Freedom Challenge Africa

Freedom Challenge Africa

Social Media and Youth

Social Media and Youth

In honour of Youth Day/Month in South Africa, we thought we’d do a bit of research on social media and how it relates to the youth of our world. While social media is useful and helpful for many things in this day and age, it comes with its dangers as well. The majority of humans are on social media to some degree, but it’s our youth who spend the most time on it! This is the first of a 3-part series on social media, youth, and how they relate to human trafficking.

The Impact of Social Media

For teenagers, the numbers are much higher. On average they are on social media up to 27 hours per week!

Throughout the world, 4.3 billion people use social media, and is especially popular among children. For example, 5.7 million under the age of 11 have Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat accounts. Each of these social media platforms have age restrictions that are intended to keep young children from accessing them. Pew research center found that 95 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 reported having access to a smartphone and 45 percent indicated that they are online on a nearly constant basis. Hitesh Bhasin from Marketing91 says that the average time spent by the people per day on the social network is 1.72 hours. For teenagers, the numbers are much higher which is up to 27 hours per week.

According to Backlink, since its inception in 1996, social media has managed to infiltrate half of the 7.7 billion people in the world. Social network platforms almost tripled their total user base in the last decade. The latest data from National Human Trafficking Hotline found that in just one year, online recruitment of victims jumped 22%. Another study conducted in 2018, found that 93% of youth age 14-22 use social media. And for most they are on it daily. While a high level of use has persisted during the pandemic, teen enjoyment of social media has dropped. In 2019, 41% of teens said they enjoyed social media “a lot”; in 2021 that figure declined to 34%. Research has shown that the favoured app to youth is Snapchat , followed by TikTok and Instagram. However, Instagram has the highest monthly usage, followed by Snapchat and TikTok. Teen users of SnapChat check the app an average of 30 times daily. When YouTube is in the mix, it reigns as teens’ favorite site.

Traffickers use strip clubs, foster homes, and schools less, but have increasingly moved operations online, where few safety nets exist. In just one year, reports of traffickers using Facebook increased by 125% and by 95% on Instagram.

The Positives of Social Media

Social media in and of itself is neither good nor bad, moral or immoral. In fact there are many positive aspects of social media. Below are a few examples:

  • It keeps people connected to their friends when they are not able to visit each other in person.
  • It keeps you updated about the important things that are going across the globe or even locally. It is a great benefit to know about everything just by the simple click of your finger.
  • It can help people meet others online, that they may have never met through in person interaction.
  • It helps employers find potential employees and people can also search for job openings. Around 87% of the job recruiters have found their employers through LinkedIn, around 30% through Facebook and 15% through Twitter.

The Negatives of Social Media

With most things in life, there can be positives and negatives with the same thing. Social media is one such example. Below are a few examples of the negative effects of social media, especially as it relates to youth:

  • Youth give so much time to social media, that it has become their priority. They love being online and forget about more important things that should come first for them like family, sports, and school work.
  • Young people have this habit of bullying their peers which is normal to some extent. But when it comes to cyberbullying, it affects people a lot more, since posts can go viral easily. Sometimes such things can lead to depression as well as suicidal thoughts.
  • There are some young people who are very easily influenced. They may feel the need to change their appearance as they compare themselves to every “influencer” they see on social media.
  • There is a very strong temptation on social media. It can become an addiction for the people of any age, but especially difficult for youth to control. This can begin to side-track them on other goals they might have in life.
  • Excess use can fill one with anxiety, depression, isolation, and FOMO (fear of missing out).
  • Seeing people constantly on holiday or buying expensive things can make a person feel like they are missing out while others are enjoying life. These feelings promote comparison which leads people to search for ways to make their lives more worthy. E.g., a young girl will raise their online status by seeking out “blesser”. (And this makes them very vulnerable and become victims of traffickers)

A Little Experiment

We need to know exactly why social media has so much power and influence on today’s youth. Social media has greatly affected the way today’s youth spend their leisure time. Unfortunately, youth who spend a lot of time on social media are at higher risk for depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders and more prone to feeling isolated and disconnected (McGillivray N., 2015). We did a few experiments to see first-hand the impact smart phones and social media has on youth.

With the rise in social media sites, more and more people are logging on everyday just to interact with friends and followers. Social media has also changed the way people socialize and interact with each other.

In one of our team member’s churches they took a few teenagers and took their phones for a day. They kept them inside a room together for 2 hours by themselves. When the adults returned, they found out that they didn’t know how to interact without their phones. They had hardly spoken to each other. It was so sad that our children today, cannot come up with a topic and just discuss or carry on a conversation. They only know how to search or discuss about someone they follow or some other topic that is trending on social media. Even Christian children, whom we might expect to carry Bibles and journals to church, like in the olden days, they don’t even know how to journal.    

TK’s Story

We interviewed several youth and listened to their stories as it relates to social media for them personally and other people in their lives. The first we’re going to share is TK. She is a 25 year old, part time student. TK said the following…

“We are on social media for fame, for recognition, for fashion and job opportunities. For example, a distant cousin of mine used to post herself with every new outfit and would post the name of the clothing shop. She was then discovered by the same clothing shop for she had more than 20k followers, over 50k views and almost 20k likes. The mentioned clothing company reached out to her, and they give her a different wardrobe every month to wear and advertise. She is now officially their model. Many youth today are social media celebrities- the more followers, the more likes, and the more views you have, the more well-known you become. Because all media companies, acting and modeling industries are using social media platforms to advertise the opportunities in acting, modeling, and advertising, you will find us, youth in every social media platform.

“My likes” are my panel for interview. Recognition by the public and follows by a mass, makes one a celebrity. We become social media influencers or celebrities.


Kind of Like An Interview

We perform on social media; social media exposes us to massive opportunities. We give our all to social media, for example- if I want to be a singer, actor, or a model, I post myself singing, acting, or modeling on the platform- the more likes I get, the better chance for me to be recognized by the agency. Then the more likely they are to offer me an acting career or music label. The same applies to modeling and advertising. But there are 3 interesting but sad stories that I know personally, and I would like to share…”

We’re going to have to get back to TK’s story in the next blog post since this one has already gotten quite long, so be on the lookout for that! In the mean time please help us bring awareness to more youth by sharing this post on social media or with family and friends!

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