White Flight and Digital Gentrification

In “Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet,” Lisa Nakamura refutes the idea that we can be whoever we wish online. This utopian online society where race, gender, class and are irrelevant is an unfulfilled prophesy. Our identities follow us everywhere. In the real world, I’m a black male. I carry the entire connotation that comes with that identity, good and bad, online and off. It’s naïve to believe otherwise. For example, many of the sites that I frequent require a picture. While this is often optional, blank profiles are largely frowned upon.

Demographics follow us on social networking sites as well. Personally, I was a late adopter of social media. In high school, many of my friends were on Myspace, which was open to anyone. The format seemed to encourage the building of relationships. Often, this resulted in sex oriented comments and spammed flyers for parties. The most common comment was, “Thanks for the ad, sexy.”

Facebook corrects the deficiencies of Myspace by offering a “cleaner, organized, more educated space,” to paraphrase Digital Gates by Craig Watkins. Its initial success came from separating white middle-class users from the “digital undesirables,” like myself. (More specifically, minorities and users with little formal education.) I don’t mean to imply at all that race or class motivated this switch, however “individual actions and choices are not race –or class neutral just because individuals do not believe or feel themselves to be race – or class-motivated” ( http://bit.ly/Rn5m4m ).gentrification_comic1

These connotations beg for a comparison to the phenomenon known as “White Flight,” which is defined as  “the departure of whites from places (urban neighborhoods or schools) increasingly or predominantly populated by minorities.” There were a number of formatting and security complaints about Myspace that were also major factors.

If we liken the social network landscape to a city, then Myspace was the urban areas populated with minorities and the uneducated folks, while Facebook was a gated community open exclusively to the college educated. In theory, once Facebook opened its doors, it should have been prone to the problems that plagued Myspace, yet it’s thriving. Why haven’t the middle-class fled from Facebook?

Myspace, by contrast, is undergoing some type of “digital gentrification.” This is “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” It often begins with an artist looking for lower rent. After Myspace had a steady decline in traffic, Justin Timberlake purchased it for 35 million, which is low compared to the 580 million it was sold for in 2005.  Is the New Myspace being gentrified? http://bit.ly/Rn5m4m


An interesting study done by the Pew Research Center found that young black people frequent Twitter and Instagram more than their white counterparts. Further, there are a higher percentage of Blacks and Latinos using social networking sites. Personally, I’d like to know where middle-class whites will migrate after Facebook. Pintrest?  Google+? Where is this new, clean, educated, gated community? And how can I move in?

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One Response to White Flight and Digital Gentrification

  1. I am a African American female therefore I can relate to your argument about your “minority” identity following you even into the cyber world. This subject specifically tied into my group presentation on “Performing Identities” which is also why this post stood out to me. Prior to your post, I never looked considered the stand point that simply uploading your photo to facebook for instance can still subject you to racial biases and stereotypes. I like the way you distinguished the certain demographics of people that use Facebook vs. Mypspace. In my group presentation last week we really delve into what made both Myspace and Facebook so different regarding race and socioeconomic background. We also used the same example that you demonstrated stemming from the reading regarding Facebook being a “gated community.” I feel that when you look at these social media platforms from the context of demographic differences makes identity very relevant. Some people would definitely argue both ways when it comes to your identity mattering on social media however, in reality your identity is a part of who you are and either people will perceive you in a positive manner or negative manner. Overall, based on a question that you posed regarding wanting to know where the white middle class migrate to after facebook, I want to know why these certain platforms are more appealing to them vs. other individuals with differing backgrounds.

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