Race, Class, and Gender Stratification in Social Networking

Introduction

Social stratification is the phenomenon of clustering in accordance with certain biological, social, and economic criteria. Undoubtedly, stratification has a number of positive implications that are basically aimed at increasing individual’s productivity and one’s contribution in the society. For example, according to the Davis-Moore thesis, social clustering is beneficial because it encourages people to find their place, and their calling in the community that guarantees the best possible working productivity (Rice University, n. d.). At the same time, social bundles may enhance/shape person’s sense of self identity, which implies the increased level of comfort in relation to understanding one’s own place and role in the collective consciousness. In this regard, gender self identity positively correlates with gender job segregation that the modern society strives to lessen. Similar consideration can be distinguished in terms of one’s race. This speculation leads to an assumption that, apart from benefits, social stratification is also associated with a number of negative outcomes, such as stereotyping, discrimination, and isolation based on one’s race, gender, income, religion, and other characteristics. It needs to be mentioned that the current study is limited in terms of the three significant objectives: race, gender, and class stratification. In an attempt to learn the mechanisms that trigger social clustering, one needs to detect the remedies that contribute to stratification. The current paper aims at verifying the hypothesis that in the modern world social media is a remedy for the race, class, and gender clustering.

Purpose of the Study

The stated research question stipulates several premises. Firstly, the contemporary social networking serves to promote and increase race, gender, and class stratification. Secondly, social media is effective in decreasing social segregation and discrimination based on one’s level of income, race, and/or gender. Thirdly, it is necessary to detect the pros and cons of the opposing approaches. To explore the above-detected premises, it is appropriate to refer to an exploratory research. The studied objectives are the mechanisms that ensure the formation of certain race, gender and class identities. Specifically, the current paper will survey the mechanisms of developing the corresponding stratifications in the real life and in the cyberspace.

Results and Discussion

Predisposition of Social Stratification

Striving to comprehend the composed processes that take place in communities, sociologists developed various explanations of stratification. This section is aimed at reviewing the most famous theories with the purpose of highlighting the formation of the diverse social groups. For instance, social clustering, including the approach to group people in accordance with their gender, race, and class, can be explained with the help of functionalism. In this respect, the scholars, Davis and Moore emphasize that stratification serves to ensure the best possible productivity of a certain community (Rice University, n. d.). The rationale that underlies this premise is the following: different jobs require definite skills and impose particular conditions; thus, the individuals occupying diverse job positions cannot and should not be paid equally. This claim is a predisposition of social clustering. To be more precise, the high skilled positions demand greater mental /physical capacities, and thus, the employees are expected to be rewarded accordingly.

The scholars believe that the difference in rewarding motivates each member to participate more actively, constantly advancing their own skills with the aim of obtaining greater rewards. In this way, the mechanism is social stratification is triggered. Consequently, various kinds of inequality actually function to ensure appropriate division of social roles and responsibilities that will guarantee the survival and enrichment of a particular community. This theory provides two important insights: first, it explains the primary reason of stratification and, secondly, it advocates the validity of establishing and maintaining social clustering.

Another widely known theory that addresses social stratification is a conflict theory that stems from Karl Marx’s teachings. The adherents of social conflict theory believe that the struggle between the ruling and working class still exists in the modern world. It is believed that the inequality tends to reduce the rights and life quality of the working class in favor of the rich (Rice University, n. d.). Considering the rationale, conflict theorists explain that “capitalists own the means of production, and a system is in place to make business owners rich and keep workers poor” (Rice University, n. d.). It is important to clarify that the system serves to create an ideology that is subordinated to the needs of the ruling class.

In this regard, it is beneficial to maintain social clustering because it allows the capitalists to keep the prevailing amount of the community’s wealth in the hands of the rich. To remedy this system, one can attribute the Davis-Moore system of rewards. Besides, mass media is an important tool of setting particular collective and individual identities. In the modern world, the media is closely related to social networking since it is the easiest, fastest and, thus, the most primeval way to obtain information.

What is more, stratification can be explained with reference to the theory of symbolic interactionism. This theory assumes that in most cases people tend to interact with the individuals who have the same level of income, racial and ethnic background and other biological and social characteristics. The followers of this idea scrutinize that “people tend to live, work, and associate with others like themselves, people who share their same income level, educational background, or racial background, and even tastes in food, music, and clothing” (Rice University, n. d.). Therefore, it is natural to deduce that most interactions are based on particular common denominators, namely the social symbols that define people’s identities.

As a result, their interpersonal relations unintentionally and inevitably contribute to appropriate social clustering. Basically, the central idea of symbolic interactionism is that passive and active communication is “the built-in system of social stratification”, which categorizes people into groups (Rice University, n. d.). Scrutinizing the above-mentioned systems of social stratification, it is appropriate to state that, in the contemporary world, social media plays a significant role in this prcess. The next section discusses the mechanisms of the formation and shaping of one’s identity through social networking.

The Complex Role of Social Media in Shaping Individual and Collective Identities

Given that interaction predetermines clustering, it is possible to state that social media functions to create and maintain stratification. In this regard, the owners of capital, according to the conflict theory, can use social networking in order to shape clustering. In terms of functionalism, the approach to divide people into groups can be beneficial because it helps individuals to find similar members of their community in particular and across the world in general.

Assessing this process from economic perspective, the grouping in social media serves to create market segments, learn customer needs and create the demands for certain goods and products. Moreover, social clustering facilitates e-business because through interaction potential clients compose and display the core symbols of their identities. The above-mentioned ideas resonate with the nature of social networking. Scholars reveal that “users’ collective intelligence co-create the value of platforms like Google, Amazon, Wikipedia or Craigslist in a “community of connected users”” (Trottier & Fuchs, n. d., p. 4). This idea correlates with the social theory, which suggests that interpersonal relations are based on the three important informational processes, which are cognition, communication, and cooperation (Trottier & Fuchs, n. d., p. 5). Thus, one may assume that social networking functions to establish and maintain race, gender, class, and other types of stratification relying on these three processes.

The processes of cognition, communication and cooperation are maintained in the three main domains, which are socio-economic, sociopolitical, and cultural (Table 1). It is appropriate to accentuate that the same principles of interpersonal communication are relevant for both online communication and interaction in real life; that is why social networking is called “social”. The domains represent a certain part of humanity’s activities, as well as carry the messages about the vision of these interactions.

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In other words, social media functions to convey the desired economic, political, and cultural accentuations to the users. In this way, social networking contributes to clustering, including the division based on one’s race, gender, and level of income. Specifically, it is identified that “the struggles of socio-economic movements are oriented on the production and distribution of material resources that are created and distributed in the economic system” (Trottier & Fuchs, n. d., p. 12). The example of such struggle is the working movement that correlates with class division. Another example is the feminist movement for equality, including the absence of job discrimination.

Similarly, sociopolitical movements include the struggles “for the recognition of collective identities of certain groups in society via demands on the state” (Trottier & Fuchs, n. d., p. 12). For instance, this domain of interaction may include the movements against racial and sexual discrimination. At the same time, “socio-cultural movements are groups of people that have shared interests and practices relating to ways of organizing your private life” (Trottier & Fuchs, n. d., p. 12). The examples of socio-cultural interactions include grouping in accordance with religious beliefs, hobbies, and lifestyle. Given this peculiarity, it is natural to suggest that this domain refers to all above-mentioned groups of people. Scrutinizing the described mechanisms, it is necessary to clarify that, depending on the defined goals, social media may either reinforce clustering or vise, versa, erase/lessen certain aspects of social grouping. Hence, both approaches are based on the idea that individuals attribute themselves (and are attributed by others) to particular clusters; otherwise, the communicated messages of social media would not reach their target audience. The following section reviews in detail the ways of achieving race, gender and class stratification by discussing definite examples of the appropriate social networking interactions.

The Evidence of Class Stratification in Social Media

The evidence of class stratification is probably the most explicit. Based on the example, it can be identified that in 2013 “the typical Twitter user was between 18 and 34 years old, held a university degree and had no children” (Fuchs, 2014). Moreover, about 1/5 of users were the US citizens (Fuchs, 2014). This data indicates class stratification because young and well-educated people without children are the potential representatives of the middle or upper classes. This premise is supported by the finding that the majority of users (67%) earned more than 100 000$ per year; besides, 58% of users were the representatives of a Caucasian race (Fuchs, 2014). This statistics illustrates class and racial clustering in the field of popular social media.

What is more, the author explains that the presence in the popular social media up to the previous several years was in itself an indicator of class stratification and even segregation. Considering the rationale, not everyone in the world can afford purchasing the necessary electronic device, learning how to use it and establishing a success to the Internet (Fuchs, 2014). Besides, not everybody is interested /motivated to maintain online presence. Judging from the previous years, however, social networking displays certain tendency towards class equality, whereas, the ownership of Twitter or other online accounts are no longer perceived as an indicator of a class division.

Nevertheless, other scholars believe that personal cyber presence remains an important indicator of life quality. For instance, one should consider the today’s impact of “the digital culture of narcissism”, and “mass exhibitionism online” (Rey, 2010). In these conditions, popular social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others, encourage class clustering, which increases class inequality. To give an example, many young people believe that “if you’re not on MySpace [and/or other social media sites], you don’t exist” (Rey, 2010). Indeed, a private life of a today’s individual is heavily based on the cyber presence. At the same time, the refusal to maintain online identities implies class segregation. In other words, referring to the social theory of symbolic interactionism, it becomes clear that through symbolic interactions the users group themselves and others into sociaal classes. Moreover, once being grouped, they are exposed to the influence of the above-discussed sociopolitical, economic and socio-cultural domains that tend to aggravate this division.

Another example of social stratification in the cyber space is grouping users according to their professional skills and level of education. For instance, it has been identified that “LinkedIn is the social network of the elites” because 38% of its users hold a Bachelor’s degree (Ball, 2011). This finding resonates with the Davis-Moore thesis about the benevolence of social division, which occurs on the basis of unequal payments (rewards) for a person’s work. This example illustrates class clustering whereas LinkedIn positions itself as the site for professionals. Respectfully, the users and visitors are aware of this particularity and, consciously or not, participate in social clustering through maintaining symbolic interactions.

Racial Stratification v. Racial Discrimination in Social Media

Unlike class stratification that is clearly manifested because of ‘the reward system’ for one’s professional skills, racial clustering is vaguer. Researchers claim that, for example, Asian discrimination is often associated with humorous remarks that serve as euphemisms (Farrington, Hall, Kilvington, Price, & Saeed, 2015). Besides, it has been identified that the users who are afraid to be discriminated on the basis of their race/ethnicity tend to avoid the topics of race in order to prevent respective insults. In these conditions, they feel compelled to add “‘lol’, ‘ha’, or ‘lmao’ at the end of posts which condemn racism” (Farrington et al,, 2015). This finding implies that being afraid of the threat of stereotyping, many people cannot freely express their identities, including race, because they are afraid to be discriminated or isolated. This means that social media mirrors the real life circumstances where, in spite of the struggle for racial equality, the cases of racism still occur.

In this way, social networking contributes to racial stratification meaning that there are individuals who blame racism and its supporters; this opposition suggests that the corresponding social clustering continues to exist online. Considering the situation, it is natural to deduce that the impact of sociopolitical domain is quite strong in this kind of interaction. This suggestion is advocated for by the researchers’ conclusion (Farrington et al., 2015). Besides, to understand the sociopolitical aspect of the racial stratification, one should point out that U.S. popular culture includes the perpetuation of the black youth “not only by words and images projected by journalists but also by a wide variety of other media and entertainment sources, including the Internet, movies and video games” (Sanders, 2012).

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As a result, this social category experiences class stratification due to the limited options in education and insufficient job opportunities. Unfortunately, social media contributes to the consistency of the identified racial inequality.

Gender Stratification v. Gender Equality in Social Media

To begin with, it is necessary to define the term ‘gender’.  Estimating it from the social perspective, gender is “a way of looking at how social norms and power structures impact on the lives and opportunities available to different groups of men and women” (Kangas, Haider, & Fraser, 2014, p. 4). Gender stratification in social media is, probably, the least prominent among the discussed types of social clustering. Specifically, it is known that in modern females experience gender discrimination including job inequality triggered by gender considerations (Gaines-Ross, 2015). In particular, in spite of being condemned and even legally persecuted by the law, gender discrimination of the workforce remains a topical issue. Specifically, a study reveals that there is a prevailing amount of men in the leadership positions that enjoy prestige and high income (Gaines-Ross, 2015). This unfair situation is caused by fact that women around the world in general receive worse education than men and live in a greater poverty (Kangas et al., 2014). Nonetheless, due to media coverage of this issue, the problem of gender inequality tends to lessen.

The spread of the Internet contributes to the feminist struggle making social relations more equal in various parts of the world (Gaines-Ross, 2015). This premise is supported by the associates of the OECD Development Center, who claim that “social media has proven potential for mobilising attention and accountability to women’s rights, and challenging discrimination and stereotypes” (Loiseau & Nowacka, 2015, p. 1). In particular, thanks to the social networking, the sociopolitical and socio-cultural emphasis moves from gender discrimination to gender equality. For example, “recent cases in Turkey and India reflect the potential of social media to bridge the gap that often separates grassroots women’s activism from policy-making processes” (Loiseau & Nowacka, 2015, p.1). To put it simple, gender stratification in social media pursues a strong positive goal of protecting the oppressed social group eliminating gender imparity in different states.

Conclusion

Summing up the above-mentioned information, it should be emphasized that the modern social media is an important remedy of race, class, and gender stratification. Specifically, this conclusion can be supported by the verified fact that the today’s social networking functions to form and maintain race and class clustering. Besides, it has been identified that social media helps to decrease gender inequality. Moreover, surveying the mechanisms of social stratification in real life and in cyber space, one should point to such social theories as the Davis-Moore thesis, the conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism. Furthermore, this research reveals that grouping develops a combination of the three equal processes, which are cognition, communication, and cooperation. These processes are relevant for online communication as well as for the real life interactions. In addition, cognition, communication, and cooperation suggest that there are the subjects (users) who maintain these activities. Hence, these individuals become the subjects of clustering when their interaction is shaped by sociopolitical, socioeconomic, and socio-cultural perspectives. What is more, the obtained findings suggest that class division is the most explicit in social networking, while the second in terms of magnitude is the racial clustering in social networking, and the gender stratification is the least prominent.

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