Race Matters. Even on the Internet.

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myspace200.jpgRemember how the Internet was supposed to allow you to abandon your real-world identity in favor of a totally different virtual one?

Yeah, not so much.

According to a Northwestern study, college students’ choice of social networking sites varies according to the the race or ethnicity with which they identify and the level of education their parents have attained. Some of the key findings:

*White students prefer Facebook, while Hispanic students prefer MySpace. Asian-Americans are less likely than white and Hispanic students to use MySpace.

*Asian-American students are more likely to use Xanga and Friendster than their counterparts from other ethnic groups.

*Children of parents with a college degree are more likely to prefer Facebook, while those whose parents have less than a high school education are likely to prefer MySpace.

But there was one little sentence in the press release that I think deserves further explanation—and perhaps more research: “[The study] found no statistically significant SNS choices for black students.”

Now depending how you read it, that sentence could be taken to mean “Black students don’t seem to prefer one social networking site to another.” It could also mean “Black students don’t seem to use social networking sites.” Finally, it could mean “The study didn’t include enough black students to make any conclusions.” Whatever the meaning, like I said, this raises some questions.

Methodological matters aside, perhaps this study will disabuse us of our strange notion that people somehow step out of their personalities the moment they get on the Internet. Most of us have no interest in sprouting a new identity online (witness recent speculation that Second Life, once touted as the ultimate be-someone-you’re-not experience, was actually just a flash in the pan).

One of the researchers from the study put it best:

“Everyone points to that wonderful New Yorker cartoon of the dog at the computer telling a canine friend by his side that ‘on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog,'” said Hargittai. “In reality, however, it appears that online actions and interactions should not be viewed as independent of one’s offline identity.”

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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