Do you know what your child is doing after school? A new study on the social media habits of young people in South Africa reveals important figures about social networking and youth identity formation.
A survey conducted by UNICEF in partnership with the University of Cape Town, the Berkam Centre for Internet Society at Harvard university, and MXit, the largest of South Africa’s social networks, surveyed 25,876 South African youth. The survey is part of a larger global project by UNICEF to raise awareness and promote safe Internet and communication technology use titled The Digital Citizenship and Safety Project. The survey was based on a questionnaire sent to MXit’s users. MXit is a mobile instant message and social networking app that accepts users over thirteen. Currently, the average user is between 18-25, and MXit has over 44 million users.
In this particular branch of the study, 30% of the youth surveyed said that they spend most of their time after school using social media. Dr Tanja Bosch, senior lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town notes, “The rise of the mobile internet in South Africa means that more people, especially youth, are using social networks as key tools in their identity formation. This timely report provides an important piece of the puzzle to understanding the formation of mobile youth cultures; and exploring the role that cellphone applications play in the lives of young South Africans,”
The survey results report that 75% of youth talk to strangers at least once a week on social networks with 42% of respondents saying they do so every day. The study also revealed that when asked what they did most at home, 30% of surveyors said that chatted on MXit and 68% said they mostly spoke with friends and family.
Further, according to the press release: “Social media and mobile phones have also made young people vulnerable to new means of bullying or victimisation. The survey found that 26% of those answering had been insulted or experienced some form of ‘cyber-bullying’. Race, location and gender emerged as the most common reasons for insult.”
Aia Girma, the South African Representative of UNICEF notes: “Children are incredibly adept at figuring out new technologies. And while they may have technical knowledge, they are not always aware of some of the implications of using the technology. UNICEF is committed to ensuring that young people not only benefit from innovation, but they are safe from anyone seeking to exploit them through these platforms.”
The South African study is in many ways redundant. There is little doubt that Facebook is the new “mall” – a place where youth go to hang out and socialize. However, the study reinforces the large role social media is playing in the life of youth, not only in Western countries such as America and the U.K. but around the globe. As the experts suggest, the impact of social networking is difficult to gauge, but there is little doubt that social networks are playing a key role in the way youth navigate identity formation.