[iDC] danah boyd on “MyFriends, MySpace”

Colin Rhinesmith crhinesmith at comcast.net
Wed Jun 20 10:58:34 EDT 2007

Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard Law School
June 19, 2007

At the base of social network sites is the desperate desire to be  
social, to be apart of a group. Social networks are about friends and  
people you already know.

The concept of public: critical to engage in public to make things  
real (Arendt). Networked publics are imagined by the public to have  
some kind of property. Networked publics have existed for almost  
thirty years (see Usenet): people organizing around interests,  
mailing lists, topic orientation. Then the boom happened. People  
rushed online, sold on story of e-commerce. Web 2.0 is really  
interested in the way that it changed the rules of organizing sociality.

MySpace meant to be a rip off of Friendster. MySpace first reached  
out to indie rock musicians. By late 2003, indie rockers were using  
Friendster for shows, community building, etc. MySpace said, “How can  
we help you?” Indie rockers responded, “You can help us?” MySpace  
created unique URLs for the purpose of musicians. And Los Angeles  
promoters realized this would be a great tool. To get VIP passes,  
you’d had to have a MySpace page as a way to promote shows to venues.

First group jumped on as 21+ crowd. College kids followed what was  
happening and it went below that in age. When something starts to  
take off at 21 it works its way down. MySpace dropped it down to age  
16. It didn’t take long for teenagers who were musically inclined  
(within high school). They were using Xanga. They liked to be able to  
see and collect their friends. MySpace provided this space.

MySpace users figured out that they could put in HTML and tons of  
other code into their pages. MySpace recognized this emergence and  
didn’t stop it. They thought it might be interesting to see where it  
went. This emerged into a copy/paste literacy. They were able to copy  
and paste from around the web and put it into their MySpace page.  
Within this culture, all sorts of chaos emerged. Fishing emerged,  
privacy became relevant, etc.

This is not about “social networking.” It’s about places where people  
can write their social network into being.

When young people started to use MySpace they used it for social  
posturing. “Yo, what’s up?” Public comments look a lot like a locker  
room, a bedroom, all the things that make parents run away. It makes  
an amazing space for self-expression. This is one of the things at  
risk when parents are let in. They are publics like the mall, like  
the park. But they are also unlike any publics you grew up with.

4 properties of this kind of public

1. Persistence
2. Searchability
3. Replicability
4. Invisible audiences

Given these properties young people have been able to make sense of  
it. Context allows us to understand what is the social way to  
interact? Requiring what it is and what is not appropriate is how you  
interact. People know they are supposed to be quiet on a bus, but at  
the same time not many people actually follow those rules. It’s not  
that the people are the rule, but the norms around the roles are in a  
space. The Internet provides that info through the labeling of topic.  
See the organization of Usenet. It didn’t take long for people not to  
follow the rules. Alt.tasteless brought a twisted version of what the  
rules of the community were supposed to be.

This generation is growing up with a celebrity style public without  
knowing who the publics really are. It’s better to be public and be  
seen then private and invisible.

The American high school image in the 50s was to keep kids off the  
streets and away from the labor organizers. There are a lot of costs  
to this dynamic. The rise of bullying started in the 50s. The term  
teenager was created in 1941 by marketers to pick a market to go  
after. This meant a rapid shift in generations. The whole culture  
changed quickly. Today we are living with the damage of that. Young  
people v. adults.

Teenagers today are kept out of public life. They are locked inside  
for many reasons. If they don’t have cars, they can’t get out in many  
parts of the country. Even when there is public transit parents are  
afraid to let their kids outside. Most communities in the U.S., there  
are few places left where kids run free outside and come back for  

The other big affect is that families are highly structured. Going  
from activity to activity with the hopes of getting into schools like  
Harvard. Young people are turning to network publics as an  
alternative public. They are innovating and creating in places where  
they can create friends. For example, why do people write comments  
instead of public messages? It’s better to be seen on the street then  
to appear invisible.

The technology requires other things. You write who your audience is  
to be - negotiating different levels of audience based on how they  
see it. Private means “friends only”. Writing out audience means that  
you have to deal with a Top 8. The most dramatic part of MySpace.  
Pure social drama.

Young people don’t want to friend people who hold power over them,  
parents, teachers, admissions councilors, etc. They also don’t want  
those who would prey on them - not necessarily predators but the fear  
is scammers, marketers, etc.

3 memes

1. Ways of building structural walls. Lie, confuse things  
structurally. Walls keep one level of block.

2. Demand the way that the social way should work. “Mom’s not wanted,  
get out!” They want to be public, but only with people like them.

3. Play ostrich. If we don’t see them, then they don’t exist. Find a  
way to make them go away.

Public life is changing. This generation is growing up with a  
different public than we’ve known. The society is telling them to  
leave it and the younger generation is saying there’s something of  
value here. The moment the cell phone comes in, the less of a way  
that it is important. The cell phone is completely locked down.  
MySpace, for some teens, was one of the only places. Email is dead  
for young people. Their friends are all discussed through online  
systems. Some of this is changing and it will affect some of these  
websites. There is still a desire to be public.


The audio & video archive from this talk will be available soon at  
MediaBerkman <http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mediaberkman>

Colin Rhinesmith

More information about the iDC mailing list