Leone Kraus

Just How Popular Are Social Profiles?

Filed By Leone Kraus | May 06, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Danah Boyd, lgbt social media, social media usage

In an opinion piece written in May of 2010 for The Washington Post, Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Zuckerbergchief executive officer and founder of Facebook, wrote:

Six years ago, we built Facebook around a few simple ideas. People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that's more open and connected is a better world.

The opinion piece was in response to the public's growing concern over their privacy on Facebook. At the time this piece was written, Facebook was under fire for granting third-party application developers access to user's personal data for advertising purchases, thus resulting in an uproar from vocal users.

Just a couple years prior, Facebook had come under similar strain for the launch of Beacon, their online advertising system. Through Beacon, Facebook would track purchases that its users would make and then broadcast what users purchased to their online communities on Facebook.

Even though a tremendous amount of focus is put onto Facebook both by users and the media, it isn't the only social networking site designed to allow users to share and exchange information about themselves and others within their online communities. One of the first popular social networking sites was Friendster, which launched in 2002. Friendster allowed users to create a simple profile and to upload a few photos for their friends to see.

MySpace, which launched in 2003, offered similar features as Friendster but went a step further by creating a comment wall that let users leave messages on their friend's profile pages.

In 2004, Facebook launched at Harvard, and then opened its enrollment to select universities. By 2006, Facebook granted membership to all users across the United States.

In 2006, Twitter launched, which allowed users to access a constant stream of instant updates both by and from other users. Looking at the progression of each of these platforms, it's clear that the sophistication and user-ability of each platform was built on top of one another, meeting the demands for users who crave to share more about themselves and others.

According to a 2010 study conducted by Edison Research, 48% of the US population ages 12 and up has at least one profile on social platforms such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn. Edison's research takes an even deeper-dive by assessing what percentage within each particular age brackets has at least one social profile.

The results of the 2010 study show:

  • 78% 12-17;
  • 77% 18-24;
  • 66% 25-34;
  • 51% 35-44;
  • 35% 45-54;
  • 31% 55-64;
  • 13% of 65+

The research data from Edison illustrates the growing popularity of social media sites, with some age brackets showing a near doubling in size year over year. From this data we can assess that social networking sites are not simply a fad but instead are becoming a crucial communication tool for millions.

Social Media Usage by the LGBT Community

Social platforms not only allow users to connect with one another but they also allow smaller communities with likeminded beliefs and interests to connect and engage. This includes the LGBT community.

In a 2009 talk by senior researcher at Microsoft, Danah Boyd, entitled "Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media" she states:

In a networked world, people connect to other people like themselves. What flows across the network flows through edges of similarity. The ability to connect to others like ourselves allows us to flow information across space and time in impressively new ways.

Boyd's idea can be observed: a 2010 survey conducted by Harris Interactive in partnership with public relations firm Witeck-Combs Communications Inc., which specializes in the LGBT community, assessed the social media usage by members of the LGBT community compared to that of the heterosexual community. The research found that the gay and lesbian community is more active on a variety of social media platforms than their heterosexual counterparts. The survey sampled 2,412 US adults 18+, of whom 271 identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Of the gay and lesbian respondents, 73% reported being a member on Facebook while 65% of heterosexuals reported the same. In regards to Twitter, 29% of gay and lesbian respondents confirmed they are a user of Twitter, while just 15% of heterosexuals reported the same. The research also shows that gay and lesbians visit social networking sites more frequently than heterosexuals. 55% of gays and lesbians report logging into social networking sites daily, while just 41% of heterosexuals report doing the same.

There's no research yet to discern why the LGBT community is more active on these platforms than their heterosexual counterparts - at least I couldn't find any. It is realistic to consider that the main reason may be tied to Dana Boyd's idea that smaller communities of likeminded individuals, like the LGBT community, connect with one another on these platforms, to meet and socialize with people that they cannot meet in their everyday life.

So what got you to first sign up for your first social media account? Was it to meet someone or because you wanted to stay connected with those around you?

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I'm inclined to agree - gays and lesbians have used the Internet since the early days (remember AOL, CompuServe and, even earlier, dial-up BBSes?) to find others like ourselves, especially when we lived in communities where there were few if any other LGBT people, and where coming out to the wrong person could lead to a beating or worse. Marginalized communities (including many taboo-driven ones like furries, and quasi-illegal ones like NAMBLA) have seized on the Internet as a way to reach out to cohere their communities more tightly.

Thanks for the comment Dr Randy!

The link I use for danah boyd (she actually spells her name all lower case) connects you to a talk she did for Web2.0 Expo. In her presentation, she talks about how she discovered in her research that gay men thought Friendster was just another male dating site because the only thing they could see were other gay men. You should read through the link if you have time.

http://www.danah.org/papers/talks/Web2Expo.html

For the longest time, that's what I thought it was. I still get it mixed up with friendfactor now.