Internet

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Cyberspace

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The Internet ethnographer danah boyd takes a look at class divisions in the online world. A pattern emerges: The "good" kids tend to go to Facebook, the "bad" ones to MySpace.

Facebook was framed as being about college. This was what was in the press. This was what college students said. Facebook is what the college kids did. Not surprisingly, college-bound high schoolers desperately wanted in.

In addition to the college framing, the press coverage of MySpace as dangerous and sketchy alienated "good" kids. Facebook seemed to provide an ideal alternative. Parents weren't nearly as terrified of Facebook because it seemed "safe" thanks to the network-driven structure. (Of course, I've seen more half-naked, drink-carrying high school students on Facebook than on MySpace, but we won't go there.)

Whole thing here. For a postscript of sorts, click here.

NEXT: Bong Hits and Ad Runs

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  1. (Of course, I’ve seen more half-naked, drink-carrying high school students on Facebook than on MySpace, but we won’t go there.)

    We’re rapidly approaching a day when typing that sentence will be an admission of a crime that gets your name on a list.

    You think I’m joking, but surely you’ve heard of the teens who took pictures of each other naked and got in trouble for possession of child pr0n. It’s only a matter of time before they say that “half naked counts too” and “knowledge of a minor in possession of alcohol” is declared a felony as well.

  2. You think I’m joking…

    It does sound slightly over the top.

  3. I hear ya on that thoreau

    On that same note, Facebook is also much more private than MySpace, because you cannot view a person’s profile without their approval. This makes users feel more secure about what content they post, and may explain (in part) boyd’s observations re: half-naked, drunk, etc.

  4. “Good” and “Bad” and “in” and “out” is not really “class” per se. But then since Facebook started as a college-only service and MySpace was open to everybody, I’d expect the latter to be more variegated.

    Then again, I always thought the median MySpace user was a 19-year-old faux lesbian goth chick, but…

  5. I used it in the past, but myspace is far too ugly and unorganized for my tastes. Most of the mails and friends requests I get are spam mail anyways…

  6. I only use Facebook, and I only provide Warren with access to see what I have to show!

  7. You think I’m joking

    Actually, I think you’re doing the standard drama queen “we’re becoming a police state” act that is the norm here.

  8. Hohensee –
    Amen. MySpace is so hideous I can barely stand it. I got an account to supplement my Facebook account at the request of some of my friends who only use MySpace, but even with my extremely above-average computer fluency I still could barely navigate the site, and have yet to see anyone successfully make it not look ugly. To boot, with all the extra crap people put on their pages, even on my broadband connection it takes forever to load some of the pages.

  9. Yeah – Facebook was started as an Ivies-only social networking site, then it was expanded to NESCAC schools (yay, I was in on the ground floor), then to the rest of the rabble. Just joking about the rabble.
    The guy that created Facebook was the freshman roomate of a friend of mine at Harvard. Apparently all he did was drink vodka, blow lines, and IM people.

  10. We’re rapidly approaching a day when typing that sentence will be an admission of a crime that gets your name on a list.

    Well, we’re definitely at the point where teens get ratted out after posting pictures online of them drinking.

    Related local story here.
    Parents complained to the Winnacunnet Cooperative School Board on Monday about a board member who allegedly called attention to Internet photos of underage students drinking alcohol after the prom.

  11. Come on thoreau, you’re supposed to be the voice of, uh, rationality around here. (I have to avoid saying the other word, because I don’t want to contribute to the intoxication of the thread)

    While the case of those two kids getting charged with child porn was ridiculous, I don’t see how it’s a stepping stone to illegalizing images of teenagers with exposed bellies.

  12. Since we’ve already had the mandatory libertarian Chicken-Little-isms, it’s only appropriate that MP chimes in with the “I don’t think it should be illegal so everyone has to act as if it isn’t” point of view.

    If you post pictures of yourself engaged in illegal activity on the friggin’ world wide web, any consequences of that are your own fault. Period. There’s no constitutional right to be an idiot.

  13. yeah myspace is an aesthetic hell on earth. which would make sense of danah boyd’s analysis, since guidos and homies are also an aesthetic hell on earth.

    demand kurve?

    also i don’t think thoreau was being chicken little at all. but that’s just me.

  14. dhex,

    Any time anyone uses a phrase like “We’re rapidly approaching the day…” is cause to treat what follows those words with caution.

  15. “I don’t think it should be illegal so everyone has to act as if it isn’t” point of view

    Stop talking to the MP in your head. I never meant to imply any such thing.

  16. MP,

    Yeah, I ain’t seeing that either.

  17. Lobster Lass,

    Aww shucks [blushes]. You know I’m always glad to see what you got. Well except for that case of crabs you posted last year.

  18. “There’s no constitutional right to be an idiot.”

    Actually, Crimethink, I beleive there must be because they are everywhere.

    To paraphase a recent movie… “I see stupid people.. and they don’t even know they are stupid.”

  19. Viewing a MySpace page is usually a form of violent eye-rape, so that explains much “class” division for me. Much like the livejournal/blogger.com division. People self-organize quite easily (social science-types always want to chalk this up sort of “ism”) and when one social networking site looks like a jumbled mess of digital vomit / goth poetry slam then people who don’t want that go somewhere else.

    As for chicken-little-ism, most here crying foul are quite content for people to have a boot at their throat when it comes to reproductive or economic freedoms. It can be hard to recognize a problem when you are a big part of it.

  20. MP,

    You were lamenting the fact that kids who posted pictures of themselves drinking illegally got in trouble for it, and acting as if this is a stop on the road to totalitarianism. I don’t think that was just in my head.

    SugarFree,

    Are you referring to me as one of those crying foul? I can see where you’d think I’m OK with limiting “reproductive freedoms” (though, aside from abortion, which is a special case, I’m pretty much for keeping the govt uninvolved with reproduction or the lack thereof), but economic freedom? How am I content with a boot at the throat as far as economic freedom?

  21. JohnD, good point. Perhaps I should have said, “There’s no constitutional right to be protected from the consequences of your idiocy.”

    But, that’s not as catchy.

  22. crimethink,

    Did you forget your libertarian bona fides card at home again?

  23. Soneone said “Facebook is also much more private than MySpace, because you cannot view a person’s profile without their approval.”

    Not entirely true I’m afraid. Check out this article: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/06/26/sniffing_private_facebook_info/

    Since people think their profile is private (wrongly) they may include more information.

  24. Grotius,

    I dunno, it doesn’t seem to be scanning. Maybe I sent it through the washing machine one too many times. 😉

  25. You were lamenting the fact that kids who posted pictures of themselves drinking illegally got in trouble for it, and acting as if this is a stop on the road to totalitarianism. I don’t think that was just in my head.

    No, I wasn’t lamenting anything. I was simply commenting on the current consequences of teens posting images online. It was not my intent to imply a slippery slope argument by quoting thoreau.

  26. crimey,

    That last one was for Danny McTroll, who thinks every throat needs a boot. On abortion, we can agree to disagree…

    As for thoreau’s suggestion, how far off it is from reality? In many jurisdictions it is a crime to view a drawing of an underage person nude or engaged in sexual activities. There’s a goddamn thoughtcrime, if there ever was one. Is it such a fantastic idea that bra and panty shots might be considered child porn at some point soon?

    Imagine if the police were called by a computer repair service about a guy who had hundreds of MySpace / Facebook half-dressed bra and panty images on his HD? Don’t you think that right now they’d bend over backwards to him to find something to charge him with, even if it was an exposed nipple in the background or a outlined aureole in a wet t-shirt? Even if there’s no nudity at all, isn’t it likely that a zealous cop or prosecutor would at least take a run at indicting him?

    It’s not that thoreau is being paranoid, he’s accurately describing how hysterical this country has become about this subject. I’d rather listen to chicken-little all day than hear “if only we had” even once.

  27. crimethink –
    I don’t think thoreau’s point was entirely alarmist. I mean, the half-naked counts too idea is a bit silly, but the “knowledge of a minor in possession of alcohol” isn’t that far off the current thinking about Marijuana. It’s an extension of the culture where fear dictates the application and interpretation of the law.

    One example from around where I live is that a man was charged with, among other things, “endangering the welfare of a child” because he had marijuana plants in his house, where he also had an infant child. Heaven forbid the child should see the plant! That would corrupt it for life! Ridiculous.

    Thoreau was cautioning the ethnographer with admission of knowledge of illegal activity…it’s not that far out of the realm of reality.

  28. Imagine if the police were called by a computer repair service about a guy who had hundreds of MySpace / Facebook half-dressed bra and panty images on his HD?

    That would almost certainly be enough probable cause to turn his life inside out.

    I would only argue against Dr T’s use of “rapidly”. We are definitely going in the direction he indicates.

  29. Despite her caveat that it wasn’t an academic paper, I found myself wishing it was, and wishing it was a bit more rigorous. Most of the standard objections–as we see in this thread–to MySpace are aesthetic, and while she mentions this and suggests that aesthetics are normed by class, she doesn’t really develop the idea well. I suspect that one of the ways this happens is by the kind of jobs college graduates tend to have after college: working at offices. From ten feet away, MySpace looks like MySpace. Facebook, on the other hand, looks halfway legitimate. It also has the advantage of not playing hip hop songs for the entire office to hear.

    I hope she expands upon the topic. It’s an interesting one.

  30. To paraphase a recent movie… John, you’re right, they don’t even know they’re dumb.

  31. I guess I better get my sister on the horn and tell her to get her daughter off of MySpace. Post Haste.

  32. OK, MySpace is for ne’er do wells, FaceBook is for pre-Yuppies. So where should us middle aged, “sideways” dinosaurs construct our e-selfs?

  33. Why at H&R!

    You can create a myriad of different onscreen personalities. Some will get exposed, while others will get celebrated.

    And the best part: they’re all bogus! yay!

  34. So where should us middle aged, “sideways” dinosaurs construct our e-selfs?

    Blogs.

  35. Oh, and SugarFree and Reinmoose explained my point pretty well.

  36. carrick,

    Not to be an ass, but if you think my scenario is likely, then thoreau is not describing the future, he’s describing the now. Hell, if anything, he’s running a little behind the curve.

  37. It’s not that thoreau is being paranoid, he’s accurately describing how hysterical this country has become about this subject.

    All the young whipper-snappers here need to google “mcmartin” to see what happens when “its for the children” meets a DA like Nifong.

  38. Not to be an ass, but if you think my scenario is likely, then thoreau is not describing the future, he’s describing the now. Hell, if anything, he’s running a little behind the curve.

    In return and not to be an ass 😉

    A collection of photographs of underage people in underwear is not equivalent (yet) to posting a line on a blog that says you have seen photos of underage people in underwear on a website.

  39. think: Martha Stewart case.

    She got busted simply for saying something, right?

    (or apologies if I’ve totally misunderstood her case)

  40. I don’t think thoreau’s point was entirely alarmist. I mean, the half-naked counts too idea is a bit silly

    I don’t think it’s that silly especially when you consider the fact that already states and cities are currently trying to expand “indecent exposure” laws to cover wearing your pants to low and exposing any underwear.

    Part of the text of a Louisiana bill:
    “It shall be unlawful for any person to appear in public wearing his pants below his waist and thereby exposing his skin or intimate clothing.”

    People are already trying to treat underwear as something indecent

  41. If thoreau is describing the now, then why isn’t Jesse Walker’s name on a list?

    I mean, I’m sure it is on a list, but not that kind of list.

  42. ChicagoTom,

    No way that passes, the plumbers’ union is too powerful.

  43. carrick,

    That’s why it is hard to analogize between the two activities.

  44. Isn’t saying that you’ve seen something online an admission that those images might have been in your cache at some point? And if having those images in your cache falls into a legal gray area, then it is arguably an admission of a possible crime.

  45. Isn’t saying that you’ve seen something online an admission that those images might have been in your cache at some point? And if having those images in your cache falls into a legal gray area, then it is arguably an admission of a possible crime.

    When seeing someone in their underwear officially becomes a crime, then you would be right.

    These kinds of photos are ubiquitous today (or so I’ve heard). Saying that you have run across them is not a clear indicator that you have an “unnatural” interest in seeing underage people in pr0n.

    Taking the time to download those images and to save them your computer would show an intent that implies that interest. In today’s climate, that is probably enough to justify a search for stuff that really is illegal.

    However, given the prosecution of the teacher that suffered the pop-ups in the classroom caused by spyware, I am not totally sure that inadvertant viewing of kids in undies will stand up as a defense.

  46. thoreau,

    It seems to me that even if such a prosecution were undertaken it is as likely to cause a negative reaction from the public, etc.

  47. ChicagoTom
    That’s impressive, and disappointing, to find out.

    Next thing you know they’ll be making men wear shirts at the beach, or arresting us for wearing our bathing suits below our belly buttons.

    Seriously though, are these people really serious? Underwear as “indecent?” What about Pajamas?

  48. Grotius,

    Wouldn’t they just yell CH%LD PR0N and get the public to fall in line? That’s pretty much what they do now.

    In fact, when two underage kids are charged with child pornography distribution for taking pictures of each other, I think all bets are off…

  49. The postscript to this is worth a mention: commenters on danah’s site have taken her observations about class and interpreted them as racist. danah also mentions that class is difficult for Americans to discuss. Maybe it’s because discussions of class get misinterpreted by the public as being about race?

  50. I think its too early to make these sort of comparisions. Facebook started in 04 as a college only social networking site. MySpace didn’t have a whole lot of penetration before then either, so for college kids in the 04-05 generation, Facebook became THE social netwoking site. Myspace was viewed as crap that HS kids did and looked down upon. The problem Facebook faced however, was the fact that unlike the 04-05 generation of college kids, future college students were going to come from HS kids that did have a lot of exposure to Myspace. Indeed, as time moved on, they’d be facing kids who’ve been using Myspace as their primary social netwoking site for half their lives before comming to college. So Facebook faced the dilema of remaing exclusive and hoping these Myspace Kids could be won over, or opening themselves up to the filthy masses and losing their prime selling point (other than layout design). So I’m not buying this comparison until more time goes by. Facebook has a legacy of users who HAD to be in college to sign up. That skews the numbers. Now that Facebook and Myspace are both open to everybody, lets wait a few years and see how the demographics shake out. If Facebook can market itself as the Abecrombie and Fitch of Social Networking, where black and brown faces need not apply, I think they’d be on to something (in terms of creating a niche where they could survive). But I think its just as likely Facebook fades in to obscurity.

  51. Boyd freely admits in her piece that the concept of “class” as traditionally understood is largely inapplicable to the USA in the here and now, and that the ‘class’ distinction she’s chronicling is more about the “good” kids versus the “bad” kids, though there is an economic overlay there. Class has never been about economic status, but about overt societal structures that inhibit economic movement.

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