Social Classes on Networking Sites

Danah Boyd, who routinely interviews folks who use MySpace and Facebook, says there is a class divide between the services, with Facebook garnering a higher socio-economic class than MySpace.

Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

As Danah admits, it’s difficult talking about class. I’m always uncomfortable with it because it’s always a spectrum…there is no clear distinction between this class and that class. Even the “cool” kids class had some people who could cross into the “skater” kids class when I was in high school. Also, talking about class can only reinforce it. To that end I wonder what sorts of things we’re going to learn from this distinction…does talking about class make us any smarter, or simply make us more likely to make class distinctions? (to her credit: Danah makes it clear that she’s having a hard time discussing this).

One way that I think would be interesting to cut up the populations would be activity. Are the people using MySpace for different reasons than Facebook? Are the two services equivalent from a tool standpoint? What about people who use both? It seems that Danah is talking about them equivalently, although in this case that’s not the focus of her piece so I don’t know for sure.

Danah Boyd, who routinely interviews folks who use MySpace and Facebook, says there is a class divide between the services, with Facebook garnering a higher socio-economic class than MySpace.

Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace

As Danah admits, it’s difficult talking about class. I’m always uncomfortable with it because it’s always a spectrum…there is no clear distinction between this class and that class. Even the “cool” kids class had some people who could cross into the “skater” kids class when I was in high school. Also, talking about class can only reinforce it. To that end I wonder what sorts of things we’re going to learn from this distinction…does talking about class make us any smarter, or simply make us more likely to make class distinctions? (to her credit: Danah makes it clear that she’s having a hard time discussing this).

One way that I think would be interesting to cut up the populations would be activity. Are the people using MySpace for different reasons than Facebook? Are the two services equivalent from a tool standpoint? What about people who use both? It seems that Danah is talking about them equivalently, although in this case that’s not the focus of her piece so I don’t know for sure.

One question I do have: does the design of the site somehow influence who uses it? It’s an interesting question given that the two sites are so dissimilar. Does the clean design of Facebook portray a certain lifestyle while the bazaar of MySpace another?

Boyd mentions this is indeed a factor:

“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 it is pretty clear to me that 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.”

Or, perhaps the difference is more tactical. Does the fact that you have to be “friends” with someone in Facebook to see their profile make it a different experience than MySpace? Does the fact that Facebook started in the Ivy Leagues mean anything? Are socio-economic factors out-weighed by tactical aspects of the design itself?

Anyway, as you can see this is causing more questions for me than answers. Same for most of the folks in the comments on Danah’s site. Read through those and you can see why talking about class is such a tough subject.

Published: June 25th, 2007

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