Social Networks: Building community or building divisions?

Danah Boyd has an interesting/concerning essay about young American class divisions being mirrored through social networks — she specifically focuses her findings of middle/upper class young adults building their communities on Facebook while young adults in the working class use MySpace. Per the essay:

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. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

As with all social networks, I wonder, are they building community or are they building division? One could argue that the generalized divided classes that Danah has observed are no different than communities formed on other social networks. For example, I’ve made new “friends” through Dogster with people who share my interest in greyhound rescue. Is building communities based on commonality such a bad thing? I supposed that all depend on the common topic, right?

Per the following quote from the essay, Danah’s concern is the possible negative impacts on our society as a whole that could drive further division between classes:

I clearly don’t have the language to comfortably talk about what’s going on, but I think that this issue is important and needs to be considered. I feel as though the implications are huge. Marketers have already figured this out – they know who to market to where. Policy creators have figured this out – they know how to control different populations based on where they are networking. Have social workers figured it out? Or educators? What does it mean that our culture of fear has further divided a generation? What does it mean that, in a society where we can’t talk about class, we can see it play out online? 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?

It’s worth a read.

  1. #1 by Kevin on June 28, 2007 - 8:45 am

    MySpace is the AOL of the 2000s in that it’s a place for people who just don’t know any better. Just as people “graduated” from AOL to better ISPs, people are now graduating from MySpace to better social networks.

  2. #2 by Danny Holland on June 28, 2007 - 10:37 am

    Yes, very interesting article. It makes you wonder if these social networks will become very closed and elite someday. Where different networks and if Danah is correct different classes will be offered different products and services. Online retailers and services providers will then only offer discounts to people associated with social network A and other services providers will only offer specific things to social network B. Wouldn’t that be bad.

  3. #3 by Allen on June 30, 2007 - 7:41 pm

    Perhaps I am being daft, but I don’t understand how this is anything new. People have been segmenting themselves in this way forever.
    People from different socio-economic backgrounds have always reinforced these divisions by seeking out others in their community with the most in common. Pretty much all cities around the world have their own “nice” areas and their slums and ghettos, which seems to me like a far more profound and deeply rooted segregation than where people choose to make camp on the internet.
    I don’t think this is something to be alarmed or worried about, it was always going to happen. At the end of the day all these new social networking applications are still bridging lots of communities and providing much better social transparency than we had just 10 years ago. Even if the communities are still segmented between MySpace, Facebook, Friendster, whatever, think of how much easier it is to see what’s happening in the various communities now. Seeing how the different communities live and interact with each other leads to understanding, and that is what could someday lead to a true merging of communities from different socio-economic backgrounds.

  4. #4 by skrocki on July 2, 2007 - 10:54 am

    +1 Allen. Her essay didn’t say social networks were the cause of the divisions — more that they may be contributing to the divisions. In either case, I agree that the goodness that comes out people connecting, based on a common topic or otherwise, is mostly goodness.

  5. #5 by aaron rao on July 30, 2008 - 9:51 pm

    It is very attractive .It built a wonder ..

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