Note: this is the second draft (first draft here) of a post to be published on the Qworky blog. Feedback would be much appreciated!
The purpose of this study is described by Facebook as part of their effort to be as open and connected as possible while also working to understand how different populations of users join and use the social network. The original question that has made way for such vehement criticism, first poised by @digitalsista, @kanter , and @womenwhotech, relates to problems with the study's methodology. Furthermore, the question (first asked by @myrnatheminx) of whether the conclusions "seem self-fulfilling prophecy ish" is being assessed in light of this as well.
The methodology aspect of this study is quite tricky, as Facebook does not request information on race as they do for gender. Cheri Mullins analyzed this in some detail in her post Facebook "Diversity" Study Fact or Fiction, and asserts that there is a "highly self-referential" nature to the study through its skewed results. This is why Shireen Mitchell (aka @digitalsista) partially agrees with the self-fulfilling prophecy argument from Tracy Viselli (aka @myrnatheminx), as the data answers a question "that has already been asked or assumed."
The issues with the study are particularly important to assess given the broad conclusions that Facebook has apparently drawn from it, including:
- They have always been diverse yet diversity has increased significantly over the past year to the point where users nearly mirror the diversity of the overall U.S. population
- Hispanics are 80% as likely to be on Facebook as White users
- Black users are as likely to be on as Whites
- Asian/Pacific Islanders are much more likely to be on Facebook than White users.
These broad conclusions are all further questionable in light of danah boyd's speech during the Personal Democracy Forum entitled The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online. Her research has achieved vastly different results, and her charges are damning to the supposedly diverse and inclusive nature of Facebook:
It wasn't just anyone who left MySpace to go to Facebook. In fact, if we want to get to the crux of what unfolded, we might as well face an uncomfortable reality...What happened was modern day "white flight." Whites were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. The educated were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from wealthier backgrounds were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those from the suburbs were more likely to leave or choose Facebook. Those who deserted MySpace did so by "choice" but their decision to do so was wrapped up in their connections to others, in their belief that a more peaceful, quiet, less-public space would be more idyllic.
MySpace has become the "ghetto" of the digital landscape. The people there are more likely to be brown or black and to have a set of values that terrifies white society. And many of us have habitually crossed the street to avoid what is seen as the riff-raff.The fact that digital migration is revealing the same social patterns as urban white flight should send warning signals to everyone out there. And if we think back to the language used by teens who use Facebook when talking about MySpace, we should be truly alarmed.
In this context, it is no wonder that Mitchell thinks that the Facebook Data Team's study has everything to do with boyd's Myspace to Facebook white flight theory. The question at hand is how we can work to constructively fix these problems as the revolution of communication that Facebook is part and parcel of continues.