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How do Maltese youths spend their time online?

Four-fifths of Maltese youths log on to social media whenever they have access to the internet. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Four-fifths of Maltese youths log on to social media whenever they have access to the internet. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Maltese youths are nearly 60 per cent more likely to use the internet to log on to social media than to search for information, a new study has found.

A report by the EU’s addiction monitoring centre on 13 to 15-year-old children found that some four-fifths of Maltese youths were logging on to social media whenever they had access to the internet, which is nearly 10 per cent more than the European average.

Researched between 1995 and last year, the report on addictive habits found Maltese girls were even more hooked on social media, with 90 per cent saying they used the internet to log on to Facebook, Instagram and other popular social networks every day, compared to 79 per cent of boys.

When they’re not on social media, the next most popular thing to do on the internet among youths is to stream videos. From YouTube to illegal streaming sites and even pornography, nearly half of 13 to 15-year-olds stream videos every day.

How often are Maltese youths online? According to the report, barely a day went by when they did not log on at least once.

This data is backed up by other reports. Earlier this month, a comprehensive study on Maltese people’s internet use found that almost all users accessed social media on a daily basis.

The younger the user, the more time spent on social media

The number of internet users has more than doubled over the last 10 years, with three-quarters of Maltese saying they were connected in 2015. Andrew Galea, an expert in social media and addiction, said that the game changer locally had been the advent of mobile connectivity.

“Studies published in recent years show that 3G has fuelled a paradigm shift. Social media use is everywhere today. The introduction of services like Facebook live is further proof of how social media is something we are doing all the time,” he said.

Dr Galea said millennials, those who reached young adulthood around the year 2000, spent the most time on social media, averaging two to four hours logged on every day in Malta. Study results, he said, showed a pattern: the younger the user, the more time spent on social media. “This also holds for Malta,” he said.

Social media was a tough thing to be addicted to, as it became increasingly present in daily life. As more companies and services turned to popular networks to offer services and reach out to users and customers, people now felt they had to be on social media, Dr Galea said.

“Add to this the Fomo factor and it’s easy to see how some people can struggle to spend time offline,” he said.

‘Fomo’, or the fear of missing out, was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013 and is defined as “a sensation of anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere” which you are not attending.

Social media misuse can also distort users’ self-worth, Dr Galea said.

“On social media, we portray an image of our lives and not the real thing. Looking at a person’s Facebook account, I am confronted with a curated version of their life, selected images of days at the beach or fun nights out with friends. If I am in a vulnerable place in my life, being confronted with a barrage of those images, it can have negative repercussions,” he said.

The matter is even on the government’s radar. A draft children’s policy, launched for consultation by Family Minister Michael Farrugia last week, highlighted the need to tackle social media addiction.

Internet misuse and cyber bullying were also matters for concern, the draft policy said.

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