MEP’s social media findings show glaring privacy and addiction concerns among young users

Survey by Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba on digital rights finds young are frequent users of social media but they are not fully aware of the means that are available to protect their privacy

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba presenting the results of his survey
Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba presenting the results of his survey

A social media survey carried out by the office of Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba has found that privacy on social media is a valued priority for the vast majority of Maltese users.

The findings showed that 91.6% of a 400-respondent sample declared that privacy is “very important” or at least “important.”

Agius Saliba is reporting on a series of digital rights rules in the European Parliament, kick-starting an important awareness campaign with stakeholders and the public.

Agius Saliba said education plays a key role in helping respondents, pointing out that the survey respondents who received just a primary education considered privacy “very important.”

Only 70.6% of those with secondary education and 56% of those with tertiary education considered privacy to be necessary.  “This can have two separate explanations, either the more educated, being the most frequent users of social media, accept the privacy trade-off or else, being probably more tech-savvy, have better control over their privacy and, therefore, rendering it less of a concern,” Agius Saliba said. 

The age group that is the most aware of information collection techniques is the 16-34 age group, with 50% of respondents saying that they know how to stop platforms from tracking their activity while not using them.  

Agius Saliba said this would suggest that despite being the most frequent users, they are not fully aware of the means that are available to protect their privacy.

Similarly, the 25-34 age group were also hardly aware that a platform may store information about none-users, with the 35-44 age groups the least suspicious of the data that social networks may collect on their offline purchases.

Moreover, up to 93.1% of those who revealed that they did not read the privacy policy had previously declared that they considered privacy as being either “important” or “very important”.

Out of the respondents who read the privacy agreement, at least partially, up to 69.8% declared that they always or sometimes change or manage their preferences. 

Facebook is the most popular social media platform across most age groups in Malta but the younger generation is steadily shifting away to other platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok. 

Agius Saliba said that 62% of respondents said they spend between one and four hours on such platforms a day. Over 20% of respondents, on the other hand, claim that their use of social media exceeds four hours per day, he said.

Agius Saliba said that the most significant perception of addiction is found among users under 34, who is also the category which makes use of social media for more extended periods with 52.4%. 

Agius Saliba said that the study found that there was a detectable degree of perceived addiction, particularly by those who spend more than three hours on social media. “This is a new form of dependency which is affecting the younger generations and its impact on their psycho-social development should not be underestimated,” he said.

The MEP said that the study also showed a link between the level of education and social media use since 92% of those having received only a primary education claim they do not have any presence on such platforms. 

This might indicate a low level of digital literacy among the lower education categories – on the other hand, users who reached the tertiary level of education had the most considerable presence with over 81.4% having an active Facebook account.

Agius Saliba said that it would appear platforms have become the new town squares since they are mainly frequented by the Maltese to socialise and to network; the vast majority seeks contact with friends at 79.4% whilst others consider these platforms a way to make news ones with 11.8%. 

57.8% of respondents said that the newsfeed was used as their principal source of news.  He said users aged over 25 and users who have received only up to secondary education claimed that the main reason they use social media is to “check news and be more updated.”

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