Say what you will about social media, its purpose in communication is to transfer information. Thus, if you’re an avid user, you can’t help but be informed, even as a bystander. Yet, it appears that different demographics have their own preferred means of online communication (and that shouldn’t surprise the anthropologists).
“The membership of certain online communities mirrors people’s social networks in their everyday lives,” said Eszter Hargittai in “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites.” In reality, one will notice that various demographics congregate in certain neighborhoods, places of worship, and display unique cultural characteristics.
In addition, socio-economics also determine how people live, work, and play. In Danah Boyd‘s “Viewing American Class Divisions Through Facebook and MySpace,” she observed that there were distinct educational differences between MySpace and Facebook superusers.
Social networking users with college ties were more likely to be active on Facebook whereas people with less education preferred MySpace. While this article dates back to 2007 and there’s no explicit reason for this, I can’t help but think that Facebook’s business model affected it.
I recall being an active MySpace user from ages 15 until 18. Why did I stop? I enrolled at a university. Facebook was exclusively for collegiate users. It was a rite of passage for matriculating freshmen. And that’s where my friends were: My social network mirrored my actual life.
Academics have also delved into making sense of how multiple demographics use social media. In 2014, it was documented by Pew Research that 40% of young African Americans ages 18 to 29 use Twitter, compared to 28% of young white people in the same age range.
Farhad Manjoo wrote in “How Black People Use Twitter” that certain trending hashtags have been started and dominated by African American users. BET even named the “Top Twitter Black Hashtags of 2013” that included #AskArmani and #PaulasBestDishes. Both hashtags were saturated with rhetorical and tongue-in-check responses to the Armani and Paula Deen brands, which many deemed had made appalling and regrettable mistakes and statements.
“While users from a variety of backgrounds joke and play games on Twitter, many Black users engage in these activities in ways that closely mirror longstanding traditions in Black American communities,” said Sarah Florini in “Tweet, Tweeps, and Signifyin’.”
If that’s true, then I see this practice as a sturdy use of Twitter. It allows an individual who has been moved by a particular topic to speak with others about it.
Since I’ve mentioned demographics and socio-economics, I might as well bring up psychographics, or subgroups of those interested in particular topics. If someone took my Twitter away during the quadrennial Republican and Democratic conventions, I would tear up. I crave the second-by-second commentary of the nation. I don’t care what Wolf Blitzer says in a post-recap, I want to read public snark and raw emotion.
This participation allows me to connect to fellow politicos, even for a night. I can’t talk to my family or coworkers about politics, and sometimes it’s even dicey to speak among my friends, thus Twitter is my outlet.
While I can’t transfer my feelings to a different group of people, I can boil this post down to something more simple: collective ideas. That’s social media’s greatest aptitude. If all social media did was “connect” us to one another, we’d still be using phone books. Social media takes the ethereal and transforms it into reality. (My favorite example is embedded below.)
One shouldn’t label certain social media sites as being primarily for one group of people over another. It all comes down to use. How does one person and the group that he or she identifies with intend to use the tool?
Sometimes organizations and journalists get caught up in reporting data by race, age, income, and education like the census. While it’s interesting, we could also just ask: Why are we drawn to social media?
To have a voice, to discourse, to raise concerns, to laugh, to cry, to help others, to add more value to our everyday lives…