Race and class may have something to do with how people select social networking sites, and may mirror real-world race and class issues, a recent study suggests. As reported on the Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog, the study, published in the October issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, “argues that a student’s race, ethnicity, and upbringing play important parts in predicting which online social networks he or she will join.”
The report, “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites,” by Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northwestern University, summarizes the results of Hargittai’s surveys of more than 1,000 students at the University of Illinois at Chicago about their social network preferences. Among the findings: White students favor Facebook, hispanics prefer MySpace, and “Asian and Asian-American students prefer Facebook, but they also use other social-networking sites, like Xanga and Friendster, that are less popular with other ethnic groups.”
Class also plays a role in social network selection. “Students whose parents have lower levels of schooling are likely to use MySpace, while students whose parents have more formal education lean toward Facebook. And students who live at home are much less likely to frequent social networks than are their classmates who live on the campus.”
What should campus officials take away from the study? Ms. Hargittai says the results show that online social networks evoke real-world communities and demographics. “Online actions and interactions cannot be seen as tabula rasa activities, independent of existing offline identities,” she writes. “Rather, constraints on one’s everyday life are reflected in online behavior, thereby limiting—for some more than others—the extent to which students from different backgrounds may interact with students not like themselves.”
It’s interesting, but my high school classmates who are into social networking tend to reflect this class breakdown. (There aren’t many of us into social networking; we graduated in 1978, after all.) Most of us were from lower-middle class backgrounds, and we’ve gravitated to MySpace. A few of us are on Facebook, too. Some of us are on LinkedIn, too (more my college classmates than high school). So maybe the class divisions play out in social networking even beyond the college years.