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 ).
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?