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Everyone knows that white people love Facebook and hate MySpace. But why? In a sure-to-be-controversial new essay, a famous internet sociologist says it’s a lot like white flight.

Facebook users tend to be wealthier and more educated. And, thus, they have been disproportionately white, until very recently. This should not be a controversial observation. (Though, we are sure it will be!) What’s trickier is explaining this discrepancy. Everyone’s favorite Internet scholar, Danah Boyd, has come up with an intriguing theory in a new book chapter (PDF), as first reported by MIT’s Technology Review. White people fled MySpace first because they got scared of it—eventually coming to see it as a sort of “digital ghetto” filled with creepy spammers, weirdo goth kids and people of color.

If you are of a certain age, you probably switched from a MySpace account to Facebook at some point during your youth. Boyd wants to understand this switch, and why white kids have made it quicker and more frequently than others. The obvious explanation is that all their white friends were doing it: Facebook was started at (predominately white, upperclass) Harvard, was built around (predominantly white, upperclass) college students and only opened to the general riffraff around 2006. So, duh, white kids are going to join Facebook at a higher rate than other races who happen to be poorer and less likely to go to college.

But this does nothing to explain the racially-tinged language Boyd turned up in her interviews with high school students when they tried to explain their social network preferences. One white interviewee, for example, described Myspace users as “like ghetto and hip hop rap lovers.” (Boyd interviewed over 100 for her study from 2004-2009.) Nor does it touch on aesthetic and functional differences between Facebook and Myspace, and how those might influence the racial and class makeup of the sites.

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