Tag Archives: facebook

social networks are so NOT post-racial

A friend who is Asian-American and a moderate user of Facebook mentioned the other day that she didn’t participate in Doppelganger week. Why not? She pointed out that there are barely any mainstream Asian-American female celebrities, let alone one she resembles.

What’s the big deal, you may be wondering. After all, this was simply a fun exercise in the viral, democratic nature of the web. Posting your celebrity doppelganger on FB was only interesting and relevant as long as a critical mass of people found it to be so. In the end, my friend missed out on at most a few days of hardcore activity.

Framed that way, as an isolated event, it probably wasn’t a big deal.

On the other hand, the whole doppelganger exercise could be viewed as just one of many examples of how social networking – unless we’re careful – replicates the inequities that exist in society as a whole. And the reification of these inequities is potentially more insidious in social networks because it’s easy to believe that the opposite is true: that this life online, enmeshed in free platforms, where everyone is able to contribute, is as post-racial as it gets.

In fact, the reality could not be more different. A recent study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University found that you could reliably predict which social network – Facebook or MySpace – a college student used most often based on that student’s race, ethnicity and parents’ education. The author of the study, Eszter Hargittai, goes on to state:

Everyone points to that wonderful New Yorker cartoon of the dog at the computer telling a canine friend by his side that ‘on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.’ In reality, however, it appears that online actions and interactions should not be viewed as independent of one’s offline identity.”

In researcher danah boyd’s draft of her soon-to-be published article, “White Flight in Networked Publics? How Race and Class Shaped American Teen Engagement with MySpace and Facebook,” she discusses her work examining the social media practices of teens, and the fact that more affluent white students tended to flock to Facebook while less affluent Latino students tended to prefer MySpace. Race, class and ethnicity were intertwined in students’ motivations in making the social networking choices they did, boyd writes.

Neither social media nor its users are colorblind simply because technology is present. The internet mirrors and magnifies everyday life, making visible many of the issues we hoped would disappear, including race and class-­‐based social divisions in American society.

Just to be clear, I myself as an Asian-American, college-educated man, definitely demonstrate my own biases. I joined Facebook, for instance, soon after it was opened to the public. I never even remotely considered having a MySpace account. I should be compelled to examine and re-examine these choices which, I’m sure, were the result of what boyd says is an intermingling of class, race and design preferences. Examine them not for the sake of hand-wringing, but because to be aware is to be able to effect change.

We’re at a critical juncture. As social networking matures and becomes the established norm in our lives, we need to be ever more vigilant – not less – that what we are doing is creating new opportunities to participate for those who have been otherwise marginalized. Rather than simply replicating the offline practices that, consciously or not, ultimately lead our students to segregate along class and racial and ethnic divisions. We need to push ourselves and our students to consider who is part of our social networks, who isn’t, and how we can use the potential of online communities to truly transform our society.

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facebook birthday

I’m old. There’s no getting around it.fb_logo

I turned 47 today. As you can imagine, I’ve had many birthday experiences before, but I’ve never had the onslaught of a social network birthday. I received more birthday wishes through facebook from people around the country than I ever have in my life. Somehow, they all picked up on the fact that my profile says my birthday is July 23rd.

Interestingly, I’ve been on facebook longer than a year. So I had a facebook-era birthday last year. It’s a sign of the growing popularity of facebook, at least among people who are close to my age, that there would be such a huge difference in the number of nods to my birthday this year.

This is probably an indication that facebook is already in its decline, that it will soon be transplanted by some other social media site, founded by kids and used – at first – by kids. Until we forty-somethings co-opt it.

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soup to nuts (redux)

According to an NPR piece that came across my news feed, there’s a fascinating dictionary of American Regional English that has been published in sections over the past 50 years. The final volume, S-Z, will be available next year.

The story begins with an anecdote about Bill Clinton:

In 1993, President Clinton was giving a news conference when someone mentioned that a certain Air Force official had criticized him. “How could he say that about me?” Clinton responded. “He doesn’t know me from Adam’s off ox.”

The piece goes on to wonder if regional phrases are dying off as we become more twitter-ized and therefore more uniform in our online, web-based writing patterns. This seemed to be borne out in the story:

But when this reporter tested out some words from the DARE at a Starbucks in suburban Detroit, none of the patrons seemed familiar with a “monkey’s wedding” (a chaotic, messy situation in Maine); “cockroach killers” (pointy shoes in New Jersey) or “mumble squibbles” (noogies, North Carolina-style).

(Her first mistake, it seems to me, was going to a suburban Detroit Starbucks to see if people were aware of regional phrases.)

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to meet teachers from all over the country. So I’ve definitely heard my share of regional expressions, which I love. “Rode hard and put up wet” is probably my favorite, said by Amy from Louisville one night describing the way Britney Spears looked as her image flashed across a tv screen. Apparently, it’s a horse-riding expression, so it makes sense that it comes from the land of the Kentucky Derby. And I’m sure you can guess that it ain’t complimentary.

Championing regional sayings is the equivalent to me of buying local to prevent the overrunning of our communities by look-alike chain stores and restaurants.

In fact, more than archiving these expressions in dictionaries, we should be figuring out ways they can be used in everyday speech. A facebook app, perhaps, that flashes and beeps you when your status updates are too regionally bland.

Not for nothin, I think that’s a good idea.

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