The Facebook/MySpace class war

The latest paper by danah boyd, concluding that “MySpace and Facebook are new representations of the class divide in American youth,” has been much noted already, and it’s worth reading for anyone interested in the acceleratingly complex mass society we’re building online.

According to boyd, Facebook’s clean interface and Ivy League origins have made it home for the collegiate set, where MySpace’s anarchic graphics and pop-music focus orient it more toward “alternative” kids, minorities, dropouts and outcasts. If you spend any time on these services you can find plenty of anecdotal support for her analysis. On the other hand, though Facebook is now growing faster, MySpace still dwarfs it, so this is one “alternative” environment that happens, for the moment at least, to be in the majority.

What strikes me is that this social division across technical or business boundaries is nothing new. In the early days of blogging, a free Blogger address had less status than a self-installed Movable Type blog at your own URL. Similarly, in the mid-to-late ’90s, during the homepage-building craze, a page on GeoCities or Angelfire usually signified something less cool than your own site at your own domain. Before that, your email address was the marker of your status: remember the outcry when AOL’s horde of unwashed millions plugged into the Internet proper?

The difference today, it seems to me, is not that social class divides extend from the offline world into online space, but rather that online interaction has assumed such a central place in the lives of young people that the divisions now matter far more. For teenagers trying to figure out who they are, the choice of social networking site has become one more agonizing crossroads of self-definition.

Farhad Manjoo has more over at Salon’s Machinist.
[tags]facebook, myspace, social networking, danah boyd[/tags]

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  1. Kate

    For social networking I’d agree that Facebook rules among young, upperwardly mobile 20-somethings (or the ones I know). But many of those people are also and My Space and use it to check out new music. In fact, I know plenty of people in their 30s who use My Space only as means of investigating new bands. And if you’re “old” like me (I’m 30), you also still use Friendster, although it’s dying a very sad, slow death.

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