Our VoiceCulture

Social Media Reflects Social Divisions

Jill Garvey • Jul 25, 2009

Today I participated in a new media panel at the National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) annual conference with esteemed experts Edmundo Rocha, Kety Esquivel, and Murray Mann. While we tried to cover a wide range of topics from the basic to the advanced, I found the topic of social divisions continued to come up.

As we seek to navigate rapidly changing technologies and social formations online, there are a few things to consider. Just because we are all communicating from behind computer screens doesn’t mean we are suddenly color blind. In fact, bigotry can flourish and spread online in a way that it never could before. Social networking has not become the great unifying force that some predicted. Studies and frankly a little bit of common sense have shown that between the two major social networking sites, Myspace and Facebook, there are deep cultural, class, and color divides.

Facebook is undoubtedly gaining popularity as MySpace declines. But the number of active users is not so disparate, MySpace has 62 million unique users versus Facebook’s 90 million, that one should be discounted in favor of the other. After all, African-Americans and Latinos are far more active on Myspace, while whites are primarily on Facebook. Some have called this “white flight”, which, as was mentioned on our panel today, is a suspect label considering the origins of each network are vastly different (music v. college). Regardless of how it’s labeled the dangers of ghettoizing a social network with 62 million unique users are real.

It is especially important for non-profit and community leaders to accurately gauge where people gather online. In the end it may not come down to whether poor communities of color have the same access to new media, but whether we acknowledged them.

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