Last week, a study showing that older folks have flocked to Facebook was all over the news. But word of an even more provocative trend waits in the wings: white flight from MySpace to Facebook.
That's according to self-styled social media pundit Danah Boyd, who earned a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley's School of Information in 2008. After four years of quizzing teenagers across the country, she contends that white kids are more likely than their nonwhite counterparts to abandon MySpace for its rival, or to choose Facebook in the first place. MySpace has become the "'ghetto' of the digital landscape," she said in a talk at the recent annual conference of the Personal Democracy Forum, an organization that explores how technology influences politics.
She compared the exodus of whites from MySpace to Facebook to the exodus of white city-dwellers to the suburbs over the past 50 years. As Boyd (who is white, by the way) put it, "Many of us have habitually crossed the street to avoid what is seen as the riff-raff."
"MySpace is a little ghetto, a little wilder, a lot more diverse in terms of my interactions with people of different backgrounds," concurs Jonell Stooksberry, a 36-year-old white Bay Area legal assistant who still checks her MySpace account every month but scratches her newer Facebook itch daily. She prefers the user-friendly layout of the latter, and has reconnected with far more friends there than on MySpace. But Stooksberry kind of misses the "ghetto." Back in her MySpace days, she was often contacted by guys she didn't know in hopes of connecting — and they were rarely white.
Sunset resident Kellye Denton says she stopped using her MySpace account in 2008 when the other volunteers she met during a Peace Corps stint in Morocco encouraged her to join Facebook, which they all belonged to. In the year since, she's witnessed most of her other friends — who, she says, come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds — follow suit. She'd never thought about her leap as a social statement at all, and she'd never been all that big on MySpace to begin with.
"MySpace was just a little too much for me, a little too cluttered," she says. "There was too much going on. And Facebook was newer, which was a draw."
San Francisco–based social media consultant Adrian Chan questions whether there are other explanations for Boyd's findings. "I'm uncomfortable with class arguments," he says. "It could just be a matter of teenage style, that kids start with MySpace and when they go off to school, Facebook is what they move to."
Boyd said she didn't have time to comment for this story. We did notice, though, that she has 250 more friends on her Facebook account than on her MySpace account.