GenNext: Prioritising safety over the right to privacy

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19 May 2021 - 13:12
With screen time at an all-time high, young people are more vulnerable to cyber threats and social media perceptions.
With screen time at an all-time high, young people are more vulnerable to cyber threats and social media perceptions.
Image: 123RF/Milkos

We’re living in a period with greater access to effective health care, vaccinations against disease, more accessible education, and broader transport and trade networks. And though technology, the internet and social media have improved our lives, they come with high risks. 

How do we protect young people from cyber harm? This was the focus of the recent Sunday Times GenNext digitised conversation, in partnership with Yellowwood and Gautrain, and moderated by Rianette Leibowitz, a digital parenting author and speaker who raises awareness of cyber safety, cyber wellness and cyberbullying.

With screen time at an all-time high, young people are more vulnerable to cyber threats and social media perceptions. How do brands and marketers carve out a safe space to reach younger generations in a digital world without compromising their safety and security?

There are numerous cyber threats facing the youth today, said Paul Esterhuizen, CEO of Safer Internet SA. Arguably the biggest threat is to their self-esteem. Advertising to children can be harmful unless marketers and brands realise the extent to which they can negatively influence this market. The Protection of Personal Information Act, due to come into effect in July this year, will help to protect the privacy of younger audiences, but its efficacy will rely on sufficient policing. 

Mayke Huijbregts, chief of child protection at Unicef, said factors such as age, social environment and self-esteem play into whether a child is potentially a victim or a perpetrator. Manipulation and grooming typically happen to younger children. Older youth tend to be somewhat more digitally savvy but can still be subject to perpetrators of cyberbullying. Younger children need to be carefully guided in the digital world. 

Sphelele Mjadu, senior public relations manager at Unilever, said marketers have a bigger responsibility with how they communicate to the youth. Self-esteem is important for young people to realise their life goals. Unilever is aware that societal issues about beauty standards have a huge impact on young audiences.

Mjadu said brands need to help young people achieve their full potential by growing their self-esteem and helping them develop a positive body image. Social media doesn’t portray people’s real lives — most use filters when they’re taking selfies, for example. Brands need to portray real people and focus on consistent and deliberate communications. 

Watch the full discussion below:

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The Sunday Times GenNext, now in its 17th year, is the leading annual brand preference and consumer behaviour research on the youth. The GenNext youth survey provides meaningful insights into the minds of SA youth. From this year, all youth capabilities including the annual 2021 Sunday Times GenNext youth survey will be enhanced by the strategic might of Yellowwood.

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