The Facebook-versus-MySpace question has never been an important one for me. As much as I dislike digital dependency, Facebook is a necessity. How else would I find out who got dumped or who got drunk? How would I know what events are coming up? I hate to admit that I even use BlackBerry’s Facebook mobile application.
And MySpace? It’s no place at all for me.
I created a MySpace page in the early days of social networking, when it was still a novelty. But it went neglected because Facebook fulfilled all my social-networking needs. I didn’t check the MySpace account enough to even remember my password. Plus, the moving backgrounds on profile pages became so overused that signing on to MySpace (when I could remember my password) started to make me dizzy.
Danah Boyd would say my reasons for joining Facebook and my intense engagement are about a lot more than just my aversion to the spinning MySpace profile backgrounds. Her recent study polled several high-schoolers who used MySpace, Facebook or both, and she concludes that the demographic differences on the two social-networking sites mimic real-world social networks that divide along lines of race and class. Boyd suggests that that self-segregation is in full effect on the Internet.
There’s some truth there, but it’s not that deep.
This is because the purpose of these social networking venues, such as Facebook, is simply to help “you connect and share with the people in your life.” Its purpose is not to bridge social divides, which, despite being a major problem in this country, must be addressed by organizations who have this kind of work as the core mission. Facebook and MySpace are not the answer to this dilemma, nor should we have any illusions that they will become the answer.
To Boyd's point, if I have any friends who use MySpace, I am unaware. Aside from hearing every aspiring artist I come in contact with reminding me to check out their MySpace page, it occupies NoSpace in my social consciousness. (Note to aspiring artists: A private domain name only costs $10-$20 a year. Invest in one.)
But Facebook, on the other hand, is a frequently visited spot, and in my experience, it defies Boyd’s assertion. I have a diverse network of friends, family members and associates that make up my friends list; they’re my high-school friends and college friends; they’re people I met while traveling abroad. In the last year, as the Facebook clientele has grown older, even my mom has surprised me with a friend request.
Though her study makes some valid observations about the significant role that race and class play in the “Face or Space” decision, neither of these factors completely explain my reason for using Facebook. In fact, Boyd’s study essentially ignores the people who shaped Facebook: college students.
In 2004, as an undergrad at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I joined Facebook when it was beginning to become a social necessity. Next to a cell phone, having a Facebook profile was an unspoken mandate. Either you had it or something was wrong with you. Plus, it was a great way to stay up on campus events and parties.
I didn’t use Facebook (much) for trying to holla at females or to make friends as much as I did for organizing and publicizing campus groups and events; it made organizing my campus activities much easier. Then when I crossed over into a fraternity in my sophomore year, my list of “friends” exploded. I received friend requests from all across North Carolina’s Research Triangle (made up of a plethora of both HBCUs and white institutions). Some of these folks I barely knew at all, and they didn’t necessarily reflect my “real-world network” of close friends. However, it has always reflected the overall demographic trend of my real-world network: My friend list consists mostly of people of color and people of the professional/educated class.
Today, this remains true. Many of my Facebook “friends” are no more than associates or people I know through a friend of a friend of a friend. However, they are most likely to be the “type” of people I associate with in my everyday life.
Boyd asserts that color and class are prevailing influences over the “Face or Space” decision. One high-school student she interviewed went so far as to deem MySpace as the “ghetto” of the Internet world. But for me, the divide has never been that deep-seated. My peers and I were Facebook’s pioneering class. Making college connections was simply the name of the game. We poked, posted pictures and made friend requests without much thought to color lines or economic status. Facebook was and remains a mode of recreation, a comfortable hub for online networking, more comfortable—no matter the analysis—than MySpace has ever been.
I suppose I could try and dig up my old password or create a new MySpace account in some vain attempt to bridge the supposed rift. But what’s the point? I know I’ll never sign on again.
Jonathan Pourzal is a writer living in Washington, D.C.