When it comes to the most widely used social networks, girls set the trends. According to the JAMES Study 2022 by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and Swisscom, girls are quicker to start using new social networks than boys.
Boys tend to game more, with free games the most popular. Young people also have fewer, but higher-quality friendships than ten years ago. Unfortunately, the survey also found that young people are more careless about data protection and that sexual harassment has increased further.
Girls adopt new networks earlier than boys, thus becoming trendsetters. Significantly more girls currently use TikTok and Pinterest, for instance, as was already the case with Instagram in 2014. These are the findings of the latest JAMES study, for which around 1,000 young people aged between 12 and 19 are surveyed every two years. “If this trend continues, the female use of social networks will, in the future, serve as an indicator for all young people,” says ZHAW researcher and joint survey director Gregor Waller.
TikTok gaining significant ground
Social networks continue to be one of the most important forms of media in young people’s everyday lives in Switzerland. Almost all of them use WhatsApp for communication (97 percent of users at least several times a week). In addition, Instagram and Snapchat continue to be the most widely used of the apps, at 81 percent and 76 percent respectively, with these figures remaining stable over the years. TikTok has gained significant ground since the last survey. Today, 67 percent of young people use the platform regularly compared to 8 percent in 2018, with girls using the app more often than boys. On the other hand, young people have practically disappeared from Facebook: only 5 percent use the network daily or several times a week (2014: 79 percent).
Activities on social networks have remained constant. The most popular include regularly viewing (56 percent) and liking (55 percent) posts created by others and writing personal messages via chat (57 percent). Young people are much less likely to create their own posts, but when they do, these tend to be time-limited stories or snaps.
Free games the most popular
Video games continue to be popular: 79 percent play at least occasionally, with boys gaming significantly more often (93 percent) than girls (65 percent). However, the number of girls playing has increased compared to previous years with higher numbers of younger teens gaming compared to the upper end of this age category. The most frequently played games are free games (60 percent), with only 35 percent playing paid-for ones.
ZHAW researcher and co-author Lilian Suter considers this a problematic trend: “Free-to-play games are often not really free, because the gamers are either inundated with advertising or pay with their data.” In-game purchases are often even essential in order to progress with the game. The number of young people who regularly make in-game purchases has more than doubled in two years from 3 percent to 8 percent today. 23 percent of young gamers state that they regularly ignore age recommendations.
More diverse leisure activities
A large proportion of young people in Switzerland (70 percent) regularly meet up with friends in their free time. Compared to previous years, however, there has been a decrease in the number of friendships. While the young people surveyed regularly met up with seven friends in 2012, by 2022 this figure has gone down to five.
Gregor Waller sees this as a continuation of the ‘social cocooning’ trend. “Young people meet up with fewer friends than they did a few years ago. If, however, this is driven by relationship minimalism’, in other words putting quality before quantity, the friendships will be of higher quality overall.”
In general, the leisure activities of young people are becoming more diverse and individual from year to year. The most popular leisure activities vary greatly, ranging from watching TV or movies, taking part in sport, listening to music and gaming, to craft and creative activities such as drawing or painting or spending time outside in nature. The young people also have very diverse tastes in music. This is evidenced by the most popular songs of the top 20 musicians and bands in the different Swiss regions, which, for the first time, the ZHAW researchers have compiled into playlists for German-speaking Switzerland, French-speaking Switzerland and Ticino (links at the end of the article).
Need for action to protect minors in the media
There has been a continued rise in online sexual harassment and cyberbullying, with almost half of young people experiencing sexual harassment online at least once. In 2014, this figure stood at 19 percent. Online abuse has also increased by almost ten percentage points over this period. Girls are significantly more likely to be affected by sexual harassment than boys (60 percent versus 33 percent). Almost half of the girls surveyed had already been asked by a stranger to send erotic photos of themselves.
The ZHAW researchers see an urgent need for action. According to joint survey director Daniel Süss, “Sexual harassment and cyberbullying among adolescents are transgressions that happen during a sensitive stage of personal and sexual development.” There is therefore still a need for a broad and in-depth range of media education measures and services to strengthen digital self-defence. Michael In Albon, Youth Media Protection Officer at Swisscom, also puts it succinctly: “Such behaviour must not be tolerated. This topic is addressed specifically in our media courses in schools, but parents also naturally have a duty of care to deal more firmly with the issue. Just as they guide their children on matters of road safety, they must do the same for online safety.”
Data protection and privacy are becoming more complex
Young people are becoming less careful about protecting their privacy online: 10 years ago, 84 percent said they had activated privacy settings on social networks, compared to just 60 percent today. Concerns about others seeing their personal information online have continued to decrease (2012: 38 percent; 2022: 28 percent). At the same time, however, the majority of young people tend to behave cautiously on social networks and reveal little about themselves publicly. “The subject of data protection and privacy on the Internet has changed and is becoming increasingly complex,” says Lilian Suter. While the focus in the early days of social networks was on what information or photos should not be shared publicly, today the subject is dominated by aspects such as cookies, algorithms or end-to-end encryption and presents young people with additional challenges.