More time for MXit than homework: study

2011-10-11 13:22

Youths on MXit in South Africa spend more time chatting about their love lives than doing school work, according to a Unicef study released today.

When respondents were asked what they did most at home, 30% said they chatted on MXit, the social media platform.

Sixteen percent said they watched television and movies, 13.5% said they did school work, 12% spent time with friends and 4% played computer games. Eight percent read and 4% spoke to relatives.

In response to the question of what they did most on MXit, 68% of respondents said they most often talked to family and friends, while 16% mostly talked to strangers or new friends.

Eleven percent said they chatted on MXit to get a girlfriend and 5% to get a boyfriend. It was not clear whether the attempts at forming relationships were with acquaintances or strangers.

The most common topic of discussion was love lives and dating (46%), while 22% of users reported that they most often gossiped with friends and family.

Nineteen percent spoke mostly about entertainment topics such as music, sports, fashion, and games.

Other responses included school-related topics (7%), politics and global issues (3%), and religion (less than 1%).

“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,” said Dr Tanja Bosch, senior lecturer at the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town.

Seventy nine percent of respondents asked for age, sex, location and race (texted as ASLR) as opposed to only age, sex, location (ASL) when interacting on MXit.

Of those who asked the ASLR question, only 5% said they asked to know the race.

Four percent of respondents who added the “R” said it was because they preferred talking to certain races. Three percent said they wanted to know race in order to avoid racism.

This “interesting” aspect required more research, the study found.

Five percent said it was to know what language to speak, and 6% to learn about another culture. Thirteen percent asked for “safety” reasons.

Seven percent said they just wanted to get a mental picture of the person – and in a chat room without pictures or other details, the “ASLR” question becomes an important tool in getting an idea of another’s appearance and may be tied to an intention to flirt.

Six percent asked it with a view to meeting the other person. Ten percent asked it to make conversation and 9% asked out of habit.

Twenty six percent experienced insults on MXit – with 28% reporting the insults to be race-based. Insults based on location and gender were also common.

The study revealed that 75% of respondents talked to strangers at least once a week, while 42% did so every day.

The study was conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, MXit, and the University of Cape Town.

It formed part of Unicef Youth’s digital citizenship and safety project, in recognition of the potential for learning and empowerment such technologies offer.

MXit was created in South Africa in 2004 as a free instant messaging and social networking application for people aged 13 and up.

It has more than 44 million registered user accounts in South Africa – with 55% male and 45% female. This figure includes “clone accounts”.

Users can send and receive text and multimedia messages in one-on-one conversations.

First and last name, gender, date of birth and a picture are only available when users exchange MXit ID details and become “buddies”, hence the question “ASLR”.

The sample size of the pilot survey was 25 876.

The minimum age on MXit is 13 years, but a small percentage of survey respondents reported their age to be 10 to 14 years old (6%), while a very small number stated their age as five to nine years old (less than 1%).

About 44% of the respondents reported that they were in high school, while 17.7% were attending or had graduated from university.

Ninety one percent of respondents lived in urban areas, the rest in rural areas.

This was considered a “significant digital divide”, but it showed MXit had a presence in rural areas.

The majority of the respondents identified themselves as black (55%), followed by coloured (23%), white (14%), Indian (7%), and “other” (1%).

Read the full report here.

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