Thursday, July 09, 2009

Popular is as Popular Does

Of late, several critics have noted how blogs are often now being used to announce scholarly findings that in previous years would have been publicized first in scholarly journal articles. For example, recently Internet researcher Eszter Hargittai posted a piece in Crooked Timber "Popularity of Facebook and MySpace changes, but SES differences in use persist" that updated work about ethnic and class differences in populations using different social network sites. Although Facebook has grown in popularity than MySpace in the two years since, her latest work shows that her findings about first year college students continue to be similar to what she found before: that Facebook is more socioeconomically privileged in its membership than MySpace, and that Latino/Latina students are still more likely to gravitate to MySpace than their Angle white peers.

Perhaps mindful of the criticism that danah boyd faced after she posted "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace" to describe phenomena that she was noticing among high school students, Hargittai has also very scrupulously presented all her data in the form of tables and bar graphs so that readers might have less cause to doubt her claims.

What does this mean for rhetoricians? A lot. It means that choosing to use either Facebook or MySpace as a platform for speech has particular consequences both in how the speaker is perceived and what expectations she or he has about the audience being addressed. For example, how is the White House MySpace page different from its Facebook page?

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