Hegemons prefer Facebook

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From the latest fascinating essay by danah boyd, UC Berkeley grad student and online-social-networking guru (link via Howard Rheingold via joerissen):

The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. Teens who are really into music or in a band are on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.

In order to demarcate these two groups, let’s call the first group of teens “hegemonic teens” and the second group “subaltern teens.” (Yes, I know that these words have political valence. Feel free to suggest an alternative label.) These terms are sloppy at best because the division isn’t clear, but it should at least give us a language with which to talk about the two groups. …

As someone who has witnessed some serious Facebook uptake over the past few weeks by hegemonic non-teens, I think ms. boyd is definitely onto something here.

Update: Clearly, some folks really don’t like this observation (see the comments). A couple notes to the people who think that I and others in the media shouldn’t have given boyd’s essay (and no, I don’t know why I went with her affectation of not capitalizing her name, but at this point I have to just to be consistent) any play at all:

1) True, she’s not the number-crunching quant that some (including me) might prefer, but boyd is a recognized authority on this online social networking stuff. Her research is funded by the Macarthur Foundation, she’s explained the appeal of MySpace to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she’s worked for Google and Yahoo, etc.

2) As Nora notes in the comments, if you actually read boyd’s piece it’s full of caveats and cautions and it’s pretty clear that she identifies more with the “subalterns” than the “hegemons.” Which may be why the comments on her blog about the essay (of which there are 153 and counting) are generally much more positive than the comments here.

3) I have witnessed some pretty dramatic Facebook uptake over the past month among my peers in the New York media business, and in technology circles nationwide. These are people who for the most part wouldn’t be caught dead with a MySpace page. They are also, by boyd’s definition, hegemons. (Hegemony sure ain’t what it used to be.) Her observations about social networking behavior among teens seemed to square with that. Yes, Facebook is still a gnat in comparison with the elephant that is MySpace. But it is experiencing growth in interesting new places, and that’s worth writing about.

Update 2: Ms. boyd ruminates about “the most problematic of essays I’ve ever shared publicly,” and Robert Scoble discusses “danah’s perfect media storm.”