Young people recognise the dangers of social media and are asking for safeguards to be put in place to protect them – including having its safe use taught in schools as part of the curriculum, a new study of New Zealand youth has found.
The youth-based Social Media Study, conducted by Nielsen for the Graeme Dingle Foundation, reveals the dangers – as well as the positives – of young people’s extensive use of social media such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, and makes key recommendations for how safeguards can be put in place. It says that
- There should be a way of flagging or identifying social media users with poor mental health
- Social media channels should highlight when a photo has been digitally enhanced or altered
- Social media platforms should do more to make it clear when influencers are being paid to say or do something
- And young people themselves have identified peer-mentoring support as an effective way to help guide and support younger students with their management of social media
The survey follows similar research in the UK in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), funded by The Philipp Family Foundation (PFF), a UK charitable trust with an interest in addressing public health needs.
The RSPH research project surveyed UK youth (aged 12-24 years) about the five most popular social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube) and how each of these platforms impacted their health and wellbeing (both positively and negatively).
Following publication of the project research report #StatusOfMind, the RSPH wanted to extend their international work and engage with partners overseas in areas of mutual interest. The PFF therefore approached the Graeme Dingle Foundation to explore the possibility of conducting a similar study in New Zealand.
The Foundation commissioned Nielsen to survey New Zealand youth through a three-stage process.
Stage One focused on Nielsen’s Consumer and Media Insight’s (CMI), a nationally-representative consumer database of 11,000 New Zealanders giving a rich source of insights into youth demographics and social media use, as a whole and by key age splits (13-14, 15-17, 18-19, 20-24). Two groups were profiled within the ages of 13-24, one being avid social media users and the other non-users.
Stage Two involved qualitative research designed to capture genuine attitudes, behaviours and feelings of the target group, through three online groups of ten participants – 14-15-year olds (minors), 16-18-year olds (predominantly still at school), and 19-24 year olds.
In Stage Three a social media survey, developed in partnership with the Graeme Dingle Foundation, was modelled on the UK survey to enable a comparison of the UK and New Zealand results. Also, to extend the research and to contribute to a pool of knowledge that will aid the development of safeguards to protect and promote youth health and wellbeing, additional questions were included on issues such as the frequency of negative and positive experiences while on social media.
A total of 509 survey participants were recruited through social media and via Nielsen’s online panel, with those between the ages of 13-15 years being referred by parents who are currently part of Nielsen online panels.
The survey results show that among the New Zealand population aged 13-24 years, Facebook and YouTube have the highest levels of awareness and young people experience both positive (44%) and negative (38%) impacts on their mental health and wellbeing from social media.
Females and those aged 19-24 years are significantly more likely to have experienced a positive impact. Also, those of Asian or Indian ethnicities and current users of Pinterest.
Females and those in the same age group (19-24) are also significantly more likely to have experienced a negative impact. Also, those who are bisexual, and those who have used an online dating app (specifically, Tinder was measured in the survey).
The largest positive impacts were on community building, self-expression and emotional support. Social media is used to stay connected, support friends’ accomplishments, maintain relationships and co-ordinate meeting with others.
Two in five young people have regularly connected with a group that makes them feel positive about themselves and 31% have regularly got involved with online groups that have helped share their ideas or creativity in a positive way.
The largest negative impacts are on sleep, (the addictive nature of social media can lead to day-to-day distractions and lack of sleep) and bullying (on social media it is easy to misconstrue messages or come across in the wrong way and things can quickly get out of hand).
Seven in ten young people said they found it difficult to tell when influencers are giving their honest opinion or are being paid to say or do something. While one in five young people said they trust what influencers say about the things they promote.
Almost a third of young people regularly worry about the amount of time they spend on social media. The younger age group (14-15) are more likely to say they are constantly checking social media throughout the day and evening.
Several young people had experiences of people they know on social media posting worrying threats of self-harm. A quarter of young people have regularly seen or read something that made them worry about the safety of someone else. One in five have seen or read something that made them concerned about someone’s safety to the extent they tried to do something to help them. Managing their response to this can be challenging for younger social media users.
One in five young people have sought support from someone for issues and concerns they might have had about something they experienced on social media. Those significantly more likely to have sought help are aged 16-18, of Christian faith, female, and current or previous users of TikTok.
Two-thirds indicated that they would trust a close friend to help them if they needed help, half would trust a parent, and just over a third a sibling.
28% of young people regularly viewed online posts that make them feel negatively about their body image, social situation or background. This is more likely to regularly be experienced by those who are bisexual (45%), have a disability (45%), female (35%) and are aged 19-24 years (38%).
Call to Action
Ian Mills of Nielsen says a major finding from the survey is that young people themselves are calling for safeguards.
“The research clearly shows that young people are telling us that they recognise areas where they are at risk from social media and they believe safeguards are needed.”
Julie Moore, the Graeme Dingle Foundation’s Research and Evaluation Manager. says the results highlight the need for action to protect young people.
“Every week 3.7 million New Zealanders access the Internet and 2.5 million interact on social media at least once a week, mostly through smart phones.
“The younger you are, the greater the impact mobile devices and apps have on your life, and the importance of this is underlined when you realise one in five Kiwis are aged between 13 and 24.
“Social Media is a real double-edged sword. It has lots of positives that benefit but a dark side that can drag people down. There appears to be a key need for more support and education with regard to the safety of young people’s mental health and confidence when it comes to social media experiences.
“The Graeme Dingle Foundation hopes this study will open the door for discussions on what safeguards and support systems can be put in place for the future wellbeing of our youth.”