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Chapter 6: Inequality - Can Social Media Resolve Social Divisions? (review by Tami Moe)

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

Review of Chapter 6 - Inequality: Can Social Media Resolve Social Divisions?

by Tami Moe


“Who you know shapes what you know,” a poignant conclusion illustrated through danah boyd’s chapter on inequality in social media. The author immerses herself in the fabric of inequality found in the real world of teens from coast-to-coast. Candidly written from a first-person perspective, boyd goes to the source for answers to difficult questions regarding racism and prejudice in American culture and explores the social boundaries created by circumstance and habit. Sharing personal accounts from teens of diverse and varied backgrounds she taps into the core of a fabricated equality that has been marketed to Americans from the immortal declaration “All men are created equal.” The author effectively argues that the Internet is not a great equalizer and never will be as long as racism exists in the day-to-day life of teens.

Utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach including linguistics, sociology, psychology, design and political anthropology boyd analyzes the phenomenon of social inequality in the real world and in cyberspace. She presents a framework to explore segregation by analyzing the corporeal division of teens in schools and neighborhoods. Boyd forces the reader to recognize the reality of racial segregation, when that same segregation is not sanctioned by teens as a contributing factor to modern day social divisions. “I noticed this as I went through the rosters of various sports teams at a school in North Carolina. At first, when I asked students about why different sports seemed to attract students of one race exclusively, they told me that it was just what people were into.” Through her direct observation and one-on-one interviews Boyd documents divisions that materialize in human organization and examines the facets of racism that are present but not necessarily overt. She goes further to explores the magnification of racism and social division when the behavior is taken beyond the physical presence into a space where the viewers gaze is directed. Boyd includes extenuating factors in her critic looking at product and interface design as seeding the forums of segregation and uses relevant and timely examples of pop culture through the eyes of youth. “In differentiating Facebook and MySpace through taste, teens inadvertently embraced and reinforced a host of cultural factors that are rooted in the history of race and class.” The author does not include examples of counter culture or the ways in which youth are using social media to shine light on fabricated equality, perhaps because these forums are little known or completely absent in the United States.

Social dynamics are complex and becoming more so as the world grows increasingly smaller through networked information. Boyd presents a well crafted analysis of a subject that few scholars have approached, clearly illustrating the ingrained nature of inequality amongst less privileged youth. From her writing we can only conclude that social divisions transcend space and time. Social media will not change inequality. To eradicate the perception of the “other” requires a monumental shift in thinking and will only come from within.


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