18-year old soldiers, a group that is primarily from poorer, less educated communities,” she wrote. “They are using MySpace. The officers, many of whom have already received college training, are using Facebook.
“I can’t help but wonder if the reason for [the ban] 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.”
The New Digital Divide?
Boyd’s ideas may even suggest an evolution of the oft-discussed “digital divide,” Gillin suggested. “Historically, the digital divide has referred to the gap between those who had computers and those who didn’t,” he explained.
Instead, it’s possible a new kind of divide is emerging, he said, where an online presence is a given in every level of society. The distinguishing factor in the divide then becomes the type of online communities people choose to join.
Looking forward, he said, “how is society going to change when everyone has these tools?”