Bruce Parker

MySpace is for Queers?

Filed By Bruce Parker | June 27, 2007 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: education policy, Facebook, Myspace, social class, social networking

Allow me to open with two brief stories,

FACEBOOK:
As an instructor in a teacher education multicultural education classroom at Purdue University in Indiana I tried everything imaginable to get my students to critically engage in discussions about diversity. Along with personal narratives, guest speakers, movies, and some seriously over the top personal stories to attempt to draw them into to open conversations around issues of difference I also spent time familiarizing myself with my students by reading their Facebook profiles after receiving my initial rosters. Taking a tally of how many of my mostly white students list themselves as conservative and liberal. It was a way to try to look into a crystal ball and predict the future of the class. During the term in rare moments when the class wasn't flowing very well and people weren't meshing my co-instructor and I would interrupt class and pull up Facebook talking about our own profiles or those of students. Always cautioning students that if it's on Facebook, your friends can see, your teachers can see it, your parents can see it and your future employers can see it. It cropped up in my course evaluations that my students liked that I used Facebook as a pedagogical tool.

MYSPACE:
Earlier this week, I was talking to one of my activist colleagues about the MySpace page for INTRAA (The Indiana Transgender Right Advocacy Alliance). I was discussing who managed our organizational MySpace page and she told me that MySpace pages don't matter. I tried to argue my point with her passively by showing her all the queer activist organizations in the state that were on our friends list and had profiles of their own. I tried to explain that in a time when MySpace is a major social networking tool for activists, artists and musicians we had to take ours seriously as a site for developing meaningful organizational connections. I don't think I won the debate most likely due to the generational gap between us. It seems like some soft of consolation that MySpace is a very active part of the upcoming presidential debates in July and is clearly being taken somewhat seriously by the candidates (that link is to Hillary's MySpace because she is the candidate that I am supporting).

So in a time when social networking sites are becoming more and more popular, it shouldn't be surprising to any of us that academics would start looking for meaning and trends in their usage and the ways those trends could reflect on larger social issues. Danah Boyd is a Ph.D. candidate at the school of information at the University of California - Berkeley. Here is how she describes her research interests:

My research focuses on how people negotiate a presentation of self to unknown audiences in mediated contexts. In particular, my dissertation is looking at how youth engage with networked publics like MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, Xanga and YouTube. I am interested in how the architectural differences between unmediated and mediated publics affect sociality, identity and culture. My dissertation research is being funded as a part of the MacArthur Foundation's Initiative on New Media and Learning.

Prior to my current project, I studied blogging, articulated social network services (e.g. Friendster, Tribe.net, LinkedIn...). I have written papers on a variety of different topics, from digital backchannels to social visualization design, sexing of internet interactions to creating artifacts for memory work.

Recently Facebook opened itself up to non-college students. Interestingly enough this decision was not a popular one with a large number of college students who were already users. Their concern spawned numerous Facebook groups protesting the decision. However they were unsuccessful and currently Facebook is open to the public. This according to Danah was the beginning of a trend in site usage that if we believe Danah includes many factors such as race, social class and sexual orientation.

Interestingly enough she makes a statement that may explain John Edwards's shifting campaign message this time around as opposed to his focus on social class in the last presidential election cycle. She says,

I have been traipsing through the country talking to teens and I've been seeing this transition for the past 6-9 months but I'm having a hard time putting into words. Americans aren't so good at talking about class and I'm definitely feeling that discomfort. It's sticky, it's uncomfortable, and to top it off, we don't have the language for marking class in a meaningful way. So this piece is intentionally descriptive, but in being so, it's also hugely problematic. I don't have the language to get at what I want to say, but I decided it needed to be said anyhow.

She then launches into the history of MySpace that attempts to explain at least on some base level the reasons for it's current users,

When MySpace launched in 2003, it was primarily used by 20/30-somethings (just like Friendster before it). The bands began populating the site by early 2004 and throughout 2004, the average age slowly declined. It wasn't until late 2004 that teens really started appearing en masse on MySpace and 2005 was the year that MySpace became the "in thing" for teens.

The Facebook history gives us some really interesting insight into why it looks the way it currently looks,

Facebook launched in 2004 as a Harvard-only site. It slowly expanded to welcome people with .edu accounts from a variety of different universities. In mid-2005, Facebook opened its doors to high school students, but it wasn't that easy to get an account because you needed to be invited. As a result, those who were in college tended to invite those high school students that they liked. Facebook was strongly framed as the "cool" thing that college students did. So, if you want to go to college (and particularly a top college), you wanted to get on Facebook badly. Even before high school networks were possible, the moment seniors were accepted to a college, they started hounding the college sysadmins for their .edu account. The message was clear: college was about Facebook.

I can't resist pointing out that my best friend who went to community college until recently was always frustrated until the Facebook change because she couldn't get an account. I noticed this research over on Good Morning Silicone Valley in a brief article by John Murrell. He quotes two statements by her that summarize her current findings:

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.

And:

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. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

The way she defines social class relies on social networks, social capital, and attitudes not traditional notions of income. This is an important distinction. For example, it would be hard for me to argue, despite my low income, that I am working class, packing a bachelors degree and a masters degree as I sit here at my IMac blogging about social class for a primarily queer audience. So my education and my social networks overshadow my income in calculating my social class status, at least in how she is talking about it within this research.

Ultimately, I have a MySpace and a Facebook. I mostly talk to my past students on Facebook and my friends on MySpace. When I decide to spend time social networking I tend to use MySpace most frequently. Could this be because I am from poverty or because I am a queer? Danah Boyd, the researcher, uses MySpace.

Do folks think this is a sign regarding class divisions in America? Particularly in American Education?

If you use MySpace of Facebook which do you use and why?


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A. J. Lopp | June 27, 2007 2:38 PM

Being a boomer, I don't use either. Also, having a computer programming background, I can write my own rudimentary webpages --- not that that skill is anything special in today's world.

This post, Bruce, and Danah's research doesn't surprise me all that much, even though I was not previously aware of subtleties such as FaceBook is for yuppies and MySpace is for outcasts. What doesn't surprise me is that cyberspace, to use a very boomer word, is fractioning, separating and congealing into various cliques and niches, just as the non-virtual economic world has done for centuries. Moreover, it does so not only for economic reasons, but due to reasons concerning socializtion. (Meaning that, if FaceBook had a $1000 sign-up fee, it would not be surprising that only "rich kids" could be found there. Instead, FaceBook and MySpace are both free, but they eventually attract specialized audiences anyway. OTOH, perhaps getting admitted into an .edu institution is just as effective a selection mechanism as charging a $1000 sign-up fee.)

You explain, Bruce, how you have used social networking sites as "a pedagogical tool". Equally interesting is the effect that having access to this social networking site or that one might effect the quality of one's educational experience --- meaning, a student might perform better in school if he or she is successful at finding friends and study-buddies with good disciple and study habits, fuller high school backgrounds, etc. (Conversely, finding friends with bad attitudes toward study and schoolwork is also a possibility. The ultimate example could be the campus drug kingpin who has a FaceBook page that every student hears about sooner or later.)

Bruce, you ask, "[Is this] a sign regarding class divisions in America? Particularly in American Education?" I would say ... it has to be! But for the most part, it is merely the technology, the elimination of geographical distance, and the data volume that has changed --- the forces at work when people interact and pick and choose their peers are largely the same as before, it appears to me.

Perhaps there is currently a difference between the force of the spoken word and the written word, because at the moment we interact with people face-to-face via speech and interact with computers largely thru keyboards --- but this difference will disappear also when computers become more spoken-language-capable, which is without a doubt just around the corner.

David Wene | June 27, 2007 3:28 PM

Bruce,

I have not used either. I am a Purdue Grad with a computer science minor but I am over 50 so my social networks are face-to-face, phone, email. So I do think there is that divide. (But this divide is more by choice.)

I think there is an even bigger divide than between MySpace and FaceBook with even greater implications for the future. That divide is between those with the money/education which have access and skills to use this technology and those people that do not have access or the skills to use this technology. As technology continues to change, this divide will become even greater.

muliebrity | June 27, 2007 3:40 PM

I am about to graduate college and have accounts on both, but mainly use facebook. I find myspace too cluttered aesthetically (blinking backgrounds, music that plays automatically, obnoxious ads), though facebook is headed that way, IMO. I also like how you can customize more individually who can see what personal info about you on facebook, which you can't do to that extent on myspace. And myspace has a huge problem with spammers who fill your inbox with ads and scams as well as skeezy older men who send creepy, suggestive messages to any "hot" girl (even underage ones - my sister took her page down because she got so much of that sort of thing). Until facebook opened to the public, the .edu address prevented a lot of that, and when it did happen, they were easier to identify and block because they couldn't easily create multiple accounts. I used myspace more in the past out of necessity (keeping in touch with non-school friends, mainly), but now that they can use facebook I definitely prefer that. I think with time facebook will become more integrated like myspace is, as its accessibility to non-college students becomes more known and taken advantage of.

muliebrity | June 27, 2007 3:43 PM

And to add, I've never seen FB as the domain of popular kids exclusively. They're there, but no more so than on myspace, nor do they have the ability to exclude so-called outsiders.

I've always been a Facebook user, but actually resisted joining for a substantial amount of time because "it was what all the cool kids were doing." Clearly, peer-pressure seized the day, as I am now just another Facebook junkie. I have had the same reservation about MySpace until recently, but for different reasons. MySpace has been problematic to me for several reasons: it is not very user friendly, it is extremely difficult to have a decently-designed page, and its reputation for being a site that pedophiles flocked to wasn't exactly warming me over. I liked Facebook because of its gate - not just anyone could get in - which clearly has racist, classist, you-name-it themes going on. One of my friends who goes to Ivy Tech used an extra email account of another friend at Purdue so that he could get a Facebook page. The frenzy that exclusivity caused was certainly apparent. But now, everyone has access, for better or for worse.

The interesting thing is that in an age where everyone is on these systems, you would be foolish not to sign on. However, there are beginning to be serous ramifications for those who are not so cautious with their content - employers now are able to access anyone's Facebook or MySpace page, and possibly not hire you because you at one point joined the "High Fives for Hitler" club as a joke.

I think this research sounds extremely interesting, especially since Facebook and MySpace have both changed so much in the past few years. Facebook is no longer the exclusive club it once was, and its interface and features are now mimicking those of MySpace. It makes you wonder what sort of personal profile program they'll come up with next...

Another site of interest with programs like Facebook is to see the comments that go on in the "clubs" that are created, especially among different demographics. After the Virginia Tech shootings, a Facebook club was created devoted to the memories of those who died, but turned into a hate-mongoring diatribe towards the shooter and all Asians in general. Literally thousands of comments started pouring in, supporting all sorts of things like torturing the shooter had he not killed himself, for example. And those who spoke out against such hate were ripped apart. So, I think there is a lot worth studying there... mob-mentality among college students on interfaces like Facebook clubs. It's really quite frightening.

I have a MySpace page, but nothing on Facebook. I'll create accounts for The Bilerico Project on both and we'll see how it works out...

I used to have a myspace but I deleted it when most of my friends asked me to join Facebook instead. Even when I had myspace I didn't use it a lot because the interface was difficult to work with, the auto-playing music annoying and there was too much spam going on. Now I'm addicted to Facebook. Yes, the friends who asked me to join Facebook were college/high school students. My younger sister, currently attending high school has a myspace but not a Facebook. Her reasons are bands and her friends. That and she thinks that the goths, emos and punks ARE the cool kids.

Please note that I'm talking about high school students in the US. While LGBT groups are more common in high schools than they were when I was growing up, being queer in HS still means social ostracization. I was the first generation of queer teens who turned to the digital world as a sanctuary but this is pretty universal now. For most queer folks, life changes tremendously post-high school.

danah

bruce parker | July 9, 2007 2:33 PM

danah,

It is awesome that you joined the conversation here. I totally agree that life changes pretty dramatically for most queer folks post high school.