Class Distinctions in Social Networking Sites

Danah Boyd has an interesting insight on the composition of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook [via Boing Boing]:

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. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

That is an extremely interesting observation considering that now anyone can join either sites. But does the fact that Facebook only recently opened up its membership, contribute to this distinction? MySpace had this clunky interface filled with shoddily designed profiles whereas Facebook was more aesthetically pleasing and neatly organized; almost like the difference between graffiti filled neighborhoods of the inner cities and the smartly manicured lawns of the suburbia. At least in our urbanscape, entry is restricted by income and social classification but on the Internet where entry is free, unhindered and often anonymous, why should such glaring classifications exist?

Why move from MySpace to Facebook?

As Boyd explains, it probably helps to understand that Facebook was initially a college-only domain and after it opened up to the masses high school students who were looking to going on to college naturally moved from MySpace to Facebook. The demographic that is generally associated with being college-bound is predominantly white and middle-upper-income class. After all, you flock where your friends are or at least around areas where you would like to make friends. You may be members of hazaar social networking sites but the ones you frequent the most is the one where you have the most friends and interact the most.

Another interesting class distinction regards MySpace and Facebook as observed by Boyd was in the military:

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.

In the context of India, currently we just have Orkut but there are hundreds of fledgling social networking sites out there like Yaari, etc. that are trying to break into the market. Should a decent alternative to Orkut emerge, would we see a similarly migration of a certain class of people? Would certain people want to get away from those who want to “make fraandship”? Of course, it doesn’t help that even on Orkut there are thousands of communities based not only on the lines of religions but also on those thousands of sub-castes.



  • http://blog2dot0.wordpress.com Atul Sabnis

    I agree, very interesting insight. Food for thought – Definitely!

  • jess

    I was just wondering if you took into account that one of the reasons why the military banned myspace is because of the trouble and offensive material soldiers/officers actually post on their myspace pages. Its like a parent not wanting to see what its kids do on their off time..or else they will have to punish them, get me? With Facebook, a user can hardly get creative. The punishment of “Unbecoming of a soldier/officer out of uniform” goes for the Internet as well.