The first use of digital media for social communication was email, which became widespread in the 1990s. By 2013, 99% of internet users checked their email regularly and 89% did so every day. Email had a drastic impact on the use of postal services. By 2013 New Zealand Post was considering reducing postal services to three days a week and was carrying 265 million fewer items than 10 years earlier. However, in 2013 email was a less common way of contacting people than meeting them in person, phoning or texting. Email was significantly less popular for people under 30, who preferred texting.
Facebook or Twitter holidays
By the 2010s some New Zealanders were so addicted to using social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter that they felt the need to advertise that they were taking a Facebook or Twitter holiday – when they stopped posting for a day or so – for fear their followers might think something serious had happened to them.
Social networking sites
From about 2002 the development of technologies, often called Web 2.0, allowed greater social interaction on the web. This took the form of enabling users to contribute to, and comment on, websites, and the emergence of social networking sites.
It was not until about 2007 that such sites really took off in New Zealand, but by 2013 80% of internet users were members of a social network site. Of these, 87% said that Facebook was their site of preference. According to an October 2012 poll, 76% of New Zealanders aged 18 or over were on Facebook and three-fifths of them used Facebook at least once a day. Of respondents, 29% were on professional networking site LinkedIn. Women used the sites slightly more than men. Social networking was especially popular for those aged under 30 (of which 87% were users), while only a third of those aged over 60 networked in this way.
By August 2013 New Zealanders were spending an average of 7.43 hours a month on social networking sites. This was more than in Australia and the United States, and represented New Zealanders’ greatest use of the internet by time (one in five internet minutes).
Based on New Zealand followers, the most popular tweeters in 2013 were Paolo Feliciano (a Filipino student in Otago), the All Blacks, Adam Hendra (a young poet and writer), Jonathon Gunson (a popular novelist), John Key (prime minister), New Zealand Herald, Bosco Peters (who runs a liturgical website), Justin Boyce (who blogs about working from home), Hishan Abdulla (author of a book on personal development) and Air New Zealand’s grabaseat.
Over a quarter of internet users had made new friends or met new partners online. At least some of these meetings would have been through internet dating sites such as FindSomeone and NZDating.
In the 2010s Twitter, which provided users with the ability to post short messages of 140 characters or less to their followers, became more popular in New Zealand. By October 2012 almost 20% of people aged 18 or over were using Twitter, an increase of more than 50% from the previous year. Many New Zealand journalists became active on Twitter, and often ‘scooped’ their own publications by reporting breaking news via social media before filing their stories. John Campbell, host of TV3's Campbell Live, had nearly 50,000 Twitter followers in 2013 – but remained behind New Zealand's most popular tweeter, Ruby on Rails software developer Michael Koziarsky.
The Twitter hashtag #eqnz, which came to symbolise the first quake and the thousands that followed, was coined by an Australian-based user within half an hour of the event. By dawn, it had been adopted by most users as the default hashtag. Official agencies, after initially proposing their own tags, quickly fell into line with the crowd's choice.
The Canterbury earthquakes and social media
When a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Canterbury early in the morning of 4 September 2010, it was first reported to the world by local Twitter and Facebook users. Foreign news media were publishing pictures from these residents before most New Zealanders were even aware of the quake. Social media – Twitter, Facebook and blogs – played a key role both in reporting subsequent quakes, especially the more destructive February 2011 quake, and in the community response.
Later, the University of Canterbury established the CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive. This was a comprehensive archive including personal accounts, videos, oral histories and digitised copies of every edition of The Press from 4 September 2010 to 2 February 2012.