Who Inhabits The Internet Ghetto?
The ability to use information technology to engage in civic discourse and collaborative projects is why some people claim that the Internet is a democratizing tool. Because production and engagement costs are lowered, theoretically anyone, even individuals from low-income or disadvantaged communities should be able to have access to the same information as individuals from privileged backgrounds. Yet, when one takes more than a cursory glance at the social dynamics of the Internet it becomes abundantly clear that many of the schisms that exist in physical communities also exist in the digital realm. As Craig Watkins points out in his book The Young and the Digital, there is a racial and class divide on social networking sites, insofar as young people’s income and ethnicity seems to map which social networking site they tend to primarily use. A digital “White flight” occurred from Myspace to Facebook that eerily mirrored the migratory patterns of Whites moving out of cities and into suburbs to escape the “blackening” of their neighborhoods.
The stigma attached to Myspace can be likened to the stigma attached to a blighted neighborhood. As Watkins discusses in his book, some people found the “flashy” or “blingy” layout of a Myspace page to not be aesthetically pleasing. They would rather be a part of a community that had more of a standard set-up with less gaudy imagery. This phenomenon is similar to someone deciding to leave a community where people park their cars on the lawn to go to a suburban community where all the houses look similar and have manicured lawns. Although this doesn’t seem overtly racial, the history of White flight tells us that there are extreme racial undertones to this argument. Moreover, some people took offense to the nature of some of the discussions that were occurring on this platform.
Rather than be associated with people who perceived to be lesser, in many cases young Black people, many White people decided to leave. During class discussion on this topic last year my White classmates proved there were also class-based reasons for the migration to Facebook. Some of my White colleagues viewed the site as a place where “White trash” people who wear “wife beaters” go to congregate. Some people even referred to the site as being “ghetto”- a term that is often wrongfully associated with low-income Black American culture. There are grave political consequences that stem from this migration. – If a preponderance of low income people of color inhabit the supposed “ghettoized spaces” that many more privileged groups have vacated, elected officials may not spend as much time advertising in those spaces. This means that even though Myspace users may have equal access to the Internet the mere fact that they are in a space that has the social stigma of being inferior, political elites may not take them as seriously.
A racialized digital divide definitely exists online, insofar as people of different races consume different information, inhabit different spaces, and engage in discussions about different topics. However, it should be noted that no race is monolithic. In fact, a recent study conducted by a team of researchers at U.I.C. revealed the Black [college] students use Twitter more than any other group. On the other hand, Black people who aren’t college students or college educated or less likely to use Twitter.