USA Today on too much self-disclosure on MySpace & Facebook

danah boyd
“Danah Boyd preps for her talk at ETech 2006” by Marc Smith

USA Today has been on the “social network” beat lately, peaking yesterday with their cover story of students self-disclosing gratuitously on MySpace and Facebook. Lots of good overview information on what’s going on in the junction of youth culture, social networks and academic institutions. On the lower right, I’ve scanned a popularity chart showing the user base of MySpace, FaceBook and a few other sites. It shows the uptake of social networking sites by the number of U.S. visitors. Facebook and MySpace are massively popular here in America. Interestingly, even though Friendster originated from San Francisco, it seems to be more popular outside the U.S. I wonder why…

Here are recent USA Today articles related to youths and social networks:
MySpace ChartIt’s good to remember online life only mirrors offline reality (Mar 10, 2006)
Evidently people had forgotten for a moment that the Internet is the root of all evil that it’s the most dangerous things to happen to kids since scissor factories and running shoes. And if the Internet isn’t in the news for a while, then someone had better find something to get people worried about.

Alarms sound over athletes’ Facebook time (Mar 9, 2006) is a website most college students know and many of their elders don’t. Athletics administrators are just getting to know it and many don’t like what they see. Students who join the site get personal pages on which they can post pictures and all manner of personal information such as cellphone numbers, class schedules, even sexual orientation.

What you say online could haunt you (Mar 8, 2006)
As more and more students turn to websites such as Facebook and MySpace to chronicle their lives and socialize with friends, they also are learning that their words and pictures are reaching way beyond the peers for whom they were intended. And some are paying a price.

Osama bin Laden fan clubs build online communities (Mar 8, 2006)
Al-Qaeda sympathizers are using Orkut, a popular, worldwide Internet service owned by Google, to rally support for Osama bin Laden, share videos and Web links promoting terrorism and recruit non-Arabic-speaking Westerners, according to terrorism experts and a survey of the sites.

How to monitor the kids from online social perils? (Mar 8, 2006)
Teens and young adults, the first true Internet natives, are pioneering a new world of online social networking. And they are largely doing it without the guidance of adults.

My ramble on youths and social networking sites:
Essentially, the popularity of social networking sites seem to be their play on our identity. In the real-world, our everyday appearance is the first thing that people identify you with, but this may be conditioned according to your physical role/situation (e.g. work clothes), thus it may distort the idea of what you intend to appear like. In the online world, your freedom of expression maybe defined by the online community you join. In the case of MySpace, if every other teenager is posting interesting pictures of themselves, why not do the same? After all, this is a space defined by the youths, where there may be a “no holds barred” approach to self-expression. Since it is pretty much open game, there seems to be greater peer pressure to be more unique. In this competition of uniqueness is ego. Some have even gone as far as to call the practice of self-identity online as egocasting. However, the danger lies once again with the public vs. the private self. Perhaps there’s a feeling of detachment of the real self in the online world that makes us forget the connection between the online and offline self.

While I ponder about the affordances of social networking sites, Danah Boyd is really the person to speak to on such matters (pictured above). Via her research blog, Danah is a PhD student at the School of Information (SIMS) at the UC Berkeley and her research focuses on how people negotiate a presentation of self to unknown audiences in mediated contexts. She looks at how youth develop a sense of individual and cultural identity in “public” online environments like LiveJournal, Xanga and MySpace. Like what I ranted earlier, she is concerned with how digital publics do not look like the physical publics that we traditionally consider. If you’re into conferences, you’ll find her a familiar face. She recently spoke at OReilly’s Emerging Technology 2006 Conference on G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide.

5 thoughts on “USA Today on too much self-disclosure on MySpace & Facebook

  1. Hey Kevin.
    Just started reading your blog….great job.

    Your take (and Danah’s) on MySpace is greatly needed. But there’s an interesting aspect of MySpace that still remains overlooked. The economics of MySpace have barely been talked about, short of the fact that the site was recently purchased for $580 million dollars and is now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. I’m particularly interested in how Dallas Smythe’s idea of the audience commodity might apply to myspace. MySpace is obviously gaining a great deal of attention from advertisers looking to get at the ever-lucrative youth market (the audience commodity MySpace has built). Users get access to free content (music, text, video) in exchange for having to look at a few banner ads. Sounds reasonable enough.

    The difference with MySpace (and many other advertiser supported social network sites for that matter) is that the very content of the sites is being created by users. In television, there’s an entire industry of paid workers devoted to creating content. At MySpace, there’s 60 million users who are giving their content, not just their eyeballs, for free. Granted, users benefit from advertising themselves and from all the benefits that come along with social networking and identity management (see Danah and Kevin for more on this). However, there are some underlying economics to the site which warrant discussion. I do not mean to sound as if I am advocating against user-created content. I’m all for it. Rather, I think a more critical look at the kind of commodities produced by MySpace, who is producing them and who is benefiting is a needed complement to socio-cultural analyses.

  2. Perhaps this is why some people love blogging, it’s that sense of ownership they get over their work. I have a feeling that MySpace users (teenagers) don’t really care about being “owned” by News Corp, so long as they can get what they want from the service (Uses & Gratification). In terms of the economics of it, I think both the corporation and the users are really getting what they both want from it… a fair trade off if you asked me. Do you see some imbalance anywhere between both ends of MySpace?

  3. I can’t say yet, since I don’t think we know enough about the balance/imbalance that’s going on. I guess I’m just a bit hesitant to proclaim that it’s an “everybody wins” situation until we take a deeper analysis in that direction.

    I certainly agree that teenagers (and maybe even some of the older musicians on the site) could probably care less that they are being “owned”. The benefits of being able to at least have a media of their own (in some respects) and a means of distribution (for artists) are obviously very powerful.

    But artists and myspacers still need to “advertise” themselves, and spread the word about their site or their music. As a result, myspace pushes, in subtle ways, certain kinds of content over others (I’m talking specifically of the music section here). Generally, this seems to be artists with bigger budgets and bigger recognition. This starts increasingly to look an awful lot like other media.

    Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely benefits on boths sides of the fence. Maybe I’m just being overly-cautious about who is benefitting the most from all the massive amount of content that users willingly submit.

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