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Emerging market parents fear for mobile impact on kids



A new Pew Research Center survey of 11 emerging economies, including South Africa, finds that in most countries studied, majorities say mobile phones and social media have been good for them personally. However, fewer say such connectivity is good for their societies. They are especially worried about new challenges digital life can pose for children, and they express mixed opinions about the impact of increased connectivity on physical health and morality. 

After more than a decade of studying the spread and impact of digital life in the United States, Pew Research Center has intensified its exploration of online connectivity and its impacts among populations in emerging economies. The Center’s new report is the first in a series based on nationally representative surveys of adults conducted in 11 such countries, spanning four global regions: Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia; South Africa and Kenya; India, Vietnam and the Philippines; and Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon. 

The new findings were presented in an event hosted by the Internet Society.

This survey finds the vast majority of adults in each country own – or have access to – a mobile phone of some kind. And these mobile phones are not simply basic devices: A median of 53% across these nations now have access to a smartphone capable of accessing the internet and running apps. 

In concert with this development, the survey finds that social media platforms and messaging apps – most notably, Facebook and WhatsApp – are widely used. Across the surveyed countries, a median of 64% of adults use at least one of seven different social media sites or messaging apps. Indeed, smartphones and social media have melded so thoroughly that for many they go hand-in-hand. A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. 

“The rapid advancement of the mobile-social package invites people to think about the role of these devices in their lives and to look around and see how they might be affecting their societies,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research. “On the positive side, people in these nations say they reap personal benefits from the spread of mobile phones. Yet, fewer say mobile phones and social media are bringing the same level of benefit to their societies, and a key flashpoint of their concern is the impact of mobile connectivity on children.” 

These findings are drawn from a new Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. The findings are available at:

Click here to read key findings from the surveys.

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