Allow me to open with two brief stories,
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.
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.
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?