MySpace vs. Facebook

February 22, 2009 at 11:09 am Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking lately (again) about the class implications of the way we view Facebook versus MySpace. I think one potential explanation of why the networks themselves might be made up of two pretty distinct populations is fairly obvious–Facebook started out as a college-only medium, and initially an Ivy-only one at that. When access trickled down, first to “less prestigious” colleges and then to high schools, new members mostly found out about the service through friends and relatives from the original circles of access. Even now that anyone can join Facebook–with or without an educational or regional network–I’d bet money that a good chunk of users still tend toward the formally educated and upwardly mobile.

None of this is meant to say that MySpace is somehow inferior or that the people who use it are necessarily lower-class. But just among my friends who use it (yes, I have profiles on both, though I use Facebook much more regularly), I’ve noticed that many chose paths other than college or were more likely to go to a state or vocational school.

Where the media focuses on social networking, though, is where things really get interesting.

Have you ever noticed that any story with an “Are your kids safe online?” bent almost always deals with MySpace? The MySpace purge of over 90,000 registered sex offenders made headlines, but the news that Facebook tossed 5,585 isn’t causing nearly as much of a stir.

It’s the same with sensationalized portraits of criminals. I don’t have hard data to back this up, but I’ve seen TV news programs and magazines reproduce MySpace profile photos when they’re recapping grisly murders or assaults–I’ve never seen photos from a Facebook album.

Where I do see Facebook popping up is in stories that deal with employment. Whether it’s concerns that interviewers are looking at profiles of potential hires or bosses catching underlings behaving badly, the evidence almost always comes from Facebook.

Personally, I see the disparity in coverage as a not very subtle classist approach. Let’s warn Facebook users about how the service might impact their future careers, and let’s scare MySpace users into believing they’re surrounded by criminals.

I’d be really curious to find out whether Facebook and MySpace are always equally blocked on school networks (I believe they’re both blocked by our district’s filtering software, but I haven’t actually checked). I’m happy to see that plenty of libraries are still using both networks to promote their online presence, but I have to wonder if other adults are reinforcing the online class divide by frowning more on MySpace.

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