Does social networking breed social division?

Is the social media revolution bringing people together? Or is it perpetuating divisions by race and class? Many of us would like to believe the internet is a force for unity, but Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, thinks we’re deceiving ourselves, reports the New York Times. During the 2006-7 school year, Boyd’s conversations with high school students began showing a trend of white, upper-class, and college-bound teenagers migrating to Facebook. Meanwhile, less educated and nonwhite teenagers were on MySpace. Boyd also noted that old-style class arrogance was in view; the Facebook kids were quicker to use condescending language toward the MySpace users. "What we’re seeing is a modern incarnation of white flight," she said. "It should scare the hell out of us." Others have mounted quantitative studies that confirm these divides. A December 2008 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project showed that Facebook users were more likely to be male and have completed college, while MySpace users were somewhat more likely to be female, black, or Hispanic and to have not completed college. Why the social stratification? Probably because "people use these sites to connect with people they already know," says Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern University. "And people tend to have friends like them."

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