Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Class distinctions evident in social media

Class divisions exist between those who use Facebook versus MySpace, with the former attracting a better educated clientele, at least in the U.S., new research suggests.

In Canada, Facebook is the hands-down dominant social media web tool, and it's not because everyone in Canada is better educated than their U.S. counterparts.

"We are a Facebook country," said Rhonda McEwen, who teaches in the faculty of information studies at the University of Toronto and specializes in new media and the information practices of young people. Facebook users in Canada include everyone from teens to grandparents, she said.

"The younger teens here don't know MySpace. They don't even recognize the term, which is really surprising to me, given how big it is in the United States."

It may be because Canadian academics who travelled to the U.S. started using Facebook and immigrants who came to large Canadian cities also were Facebook users, McEwen suggests. But by the time Canada caught on to social networking, MySpace was more for teenagers and not taken as seriously.

In the U.S. it's a different story.

Research finds differences
Unpublished research by Eszter Hargittai of Northwestern University in Chicago found big differences between American users of Facebook and users of MySpace.

"Existing social divisions translate online," said the associate professor in the communications studies department. "These sites are mainly used for hanging out with people you already know."
Hargittai's research found a difference by race, ethnicity and parental education in the U.S. Hispanic students, for example, are more likely to use MySpace because that's where "their friends hang out."

Facebook users were more likely to have grown up in a household where parents had graduate degrees, she found.

Her research appears to show Facebook attracts the more upwardly mobile.

No surprise there, said Shirley Steinberg, an expert in media literacy and popular culture at McGill University. "It's about who you know, what you're doing, where do you go, where were you on your holiday," said Steinberg. "Just the use of the words 'status update' has a middle-class implication."

MySpace doesn't do any of that, said Steinberg, associate professor at McGill's Department of Integrated Studies in Education. "Just the title, MySpace, itself implies that it's personal."

MySpace was started by a group of employees at an internet marketing company called eUniverse in California in 2003, who were following the social networking group Friendster, which also featured indie music.

Facebook was started at Harvard University a year later. Initially it spread through other universities before going global and its users are generally older. The site is now more popular worldwide than MySpace.

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