class-based divisions between teens on MySpace and Facebook. The esteemed Microsoft researcher found that Facebook's collegiate origins encouraged a group of slightly more educated mainstream community members. Meanwhile, MySpace encouraged self-expression and the organizing of subcultures. boyd's latest paper entitled, "White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook" suggests that those same origins also propel race-based divisions. She likens the mass teen migration from MySpace to Facebook to "white flight".Two years ago, ethnographer danah boyd had the blogosphere abuzz with her look at
"White flight" refers to the 20th century exodus of Caucasian Americans from urban centers to what were believed to be the "safer", more racially homogenous and affluent suburbs. She describes how teen language about MySpace is similar to that used to describe city dwellers in the 1980's. The city dweller narrative is that it's for "dysfunctional families, perverts and deviants, freaks and outcasts, thieves, and the working class. Implied in this is that no decent person could possibly have a reason to dwell in the city or on MySpace."
Considering the parallels between white flight and the move from MySpace to Facebook boyd writes, "The suburbs of Facebook signaled more mature living, complete with digital fences (privacy settings) to keep out strangers. While formal restrictions on who could move lifted in September 2006 (when the service moved from being a collegiate service to a public one), the more subtle network-based disincentives did not."
After white flight, boyd describes the urban decay that followed including a reduction in investment, reduced property values, increasing unemployment (as jobs moved to the suburbs) and a rise in crime. She likens untended MySpace profiles to an abandoned and graffiti-covered city and spammers to street gangs.
boyd believes that while teens do not directly reference racial divisions in fleeing MySpace, the aesthetics of "bling" and "hip-hop culture" often criticized by new Facebook users do have racial overtones. Says boyd, "While Facebook's minimalism is not inherently better, conscientious restraint has been one [cultural] marker of bourgeois fashion."
In other words, the text, images and videos we choose to share amongst our friends through social networks are the cultural markers that reveal our racial identities. While boyd cites a number of reasons for racial divides online, one thing is certain. She writes, "Neither social media nor its users are colorblind simply because technology is present. The internet mirrors and magnifies everyday life, making visible many of the issues we hoped would disappear including race and class-based social divisions in American society." To download her draft paper visit danah.org/papers/2009/.