same time, in early 2007, parallel some of the results from our study. After surveying 1,060 students, ages eighteen and nineteen, Eszter Hargittai, a professor of communication studies, found that a majority of the stu- dents, four out of five, used Facebook. About one-third of the sample used MySpace frequently. But when Hargittai broke her data down by gen- der, race, and class, a number of interesting results surfaced. Similar to many studies, and as I note above, Hargittai found that women use social- network sites more frequently than men. But Hargittai’s most interesting findings revolve around the racial and class differences her data tracked.
A majority of white students, 83 percent, preferred Facebook, whereas 9 a little more than half, 57 percent, reported using MySpace. Eighty per- cent of the African American students used Facebook, and about 58 per- cent used MySpace. Hargittai reports some significant differences among students of Latino and Asian origins. “Hispanic students,” she writes, “are significantly less likely to use Facebook (60% compared to 75% or more for other groups), whereas they are much more likely than others to use MySpace (73% among Hispanic students compared to 58% or less among all others).”4 Students of Asian origins showed clear differences too. Whereas 84 percent of the Asian students in Hargittai’s sample used Facebook, 39 percent reported using MySpace.
Hargittai’s study also shows pronounced differences across class, 10 which she measures by parents’ level of education. High levels of educa- tion attainment are often associated with higher levels of employment and income. In fact, you can tell a lot about a family’s habits, activities, and life- style based on parental education. Past studies of children and teens’ use
of television and video games, for instance, show a strong correlation with parental education. Children growing up in low-education households tend to watch more television and play more video games than children in households with highly educated parents.5 Hargittai’s study finds similar results. “The most pronounced finding,” Hargittai writes, “is that students whose parents have less than a high school degree are significantly less likely to be on Facebook and are significantly more likely to be MySpace users.”6 A close look at her results reveals that the more schooling parents attain, the less likely their children are to use MySpace.
Both the survey I led and the one conducted by Hargittai confirm that 11 something truly interesting is happening with race, class, and education as it relates to young people’s engagement with social-network sites. But neither study answers the all-important question: Why does racial identifi- cation appear to influence which sites students prefer?
Fortunately, we were complementing our surveys with in-depth con- 12 versations, going out into the digital trenches to talk directly with young people about their use of social-network sites.
What we learned is quite revealing. 13
Right away, the interviews illuminated the constantly evolving ways teens 14 and young twenty-somethings use the social Web. Talk to them and you
WATkinS From THE young And THE digiTAl 509
quickly learn that they harbor intense views, both favorable and unfavor- able, toward social-network sites. Some young people are incredibly pas- sionate about MySpace. “I use it all of the time,” twenty-six-year-old Avani told us. “It’s fun, exciting, and easy to meet people. I think people interact more on MySpace [than Facebook].” Loyalty to Facebook is just as strong. Frances, a twenty-two-year-old communication major, said, “It’s a much simpler site to use.” With assurance, Jonathan declared, “Facebook is for people who already have friends, whereas MySpace is for people who are looking for friends.”
In all of our in-depth conversations we asked each person to use adjec- 15 tives that, in their view, best describe MySpace and Facebook. Over the course of more than two hundred conversations with white college stu- dents, we heard all kinds of words. The preference for Facebook is undeni- able. In Table 13.1 I list the adjectives that they use most often to describe MySpace and Facebook. Notice anything? The language they used to characterize MySpace is strikingly hostile. Words like creepy, crowded, uneducated, and fake reveal a considerable degree of bad feeling toward the MySpace site and community. By comparison, they maintain a largely favorable view of Facebook, consistently describing the platform as trust- worthy, selective, educated, and authentic. “Addictive” was another com- mon word used to describe Facebook. Along with the adjectives, young people offered a variety of stories that explain in colorful detail how they make sense of the digital media landscape and, more specifically, the two most popular social-network sites in the United States.