White Flight From Social Media Sites???

02 Sep

Hat tip to The Grio for this one –

The Wurgel-Marcotulli family, left, and the Sparkses, right, in their alter egos as black and white, respectively, in FX's reality show "Black. White."

The Wurgel-Marcotulli family, left, and the Sparkses, right, in their alter egos as black and white, respectively, in FX's reality show "Black. White."

By Latoya Peterson

Is there really a racial divide on the Internet? Much of Danah Boyd’s research explores that dynamic. Since 1999, Boyd, social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has been studying how people use the Internet and has unearthed some fascinating facts about how people – teenagers in particular – move through the online space.

However, none of her work has received as much response as a recent talk she gave, explaining what she calls the Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online.

Her research is timely, given the erroneous assumption that minorities are absent from online spaces. Even though is the fourth largest social networking site on the internet and Twitter shows a disproportionate number of black users, the mindset that most people on the internet are white and male still exists.

This is why Boyd’s research is so explosive. She proposes that, instead of accepting the generally held belief that users of the Internet were mostly white and male, people start acknowledging that the spaces we operate in online may also be segregated.

Talking about racial and class-orientated movements from one social media site – specifically MySpace – to another – Facebook – she explains:

“…It wasn’t just anyone who left MySpace to go to Facebook. In fact, if we want to get to the crux of what unfolded, we might as well face an uncomfortable reality… What happened was modern day ‘white flight’.” Whites were more likely to leave MySpace or choose Facebook. The educated were more likely to leave MySpace or choose Facebook. Those from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to leave MySpace or choose Facebook. Those from the suburbs were more likely to leave MySpace or choose Facebook. Those who deserted MySpace did so by “choice” but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.

This dynamic was furthered by the press, an institution that stems from privilege and tends to reflect the lives of a more privileged class of people. MySpace was narrated as the dangerous underbelly of the Internet while Facebook was the utopian savior… MySpace has become the “ghetto” of the digital landscape. The people there are more likely to be brown or black and to have a set of values that terrifies white society. And many of us have habitually crossed the street to avoid what is seen as the riff-raff.”

The facts are clear – the online space is built by human hands, and as such, it reflects the same types of biases and prejudices that we hold in our minds. However, it does not have to be this way. While it is beneficial for marginalized communities to maintain our own spaces online – after all, discussing racism in public space tends to make for a very hostile environment – it is crucial that we are also willing to do more work to bridge these divides and make our presence known on more mainstream sites. The Internet belongs to everyone, and as we continue moving toward racial equality in the real world, we should make sure the same things are happening in the digital world.

Interesting hypothesis. I just started a Facebook page, largely at the request of another family member who is about the same age. Some of the first to find me were friends who graduated High School with me 30 years ago. Since there were only about 40 black students out of the 2,000, most of those folks from that group were white. I added a number of friends who I had made though the years, which is a pretty mixed group covering several continents. And, discovered one heck of a lot of my family was on Facebook, including a fair representation of folks in my age cohort.

I also use LinkedIn for business.

My perception of MySpace was that it was for Kids. My, now adult, daughter was a MySpace fanatic in her pre-teens and teens, along with her friends. I recall a significant amount of controversy surrounding adults “invading” MySpace, sometimes for nefarious purposes, leading to the company taking defensive measures to assure the safety of youngsters, which added to the perception that MySpace was oriented towards young people.

Might some of this reflect the age dynamic as older people join?

As a warning to folks joining FaceBook or MySpace, one of the many privacy invasions enabled by the digital age is the fact that many potential employers now check potential employees FaceBook and MySpace pages. THAT may indeed be having the most chilling effect on filtering who is on Facebook, and who joins who’s page.

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Posted by on September 2, 2009 in The Post-Racial Life


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