Young people in Swaziland are turning to social media sites such as Facebook because it allows them to enjoy 'the fundamental rights to freedom of expression' that is denied to them elsewhere in the kingdom, a research report has found.
They also bypass mainstream media such as television, radio and newspapers in favour of social media, the report jointly published by the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said.
In Swaziland media are heavy censored, with nearly all broadcast media under direct state control and one of only two daily newspaper groups is in effect owned by King Mswati III, who rules the kingdom as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch.
The report called Youth Usage of Social media in Swaziland concluded, 'The young people have welcomed the emergence of the social media because, among others, it affords them an opportunity not only to inter-act but also enjoy the fundamental right to freedom of expression provided in Section 24 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Swaziland adopted in 2005.
'Much to the delight of the young social media users, the social media has changed the face of the media landscape by making information sharing 'easier, faster and quicker.
'They can now easily and freely bypass the severely censored mainstream media to access, produce, distribute and exchange information and ideas.
'More importantly, the social media has afforded the young people an opportunity to speak in their own voices, not mediated by the mainstream media.'
It added, 'They can use this empowering force as a source of information relevant to their social lives. It has become their reliable source of educational, social, political, economic and cultural information.'
The research surveyed 100 people aged between 10 and 24 years old in all four regions of Swaziland. It found the most popular social media sites were Facebook, Whatsapp and Mxit.
The report also said many young people were concerned about 'immorality', including 'the posting of pornographic materials, vulgar language, seditious information and character assassination'.