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Has Your Nonprofit Considered Race and Class in Your Social Media Strategy?

July 16, 2012

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Via BBC News Magazine

The internet was once considered a great equaliser, a platform that could bring strangers together, even across racial boundaries. But internet users of the same race have recently begun clustering on certain social media websites.

Micro-blogging website Twitter has seen an upsurge in traffic from Hispanic and African-American audiences. These groups now claim about 30% of the site’s user base, according to third-party statistics website Quantcast.com.

Meanwhile, white users claim 90% of US traffic on Pinterest.com, while Tumblr.com has seen an over-representation of Asian Americans as of late.

Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd (@zephoria) says though experts once thought the internet would help destroy racial barriers, “all of the divisions that exist in every day life, including those by race and class, actually re-emerge online”.


Excerpt from Social Media for Social Good

In its heyday in 2006 and 2007, Myspace was an incredibly vibrant community of artists, musicians, and impassioned activists and do-gooders. Nonprofits like Invisible Children and To Write Love on Her Arms were born from Myspace. At a time when Facebook was primarily used by college-educated individuals from the middle and upper classes, Myspace was open, diverse, creative, and seemingly the epitome of an online grassroots community.

Then late in 2007 and throughout 2008, the spam on Myspace started to become overwhelming, while at the same time the naysayers and fearmongers were growing larger and louder. The mainstream media and higher education essentially flipped out over the “dangers of social networking,” and Myspace took the brunt of it. The birth of social networking on a mass scale was messy and chaotic, and at times fear and paranoia ran amok. As a result, by late 2008, most of the middle-class white Americans who had initially feared Myspace and social networking began to flock to the clean, neat Facebook community. The dangers of social networking quickly evolved into “opportunities,” and the blogosphere lit up with rants against Myspace, the newly dubbed “ghetto” of the Web, and sang the praises of Facebook and Internet superstar Mark Zuckerberg.

The rise and fall of Myspace taught nonprofit communicators that were paying attention a very important lesson that we should learn from and never forget. Class and race issues play out in social media just as they do in real life. Much of the media and blog coverage of Myspace was elitist and at its worst, racist and classist and offensive to many Myspace users (at the time, there were more than  200,000,000 of them worldwide). As a whole, the nonprofit sector, caught up in its own Facebook euphoria, failed miserably at being a voice for tolerance and civility in the Myspace vs. Facebook war propagated by tech blogs and the media. Sadly, many nonprofits abandoned their communities on Myspace much too soon.

Related Links:
Why Nonprofits Should Sync Their Myspace and Twitter Accounts
[PEW REPORT] Digital Differences: How the Mobile Web is Narrowing the Digital Divide

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2012 7:58 am

    Very, very interesting post.. thanks for sharing.

  2. July 16, 2012 9:50 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Heather. Going a step further, in addition to exploring which groups use certain types of social media, there has been a lot of research on HOW different groups use social media in general. Who’s producing what? Who’s consuming what? This also presents another layer to explore when creating a social media strategy.

    Also, I think nonprofits may explore these issues primarily as they relate to their organization, i.e. who they serve and how they reach them. The challenge you present above seems two fold: 1. are we standing by our communities, regardless of whether or not the social media they use is “new” or “cool”? 2. Are we being mindful of how our engagement in social media may perpetuate problematic stereotypes?

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      July 20, 2012 8:14 am

      Very thoughtful. Thanks. I wish more nonprofits would have stood by their communities on Myspace. Let’s face it… most nonprofit communications and fundraising staff at the time were the typical Facebook demographic – white and college-educated. By fleeing Myspace they did 1) not stand by their communities; 2) were not mindful of perpetuating their own privilege/stereotypes by going gaga-over-Facebook and anti-Myspace. I don’t think it has ever been discussed once in the nonprofit sector. Ever. It’s too late for Myspace, but hopefully we won’t make the same mistake the next time… though in some ways with mobile, we are.

  3. July 18, 2012 8:10 am

    I noticed the race language as MySpace declined. I wonder if many of these people are ignorant as to the full definition of words like “ghetto” or if it was completely intentional.

    • nonprofitorgs permalink
      July 18, 2012 8:23 am

      There was also a lot of talk of “stupid rednecks” who use Myspace… with pictures of seemingly inbred, white hillbilly types. This I saw repeatedly in one of the most trafficked, well-known tech blogs in the country. Those articles have since been removed. Ignorant yes, but not so ignorant these folks couldn’t on some level have known what they were writing and publishing was at the very least elitist, but to me obviously racist. It was crazy! It used to frustrate me intensely to see so many nonprofits buy into it as well. I’ll never forget it.

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