Friending race

July 10, 2009 at 3:19 pm 1 comment

| Gabriel |

Noah pointed out to me that some of Eszter’s work got a plug in the NYT. In her UIC freshmen survey, she found that Hispanics were still mostly on MySpace but others had mostly moved to Facebook. The argument for this differential shift by race is that these kinds of things benefit tremendously from network externalities and since underlying social networks are segregated, the social network websites come to reflect this.

Although the NYT article mention “white flight,” mostly in the context of discussing another researcher, this characterization doesn’t seem exactly right to me both empirically and theoretically. Eszter’s work shows that blacks have mostly moved to Facebook but in most types of interaction (residential segregation, marriage, etc) Anglo whites are more likely to associate with Hispanics than with blacks. Likewise in classic white flight models, whites are fleeing the presence of blacks but what seems to be going on here is that whites are drawn by other whites (or more specifically, by their friends, who are mostly white). Unlike housing, where you know who your neighbors are, on a social networking site you only associate with the people you choose. In other words, it’s a pull of being drawn by your friends, not a push of avoiding people you look down upon. It’s interesting to contrast the types of differences (I hesitate to use the word “segregation”) that can result entirely from the pull of homophily rather than the push of heteroantipathy (is that a word?).

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1 Comment

  • 1. Eszter Hargittai  |  July 11, 2009 at 12:20 am

    It seems to be a “general” flight, so to speak, in that everybody in this group is leaving MySpace to some extent. Interestingly, the smallest decline over the two-year period is actually for African Americans.

    I’m working on a paper now – from the 2007 data – looking at diversity of social network site usage to look at how common it is for different types of people to be on more than one such site. That’s something I’ll also want to look at for the 2009 data at some point.

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