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White Flight: The MySpace/Facebook Racial Divide

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In a compelling article (PDF) titled 'White Flight in Networked Publics -- How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook,' Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd argues that race and social class were significant factors in the 2006 teenage exodus from MySpace to Facebook. As Technology Review reports, the author uses statistical and anecdotal evidence to persuasively argue that white and Asian teens from higher socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to flock to Facebook in 2006, when the social network was still restricted to colleges and universities. Their black, latino and working-class counterparts, on the other hand, tended to stick with MySpace, which Boyd dubs the "digital ghetto."

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Boyd's article, though, is her take on the role that mainstream media played in perpetuating the real or perceived myth of a MySpace exodus. In 2009, for example, the New York Times ran a piece titled 'Do You Know Anyone Still On MySpace?' despite the fact that, at the time, both Facebook and MySpace had about the same number of members. "The New York Times staff was on Facebook and assumed their readers were too," she claims. The author goes on to cite a few user comments on the Times article that dovetail perfectly with her argument. "My impression is that MySpace is for the riffraff and Facebook is for the landed gentry," writes one reader. "Compared to Facebook, MySpace just seems like the other side of the tracks -- I'll go there for fun, but I wouldn't want to live there," opines another.

Ultimately, Boyd concludes that the racial digital division observed from 2006 to 2007 only serves to undermine the "techno-utopian belief that the internet will once and for all eradicate inequality and social divisions." It's important to keep in mind, however, that Boyd examines a very specific moment in social networking history, when Facebook was restricted to collegians, and MySpace was still clinging to its high school hegemony. It'd be interesting to see how race-based perceptions of these two sites have changed in more recent years, during which time Facebook has opened its doors to everyone, and MySpace has refined its demographic focus to tweens and bands. Time-constrained as it may be, though, Boyd's argument is still a robust one, and enough to keep us from drinking the "techno-utopian" Kool-Aid anytime soon. [From: Technology Review]

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Tags: asian, black, class, college, danah boyd, DanahBoyd, Economics, facebook, HighSchool, Microsoft, myspace, race, social, SocialNetworking, top, white