A combined study from the University of Cape Town and Harvard has revealed that three-quarters of South African “young people” have regular conversations with strangers on social network cum instant messaging service MXit.
Over 26 000 MXit users took part in the study. Close to a third of survey respondents said that their after school activity consisted of chatting on Mxit, with 42% stating that they chat to strangers on a daily basis.
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The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has dubbed Africa “the least wired region in the world” but with the low-cost of data, applications such as Mxit can “target resource-limited users”, giving them the opportunity to access internet enabled apps from their mobile phones.
Aida Girma of UNICEF headed the study. “Children are incredibly adept at figuring out new technologies. And while they may have technical knowledge, they are not always aware of some of the implications of using the technology,” she said.
The study results were harvested from a questionnaire which appeared on MXit under the tile, “Wotz yr ASL? Help UNICEF understand what makes you tick”.
The minimum age of Mxit users has been found to be 13 years old, with a small number of the respondents (under one percent) being five to nine years old. A full 47% of the survey respondents fall within the 18 to 24 year-old bracket.
Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said that friends and family were the primary users they communicated with. Only 16% preferred making new friends on MXit or chatting to strangers.
The majority of MXit users are male, making up 55% of the total user numbers. Gauteng appears to draw the most users with 31% of all respondents coming from this region. The Western Cape follows with 21% and then KwaZulu-Natal with 16%.
Five percent of MXit users chat to get a boyfriend, while 11% use the instant messaging service to find a girlfriend. Common discussion topics include dating and love lives, with 22% of the users enjoying gossiping and sharing information.
Discussing race, sex and religion is of great interest to MXit users, it seems. Over 79% of all users ask for “ASLR” or age, sex, location and race. Of this number, only five percent of the respondents gave their race. Users who ask for race reportedly prefer to speak to a certain ethnicity.
More than 26% of all users experience harassment and insults on Mxit. Of these respondents, 28% said that the insults were based on their race and religion.
Finally, the study shows that MXit has a strong presence in rural areas, with survey respondents identifying themselves as 50% black, 23% coloured, 14% white and seven percent Indian.
MXit was recently purchased by Alan Knott-Craig of World of Avatar. Big changes may, therefore, be in the pipeline for one of South Africa’s most popular social networks.