Online safety of South Africa’s youth deteriorating

Photo: Jetweb

Photo: Jetweb


The safety of South Africa’s youth on social media platforms and the internet at large is a great concern, and the situation is worsening.

This is the finding of Social listening and digital marketing expert, Bianca Quinn-Diavastos, with specific reference to exposure to harmful content, as well as security vulnerability through the disclosure of personal information.

Quinn-Diavastos, managing director of the Digital Marketing agency Jetweb, reviewed relevant data to gain a snapshot of the situation.

According to We are Social’s digital report of 2016, the average South African spends just under five hours a day online. WhatsApp, Facebook and Facebook Messenger are the platforms the most time is spent on. Figures state 41% of Facebook users are between the ages of 20 and 29, and 17% between the ages of 13 to 19.

With regards to young adults and teenagers, the picture is not looking favourable. According to Quinn-Diavastos one reason for this, is because exposure and access to content have increased dramatically over the past few years.

“There is more to find, more social platforms to use, and more devices the youth can use to access it.”

Another potential reason is the fact that it is mostly left up to the individual to regulate themselves.

“Young people are protected by the law when it comes to harassment online, but it’s a very complex and adult issue which youth should not have to deal with,” says Quinn-Diavastos.

“There is no limitation to what you can access on the internet and that is why safety is a concern. Certain websites do try and regulate use. For instance, if you visit an alcohol site, you need to enter your birth date. The downfall of this regulation is you can still say you are 18 even if you are 13, so it is up to the user to be truthful. That gives a young user a lot of power to decide what kind of information they want to consume, but also what content information they want to put out in to the world.”

Statistics prove that, so far, the youth is not faring great at “self-regulating”.

According to World Wide Worx, Snapchat usage in South Africa has increased 33% from 2015, and it is incredibly popular amongst South African youth.

Furthermore, young users are leaving Facebook for Snapchat because it’s a young user group and “their parents are likely not on there,” says Quinn-Diavastos.

However, all is not lost.

Here are Quinn-Diavastos’ tips for improving the situation.

For parents:

  • You are the gatekeeper, so it is important to monitor your young adult’s screen time.
  • Put some ground rules in place and communicate clearly why there are ground rules.
  • One “ground rule” could be guidance of the type of sites they can visit and a clear understanding of what content is appropriate to post on your social media platforms.
  • It is essential to communicate openly and honestly about the consequences and risks.
  • Security software could be a solution. This way you will know where your teen is going online and what content they are consuming. This has become much harder to achieve with the internet and social media being available on a variety of platforms in your home.

For young people:

  • Don’t give out personal information, such as your address or mobile phone number.
  • Tell somebody if someone shares something with you that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Don’t agree to get together with someone you met online without checking with our parents first.
  • Think carefully about the pictures and words you post online – a good measure for suitability is to ask yourself: “Is this a picture my teachers and parents can see?”
  • Don’t give your passwords to anyone.
  • If someone is writing untrue things about you or are mean to you on social media, tell someone. Don’t act in anger or stoop to their bullying. Tell a parent or adult you trust.

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