Social Networking Sites May Foster Same Old Divisions

LiveScience.com, November 20, 2007

The social networking site of choice is related to a student’s race, ethnicity and parents’ education, a new survey indicates.

The finding “suggests there’s less intermingling of users from varying backgrounds on these sites than previously believed,” said study leader Eszter Hargittai of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University in Illinois.

Hargittai surveyed more than 1,000 freshmen from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Results show:

* Caucasian students prefer Facebook.

* Hispanic students prefer MySpace.

* Asian and Asian-American students were more likely than others to “socialize” on Xanga and Friendster. They also used Facebook.

* Asian and Asian-American students are least likely to use MySpace.

Parents’ education level was also found to impact choice of social networking site. Students whose parents had college degrees more often reported Facebook and Xanga use compared with students with non-college-degree parents. (Facebook requires a valid e-mail ID that is associated with certain colleges, universities and other institutions.)

MySpace users were skewed toward students with parents having less than a high-school education than those with even some college experience (with or without achieving a college degree).

In some ways, the results suggest that rather than bringing all walks of life onto a level playing field, the Internet’s social networking sites might just be fostering more of the same barriers found in real life.

For instance, college students living with their parents (and are already less connected with other students) were less likely to use Facebook than their on-campus peers.

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The study is published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

[Editor’s Note: “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites,” by Eszter Hargittai, can be read here.]


Eszter Hargittai

Communication Studies and Sociology

Department of Communication Studies

2240 Campus Dr., Evanston, IL 60208

Northwestern University

[email protected]

Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away, despite a familiarity with them? Based on data from a survey administered to a diverse group of young adults, this article looks at the predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster. Findings suggest that use of such sites is not randomly distributed across a group of highly wired users. A person’s gender, race and ethnicity, and parental educational background are all associated with use, but in most cases only when the aggregate concept of social network sites is disaggregated by service. Additionally, people with more experience and autonomy of use are more likely to be users of such sites. Unequal participation based on user background suggests that differential adoption of such services may be contributing to digital inequality.

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