Workshop description: Panel participants discussed emerging issues and youth involvement in Internet governance. Among the topics covered were: the influence of social networks; cybersafety; the use of information and communication technologies for education and development; privacy and identity issues online; intellectual property; eGovernance and eDemocracy; and the movements for peace and environmental sustainability.
Discussion leaders included: Agnieszka Wrzesien, Saferinternet.pl Project Coordinator, Nobody’s Children Foundation; Marilia Maciel, Center of Technology and Society, Getulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil; Markku Räsänen, Electronic Frontier Foundation of Finland; Amr Elsadr, Net-Aman cyber peace initiative, Egypt; Rafid A Y Fatani, founder and general manager, Saudi Arabian Strategic Internet Consultancy (SASIc); Eugene Daniel, student researcher with Imagining the Internet, Elon University, U.S.
November 16, 2009 – In the action-packed panel “Youth and Internet Governance: The Way Forward,” almost a dozen different speakers from around the world representing different organizations discussed the role, importance and impact youth play in shaping Internet governance. Members of the panel also encouraged the further involvement of youth in future decision-making and other processes of the Internet Governance Forum.
CHILDREN ON THE INTERNET
Agnieszka Wrzesien, project coordinator for Saferinternet.pl, which is based in Poland, discussed child-safety issues on the Internet. She said children often need someone to guide them, because they are vulnerable and are reluctant to tell adults about their online experiences.
Wrzesien’s organization has constructed an Internet safety help line where children and young people can raise concerns about different situations they encounter online, such as being bullied, being asked embarrassing questions or getting requests for face-to-face meetings.
“The audience would like to see more programs which empower young people to mentor their younger colleagues about how to stay safe online,” she said. “Engaging young people to mentor others brings far better results than when we put parents in charge of conveying those messages.”
She said Saferinternet.pl is advocating installing young people as Internet safety ambassadors.
Amr Elsadr, a member of Net-Aman, a cyber peace initiative in Egypt, said the group was launched to keep youth safe on the Internet. A youth Internet safety focus group came up with the name Net-Aman. Net stands for Internet and Aman is the Arabic word for safety.
“Youth speak, you listen,” Elsadr said.
She said the focus group brought together young people from more than 100 countries and made them stakeholders, which helped them complement each other’s work.
This is a civil society group, but it has several private and public partners, including Microsoft and Cisco, that assist with community outreach. They also host workshops that train teens how to be safe online. “We really believe in this peer-to-peer model of delivering this message,” Elsadr said. “Online safety is basically where we were launched from, but we believe in empowerment of young people.”
He said he never wants to relay the Internet as only a potential risk, and that the group also highlights the real benefits of the program, such as training young people on how to use ICTs to promote small businesses they may want to start.
POLITICS ON THE INTERNET
Marilia Maciel, a Brazilian lawyer and researcher specializing in international law and Internet regulation, spoke on behalf of the Center of Technology and Society-Getulio Vargas Foundation. She said youth have always had a very important role in Brazilian political history, but in recent years, as Internet access and use has increased, there has been general political apathy coming from young people in Brazil.
“Sixty-five percent consider themselves informed about politics, but they recognize that they do not participate very actively in political life,” Maciel said, referring to a survey her company conducted. She noted that young people have a very low interest in taking part in the traditional roles of political parties in Brazil, but 28 percent said they take part in groups that can push for reform in other ways, such as religious organizations.
She said Brazil’s young people have turned away from old ways of protesting and working toward political goals; they now use the Internet to empower themselves to create change. She asked if cyberactivism can be considered a different kind of activism that might substitute traditional activity. “Can cyberactivism take the place of people going to the streets?” she asked. “Is cyberspace a new public space?”
She questioned how this is possible if it is a public forum in an exclusive space, since many people do not have access to the Internet. “Can we say that the political movement in the cyberspace has more visibility than in real space?” she asked.
Markku Räsänen, a youth representative from Finland, said young people have moved from just sharing casual interaction online to also becoming involved in political activism.
“Many of the new services have really enabled young people to cooperate in the online environment,” Räsänen said. “When you age you develop an interest in politics.”
He said it’s natural for young people to create groups online and learn interaction skills and rules related to the Internet community. In turn, they can transform those skills into activism related to their interests.
Citing a 2007 survey, Räsänen said 54 percent of 15-to-24-year-old Finnish people consider the Internet a medium they cannot live without.
He talked about an experience he had when he was studying abroad that inspired him to create political change. Students in Finland receive discounts to attend universities in Finland, and they get the same discounts when they study abroad. But when regulations were changed to remove the discounts for foreign study, Räsänen created a Facebook group. People joined his cause, and eventually he had connections to politicians, his concerns were taken to the Finnish Parliament and the discounts were re-implemented in 2009.
“This is just one of the ways in which you can use these mediums and it has helped me and worked for me,” he said, adding that young people are capable of transforming their interests and they can use the power of the Internet and new mediums to their advantage to drive their own passions forward.
SOCIAL NETWORKS FOR YOUTH
Eugene Daniel, a student at Elon University in the United States, talked about his access to the Internet and the persistent use of it in his life in all aspects, including finances, schooling and social interaction. He said most young people are ignorant about important Internet issues, including piracy, privacy, and information availability and accessibility.
“I want to address my generation’s lack of knowledge of the inner workings and behind-the-screen makeup of the Internet,” Daniel said. “Today’s youth maintain a misguided understanding of online privacy, which does not in its entirety exist. But we don’t care. Why? Because we don’t know.”
He said young people who are using social networks are generally blind to issues such as cloud computing. He called for more education and encouraged heightened awareness of the benefits and dangers of the Internet at home and in the classroom.
“I am not the only youth with similar ignorance,” Daniel said. “There are many, many more.”
Daniel discussed the implications of putting all of your personal information online with no backup files on your own computer or storage device.
“The reason for these forums is to best advance our usage of the Internet, but what good will it do to discuss the future without educating those who will be here to utilize it?” Daniel asked. “Please do not allow this discussion and others like it to be contained to this conference, to this room. Let’s get this message out in the form of education for our youth.”
Rafid A Y Fatani, a student at the University of Exeter and Internet consultant, discussed Internet filtering, a hot topic back in his homeland of Saudi Arabia.
He said the Saudi government is in charge of regulating content, especially surrounding cultural, religious and national security issues. He added that this content censorship extends far beyond the Internet in a typical top-down government approach. “The problem we have extends beyond the physical realm and the online realm,” Fatani said. “It’s all-encompassing.”
Social Web sites in Saudi Arabia are sometimes censored, which he said is a new phenomenon. Political blogs in particular have been under fire. “The problem comes at a time when young people are seeking more freedom; we see more red lines of censorship,” he said, adding that since public demonstrations are banned in Saudi Arabia, many people turn to the Internet to campaign for their causes.
“This is one way to have the voice of the voiceless heard,” he said. “The point is we can make change.”
– Senior segment producer, Andie Diemer
Additional reporting by Eugene Daniel,
Shelley Russell, Janna Anderson, Drew Smith and Dan Anderson