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6/26/2007
03:36 PM
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Migration From MySpace To Facebook Shows Class Divide

Kids on Facebook are expected to go to college, while those on MySpace are expected to get a job when they finish high school, according to informal research by a Ph.D. student.

MySpace and Facebook have come to reflect class divisions in American society, according to an informal research project.

Since Facebook opened up last September, ongoing press coverage of MySpace as a dangerous place and Facebook's positioning as a home for those with elite aspirations have help create a socioeconomic divide between the two sites, argues Danah Boyd, a Ph.D. student at the School of Information Sciences at University of California at Berkeley.

"The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other 'good' kids are now going to Facebook," Boyd observes in an essay titled "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace." "These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college."

Facebook appeals to the ruling class, as Boyd sees it.

"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," Boyd insists. "These are kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools."

Boyd believes the design choices of the two sites reflect and appeal to different sets of users. "Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace," she says. "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.' "

The glitzy MySpace aesthetic, Boyd argues, "resonates far better" with those of lower social rank.

Boyd points to the military's ban on MySpace last month to illustrate the divide between the two sites. "A month ago, the military banned MySpace but not Facebook," she observes. "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."

Boyd says she don't quite know what to do with this work, but she hopes it will prompt some questions. "What does it mean that, in a society where we can't talk about class, we can see it play out online?" she asks. "And what does it mean in a digital world where no one's supposed to know you're a dog, we can guess your class background based on the tools you use?"

Boyd says she has analyzed more than 10,000 MySpace profiles, logged some 2,000 hours online at MySpace, and interviewed 90 teens from a variety of backgrounds in seven states. She acknowledges that her approach to ethnography has underemphasized rural areas and the Deep South, and notes that she doesn't have access to Facebook profiles.

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