The Great Divide in Social Networking Sites
BY KEVIN R. GUIDRY
In June 2007, University of California Ph.D. candidate danah boyd published on her Web page a brief informal essay
noting class divisions between users of MySpace and Facebook that she discovered in the course of research with teens.
Her informal essay immediately drew reactions from around the world, largely driven by an inaccurate story written by the
British Broadcasting Corporation. These reactions ranged from legitimate questions about the meaning and validity of boyd’s
observations to vicious personal attacks and death threats. Although boyd’s observations were attacked on many fronts and her
methodology questioned, further research conducted by other scholars supports her broad conclusions: Facebook and MySpace
users are self-segregating along familiar lines of class.
The visceral reaction many Internet users had to boyd’s
observations reinforces the perception that the Internet is an
equalizer and an equal playing field where age, race, gender,
and other constructs of the social and physical worlds can
be abandoned, reconstructed, or reinforced as we choose.
For many of boyd’s detractors, the idea that something as
artificial as social class would determine one’s choice of a
social networking service seemed laughably archaic and
ignorant. While some might wish this egalitarian vision of
a completely neutral and level playing field truly existed
many of us are so dedicated to programs and efforts
promoting diversity and multiculturalism. It should come as
no surprise that this behavior is mirrored online.
One finding we should take away from this research is
that Facebook use is not universal among U.S. college
students. Current estimates are that 79 to 95 percent of
U.S. undergraduates use Facebook, a clear indication that
not all students choose to or are able to use the service.
In addition to the ability to access the technology and be
comfortable with it, this research specifically tells us that
a component of class is defining the
line between those who use Facebook
We have known for decades that and those who do not. For example,
current research suggests that
people are influenced by physical Hispanic students and students
whose parents have less than a high
and social constructs and identifiers school education may be significantly
less likely to use Facebook and more
in their use of technology: likely to use MySpace. Unfortunately,
most of us have been very focused on
The Internet is no exception. Facebook: It appears that our tunnel
vision may have excluded particular
groups of students.
This research also speaks directly to
those of us seeking to understand and promote interactions
between students of different backgrounds. We have known
for some time that most college Facebook users interact
largely with friends and people with whom they already have
relationships. We also know that many Facebook users
interact heavily with their high school friends and classmates.
Putting all of this together seems to tell us that many students
are interacting and communicating via Facebook with people
very much like themselves. Although the research regarding
college students’ use of other social networking sites is less
substantial, the story appears to be the same for users of other
online, that vision does not match reality. We have known
for decades that people are influenced by physical and social
constructs and identifiers in their use of technology: The
Internet is no exception.
As argued by boyd and others, sites like Facebook and
MySpace are used by young people in much the same way
that movie theaters, malls, skating rinks, and parks were used
by previous generations: to socialize and “hang out” with
friends. As we can observe on our own campuses and in our
own neighborhoods, such socialization often seems to take
place within relatively homogenous groups, which is why so