A while back when I was a graduate student I read a great blog post by danah boyd [link] about her ethnographic work with teenagers and social network sites. She highlighted her growing observations that Facebook and Myspace teens were quite segregated. Myspace was “ghetto” and Facebook was the higher class social network.
I was at the start of my own dissertation, and was motivated by her observations, so I conducted a survey study of over 700 high school teenagers to examine their social network choices in 2009. The academic article and findings are finally out in First Monday [link here].
My article offers further empirical evidence that significant divides did in fact exist between teenagers who adopt Myspace vs. Facebook. Divides exist across many factors: class (poorer kids were more likely to adopt Myspace over Facebook), race (ethnic minorities were more likely to adopt Myspace), relationships (interestingly Myspace teens were more connected to their offline relationships, while Facebook teens also built online relationships), and academic achievement (higher achievers were on Facebook).
Given these findings, I agree with boyd that there are significant implications for how we use social media tools with young people. Their choice of tools, and likely what they do in their online networks, are intimately related to issues of class, race, and identity. Such findings make me question what we might communicate to youths when we ask them to use certain platforms – what values, implied messages etc. – and also what we might lose by engaging only with particular platforms?