Tweens using MXit – whose responsibility?

MXitMXit was again judged the coolest website and social networking service facility in this year’s Sunday Times Generation NeXt survey, conducted by HDI Youth Marketeers in partnership with the Sunday Times, and supported by Monash South Africa. In topping the ‘Coolest Social Networking Service and Website’ category, MXit leapfrogged over Facebook and Google in terms of popularity.

There have been a few horror stories in the media about teens running away to meet older men they’ve met on MXit, but the platform has clear online safety rules posted on the website – for both young users and their parents to stick to. Just this week, Matthew Buckland blogged that every time there is an ‘incident’ on the platform, “journalists with scant understanding of the technology tend to focus on MXit as the source of the problem, rather than the real issues”. This is due to certain channels and broadsheets slagging the site of late, as teens are increasingly sneaking out and lying to their parents about their whereabouts, in order to meet with people they have met on MXit. Buckland adds that “It boils down to a lack of understanding of the environment. Blaming MXit is akin to calling for a ban on telephones or email, because reprehensible elements of society (eg: pedophiles) happen to use them. It rather misses the point. It’s a classic case of ‘shoot the messenger': the problem isn’t MXit, which is merely a communication enabler. The issue is education and common sense. The broader problem is society itself, but this, I suspect, is a harder one to solve than educating users.”

I definitely agree with this. While MXit does provide the platform for youngsters to get in touch with others – who may or may not be who they say they are – it also clearly states the aforementioned online safety rules. Blaming MXit for teens disappearing is like blaming BMW for the car accident you had – which was caused by your shoddy driving and speeding, not by the make of car. Buckland also posted an edited version of a rather lengthy presser released by MXit in response to the media, which states: “We want to warn all users again to enjoy our technology with the necessary responsibility and level of maturity; and never to reveal personal information. We challenge… media owners to get these simple facts accurate, and to properly understand our technology. Can we trust what is reported?”

Bad rep in the media aside, MXit is still overwhelmingly popular among the tween market, and a key player in the mobile media sector. Naspers acquired a 30% stake in MXit in October 2006. It is seen as a prime advertising platform for reaching the lucrative South African youth market which has access to its own money, and freely exerts influence over its parents in how they spend their money – is was clear from this year’s Generation Next results!
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MXit offers many interesting applications and innovations, least of which is MXit Music, which broke South African music convention with the first-ever launch of an album through a mobile phone last year. There are also limited edition MXit tee-shirts available on Springleap.com, and one can add MXit applications to their Facebook profile. With the capacity to serve 12-million ads a day, an entire MXit clothing range, and MXit TV – to be based solely on consumer-generated content – in the pipeline, the marketing possibilities are endless.

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