Ninety black, Xhosa-speaking teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 from the semi-rural areas of King William’s Town were interviewed. The study revealed that 100% of the teenagers made use of social networking sites such as MXit and only 13.3% were Facebook users.
The study revealed that pornographic images such as photos were sent to some teens via social sites and MXit was often used to distribute those images.
One 13-year-old girl exclaimed, ‘Boys think it is funny to ask us for nude photos but I think it is degrading. We are not porn stars!’
Of the teenagers, 62% experienced their male contacts sending the girls’ photos of their genital areas and requested that the girls return the favour. The teenagers felt that once a male offers to buy them airtime, he requests nude photos from them.
The continuous exploitation of nude photos of celebrities and ‘grandmothers’ (old women) on MXit sends a negative message to female teenagers, suggesting that their value lies in their physical appearance and their acceptance of male sexual advances; and that they will cease to be respected once they have aged. This in turn questions the respect South African black, male youth have for their own culture and how they view women in general.
The teenagers recognized themselves as being emotionally and sexually desirable individuals; and also revealed their own emotional needs for teenage partnership. Culturally, Xhosa girls should not be in relationships unless the interested male approaches the girl’s family and intends to marry her. On social sites, the youth are able to ignore customs and do as they wish.
Fears of social media by Xhosa parents
A discussion arose, relating that parents feel that cell phones are becoming a nuisance as their child’s personality is becoming distorted during and after their interaction with the social network sites. The teenagers revealed that their parents were against social media and are overly suspicious about MXit.
It was also discussed that the teenagers often did not disclose to their parents that they had MXit on their phones. The parents are concerned about the moral implications of using the phone and internet to communicate. The parents from this area have only heard and experienced the negative aspects of social media.
To the parents, such a mode of communication is unhealthy and unspiritual. Therefore, in the parents’ view, social media attacks the African traditional community involvement in semi-rural areas.
Some of the girls admitted to being stalked telephonically, where unknown individuals continuously called them even after they were deleted from their phones; the man would rename himself and persists on harassing the girl on MXit.
The growth of cyber-bullying
Cyber-bullying among teenagers is becoming a tendency on social network sites; many of the teenagers from the research sample have resorted to changing their cell phone numbers and at times renaming themselves to protect their identities online and offline.
The teenagers revealed that girls are using social network sites such as MXit to seek revenge on their rivals. If teenagers are confronted with these messages on a daily basis, it should be questioned how these girls feel about their identities and whether this type of abuse impacts on their real life relationships with people.
It is difficult to secure the safety of teenagers online when poor decisions are being made by teens themselves. Teenagers are overly concerned with their status and identities and consequently easily overlook their safety. It is their need/desire to be part of the in-group that lures the teenagers into situations that they cannot control.
What’s the best way to keep teens safe on social networks?