Youth and Social Networks
The Internet has long become an integral part of the daily lives of most children and young people in Germany. Researching online for homework, looking up unfamiliar concepts on Wikipedia, and chatting with friends are the norm.
Enlarge image Internet use among adults and children has been steadily increasing in Germany. (© Colourbox) Young people in Germany also use social networks extensively. “Some 78% of 14- to 19-year-olds use online communities at least once a week and 76% of this age group visit forums, newsgroups or chatrooms every week,” according to Deutschland Magazine. “Social interaction with other Web users is the most important reason for young people to access the Internet.”
According to its website, SchülerVZ has registered more than 5,5 million registered members since it was created in 2007. It is also the most-clicked website in the German language, with some 5.1 billion pages viewed. The largest German-speaking platform for users between the ages of 12 and 21 is, however, strictly off-limits for adults.
Registration is simple. Any student can set up a homepage free-of-charge on the site. Type in a few pieces of data about yourself, upload a photo, select the school you attend – done. A few seconds later, you can see who else from your school is a member of SchülerVZ. Students can send messages from their own accounts, chat with one another, and socialize with friends. You can create photo albums with pictures from your last birthday party on SchülerVZ and thus make them available to all your friends. In addition, you can join a wide variety of groups, like “why is so much of the month always left over when the money runs out?” or “my room is creative chaos not a pig’s sty.”
Enlarge image Young children use the World Wide Web to chat with friends, conduct research, or simply play games. (© Colourbox) The site StudiVZ is Germany’s most prominent Internet platform for university students. As on SchülerVZ, college students can create their own homepage. They can create a circle of friends online, expand it, and get to know the friends of their friends and what interests they share.
The VZ Group offers a total of three platforms – SchülerVZ, StudiVZ, and MeinVZ (for a more general audience) – which together boast a total of 15 million users; however, Facebook is still the market leader in Germany, with almost 7 million members and a monthly growth rate of around 10%, according to Deutschland Magazine. Another American favorite, MySpace, which allows users to post their favorite music and videos, is also popular among German audiences.
Social networks are here to stay in the lives of most children and youth. But the manner in which youth carelessly handle their personal data on the Internet is often criticized. More and more students are placing extremely personal information on the Internet, thus making it available to everyone. For this reason and in an effort to alert young people to this problem, the German government has created an information and education campaign called Watch Your Web. It is designed to educate young people about the right of self-determination with respect to information and to teach them how they can protect themselves and their data.