Blog Post

Chapter 6: Inequality - Can social media resolve social divisions? (review by Jenny Korn)

Part of the HASTAC Scholars Collaborative Book Review of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd


Review of It's Complicated Chapter 6

Inequality: Can Social Media Resolve Social Divisions?

Jenny Ungbha Korn


No, teen social media users maintain social divisions through social media

            boyd’s chapter focuses on how teens maintain social divisions through their social media use.  Teens form homphilous networks at school, and those same-race and same-socioeconomic-class networks are seen throughout online social network connections and comments (p. 165).  boyd’s chapter does a good job of answering the question of her title with a resounding “no,” as she illustrates how teens’ online communities are segregated, reflecting racial and economic homogeneity (p. 154), which means, “many of the social divisions that exist in the offline world have been replicated, and in some cases amplified, online” (p. 159).

Tweaking the original question to: How might social media resolve social divisions?

            My question draws from boyd’s sections on racism and segregation (pages 160 through 166). While boyd emphasizes macroaggressions found on Facebook and Twitter, I wonder about the micro acts of social change that exist alongside the examples of the public shaming of racists. When online social media are understood as mass media, particularly when “many teens connect to everyone they know on sites like Facebook” (p. 155), online social media, like television and movies, may provide a window into perspectives different from the viewer-user’s own.  Social media may now function as a way to reduce social distance among races by allowing individuals to learn about the experiences of others, especially because Americans physically live in segregated societies which inhibit firsthand experience with other races (Bonilla-Silva and Forman 2000; Entman and Rojecki 2002), as Keke’s case demonstrates.  What might get overlooked then while focusing on explicit behaviors of tagging and commenting is a quietly positive influence drawn from exposure; those individuals most impacted by the exposure to such critical conversations might be those “lurkers” who learn to listen and observe at moments when they become acutely aware of their ignorance.  Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may serve to educate users in how various individuals across traditional boundaries react to the same event.  Though an online friend might choose not to comment or “like” one’s activity, the online friend’s conception of a person’s post may still be affected by viewing an interpretation different from one’s own and by reading other individuals’ reactions.  I am talking about a-ha moments here when I read someone else’s viewpoint on Twitter or Facebook, and I realize that my (racial, gendered, class, educational, sexual orientation, ability) privilege might have obscured another truth to the matter.  If television and movies affect expectations around race, perhaps social media might too, just more quietly, and possibly positively, in these early days.  



Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and Tyrone A. Forman (2000).  “I am not a racist but … : Mapping white college students’ racial talk ideology in the USA.”  Discourse and Society.  11: 50-85. 

Entman, Robert and Andrew Rojecki (2000).  The Black Image in the White Mind.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


1 comment

The difference between social media and broadcast media has to do with who is curating the messages. Sure, people tune into what resonates in broadcast media, but in social media, your content is very much shaped by the people that you know. These network effects matter a lot.