Social Networking = Cohesion or Division?

Is the social media revolution bringing us together? Or is it perpetuating divisions by race and class?

An important question asked by New York Times’ Riva Richmond.

I know, your all probably thinking, “what do you mean division, social media is all about bringing people together.” Your right, most social media is, well, just that. Social. It functions as a wonderful, easy-to-access, and often free medium in the online social stratosphere. But take a second and think to your self. Does social media always help promote diversity in your own life? Think about the people you communicate with via social media. Aren’t the overwhelming majority business partners, co workers, old college buddies, home town friends, family. In short, most people tend to connect with other people like them. It’s true outside social media as well.

I hate to bash the leverage of social media, but are people really being brought together in a new way? My opinion is, not always. Even as I examine my own social media endeavors I realize, the majority of the people that I interact with are my college friends, hometown buddies, co-workers, clients, family, and career-like minded people. Other than that, I can’t really account for much of the other engagement that occurs across my array of social networking profiles.

In addition to people centralizing their social conversation around a relitivly narrow selection of genres of people (way to wordy), studies also show that certain socioeconomic groups tend to flock to specific social media networks over others. For example, during the 2006-7 school year, conversations with high school students showed a trend of white, upper-class and college-bound teenagers migrating to Facebook. Meanwhile, less educated and nonwhite teenagers were on MySpace. The interviewer, Danah Boyd, a social media researcher at Microsoft Research New England, noted that old-style class arrogance was also in view; the Facebook kids were quicker to use condescending language toward the MySpace users. “What we’re seeing is a modern incarnation of white flight,” Says Boyb. “It should scare the hell out of us.”

Others have mounted quantitative studies that confirm these divides. A December 2008 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project showed that, over all, Facebook users were more likely to be male and have completed college, while MySpace users were somewhat more likely to be female, black or Hispanic, and to have not completed college. Since that study, however, Facebook has boomed and the social network landscape has no doubt changed significantly.

Ms. Boyd’s contention is that social media “mirrors and magnifies” our social divisions, rather than removes them. “We can use technology as a tool to connect with people, but we can’t assume that it will eliminate all of the serious issues we have to face in this country,” Ms. Boyd said at PDF. “Pervasive social stratification is being reified in a new era. If we don’t address this head-on, inequality will develop deeper roots that will further cement divisions in our lives.”

So my question to the reader is, do you think Social Media (and more specifically social networking) is in fact fostering an online environment of Cohesion among all people, or one reinforcing the haunting socioeconomical divisions that remain so deeply rooted in America’s past, present, and possibly future?

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