A new Pew Research Center survey of 11 emerging economies 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 will be presented today in an event hosted by the Internet Society. A webcast of the event is available here.
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 for immediate release and are available.
Key findings from the surveys include:
- Majorities say mobile phones have been beneficial for education and the economy, though negative for children. A median of 67% of adults say the increasing use of mobile phones has been mostly good for education, while 58% say the same about the impact on the economy. Publics also express mixed views about the impact of mobile phones on physical health and morality; medians of 40% and 35%, respectively, say the impact has been negative. Concerns about the impact of mobile phones and the internet on children are pervasive in the 11 countries surveyed. A median of 79% – and majorities in every country surveyed – say people should be very concerned about children being exposed to harmful or immoral content when using their phones. And many parents report that they try to be vigilant about what their children are doing and seeing on their phones. Among parents whose children have mobile phones, a median of 50% say they monitor what their children do on their mobile devices. Along with monitoring their children’s activities on their mobile devices, a median of 52% of parents whose children have mobile phones have tried to limit the time their children spend with their phones.
- Large majorities of mobile phone users think their devices help them get news and information about important issues, though there are also widespread concerns that mobile phones might expose people to false or inaccurate information. A median of 79% of mobile phone users say their phones help them obtain news and information about important issues. This comes as a smaller 64% of adults in these countries say people should be very concerned about exposure to false or incorrect information when using their mobile phones. In addition, a median of 58% of mobile phone users say their devices have helped their ability to communicate face-to-face, even as roughly half of adults also say people should be very worried about the impact of mobile phones on face-to-face communication.
- Mobile phone users are divided over the role mobile phones play in their lives. Overall, users tend to associate their mobile phones with feelings of freedom. In every country surveyed, a larger share of mobile phone users describe their phone as something that frees them, as opposed to something that ties them down. When it comes to whether their phones help them save time or make them waste time, the largest share of mobile phone users in seven countries describe their phone as a time saver. Still, a larger share of Jordanians and Filipinos describe their phone as something that makes them waste time. And in Lebanon and Mexico, roughly equal shares see their phone as a time saver and time waster. Across the 11 countries surveyed, mobile phone users fall in two camps on whether their phone is something they don’t always need or something they couldn’t live without. Jordanians, Kenyans, Lebanese, South Africans and Tunisians who use mobile phones are more likely to say their phone is something they couldn’t live without. But in the six other countries (Colombia, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Venezuela and Vietnam), a larger share says they don’t always need their phone.
- Social media platforms and messaging apps – most notably, Facebook and WhatsApp – are widely used. Across the 11 emerging economies, a median of 64% use at least one of seven different social media platforms or messaging apps asked about on the survey. By a substantial margin, Facebook (used by a median of 62% of adults in these countries) and WhatsApp (used by a median of 47%) are the two most commonly used social media or messaging platforms out of the seven included in the survey.