Gen Z Kiwis turning off social media, mobile

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Originally published on the New Zealand Herald.

The stereotype is that young people are even more glued to their devices than the rest of us, having grown up with smartphones and social media.

But, in fact, a third of Generation Z Kiwis are limiting their time online because of health, security and data-use concerns, according to a new survey by global communications company Dentsu Aegis.

The agency's Digital Society Index study of 5000 Gen-Zers worldwide, including a local sample, found that:

  • A quarter (24 per cent) of Gen-Z (18-24-year-olds) in New Zealand have deactivated a social media account in the last 12 months, slightly higher than the global average (17 per cent);
  • 39 per cent are limiting their time on their mobile devices; and
  • Nearly half (46 per cent) believe social media is having a negative impact on political discourse in New Zealand.
  • Worldwide, nearly half (46 per cent) of Gen Z believe their personal use of tech has a negative impact on their health and wellbeing; and
  • More than half of Gen-Zers (56 per cent) do not trust tech companies because of concerns over how they use their data.

So if the 18-24 crowd is switching off social media, what are they doing instead?

Well ... maybe nothing, says Richard Pook, general manager, platforms and partners at Dentsu Aegis NZ.
"There is the caveat that it's stated behaviour rather than actual behaviour," Pook says.

The continued fast growth of Facebook, and in particular the youth-focused TikTok, this year points to the fact that many Gen-Zers are, in reality, still highly engaged with their screens.

But he says that, regardless, there's a strong sentiment that comes through in the survey - and one that Big Tech companies will ignore at their peril.
"Our study has found that younger digital consumers are taking back control of their data and online activity," he says.
He sees Gen Z as very socially-aware and politically-savvy.
"They have strong opinions about how technology affects them and their wellbeing, and they are aware of the risks involved in sharing their data," he says.

And Gen-Zers can do that without fully boycotting the likes of Facebook or Google.

The study found almost half (47 per cent) have taken steps to reduce the amount of data they're sharing online, such as clearing their search history or opting out of geolocation services.

How to win back Gen Z

Pook says the answer to winning back Gen Z's affections is to be more transparent about why data is collected and how it's used - and to put them in genuine control of privacy settings (often so hard to find and tweak on many platforms).

And the door is still open.

Despite growing wariness of social media, the study also found that just over half (53 per cent) of Kiwi Gen-Zers believe tech will help solve society's biggest challenges.

But first, Gen Z wants to see "a genuine value exchange when tech companies are using their data," Pook says.

"They also need to demonstrate how they are benefiting society, as this age group's expectations are high when it comes to improving the world around them through technology".

As things stand, "They have this feeling that they are sharing a lot about themselves, which big companies are then using for their benefit."

What does a genuine value exchange look like? Pook says, at the moment, the likes of TikTok and Facebook offer fun and engagement. In the future, they'll have to offer more personalised service in exchange for more personalised data about a person - and it will have to be something that goes beyond personalised ads, Pook says.

Read the full Dentsu Aegis Network DSI Report here