Elon University

Youth Forum: Views and Perspectives from Youth As Internet Participants

IGF USA LogoBrief session description:

Thursday, July 26, 2012 – People under the age of 30 constitute the largest population of Internet users in the US and worldwide. This generation, many of whom grew up with mobile networks and the Internet, is the primary driver of the cultural, political and economic activity online. Yet, they are also mostly absent from the Internet governance debates. This workshop brought together a group of college-age young adults to talk about how they experience the online world, how they think about online information and what is important for them within a broad range of Internet-related policy areas. The session was organized and led by the young people themselves.

Details of the session:

Session moderators were Ali Hamed and Morgan Beller, students at Cornell University. Youth participants were:

  • Chris Higgens, University of Wisconsin – Madison
  • Dan Spector, Cornell University
  • Kimberly Wong, Cornell University
  • Kyle Simms, Morgan State University
  • Lindsey Bohl, Georgetown University Law School
  • James Day, Christopher Newport University
  • Mary Delcamp, University of Miami Law School
  • Rebecca Charen, University of Michigan
  • Samantha Smyers, Saint Francis University
  • Reed Semcken, University of Southern California

The title of the forum may have been youth-centric, but it was the adults in the audience who got the last word.

Ali Hamed, a facilitator of the discussion from Cornell University, addressed the significance of the young people’s perspective in Internet governance, noting that the policies being created by today’s leaders are directly affecting youth and the future of everyone.

“It’s pretty valid that we actually have input,” Hamed said.

Morgan Beller, a second facilitator of the panel, also from Cornell, iasked each youth panelist to discuss his or her greatest fear regarding the Internet.

Mary Delcamp from the University of Miami Law School began the conversation by addressing the perils of online information collection. “Information is collected about us all the time and there are completely legitimate uses, but at the end of the day, privacy belongs in the hands of the individual,” Delcamp said.

Lindsey Bohl of the Georgetown University Law Center said she also has concerns about information disclosure. She worries that her credit card information could get leaked. “What would happen if that information were disclosed to the wrong people?” Bohl asked.

Chris Higgens, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, added that collected information is stored and users simply don’t know how far back that record spans. “How much of that information should be liable to your personal character?” Higgens asked.

James Day of Christopher Newport University said he has a similar fear about the “digital footprints” everyone leaves behind when viewing and sharing information on the Internet. He said he worries about how the decisions he makes today will affect his future employment opportunities. “What are we doing now that’s gonna hurt us down the road?” he asked.

Delcamp Speaking IGF USA 2012Reed Semcken of the University of Southern California said he once took Internet privacy for granted but then noticed that people had gathered information about him that he would have rather kept private.

“The majority of Americans don’t understand what kind of information they’re giving up,” Semcken said.

Youth Panel Discussion IGF USA 2012Dan Spector, a panelist from Cornell University, said he and most other young people can probably relate to these points – you never know the impact you might have through your actions. He used the example of the website Klout, a site that essentially reveals your influence on social media platforms. Spector willingly released his Twitter account to the website in order to gain information about his reputation via social media, but it wasn’t until after he handed over his information that he thought about the implications of sharing that data with a large company that makes its profit by selling your personal information to second and third parties.

Spector Speaking IGF USA 2012Kyle Simms of Morgan State University said his biggest fear is a lack of democracy on the Internet.

Rebecca Charen of the University of MIchigan said she worries that policymakers who do not understand the Internet’s influence and effects won’t turn to youth for help understanding social media before they begin to make decisions that influence everyone’s future.

Facilitator Beller changed the subject with another prompt. She asked what motivated panelists to change their privacy settings from “public” to “private” on social media websites.

Semcken said it was not a natural progression for him. He changed his Facebook settings when he became aware that people he didn’t want to see his information were willing to access it.

Day said he changed his privacy settings because he didn’t want his own extended family members seeing his information. “I don’t really want you looking at that info,” Day said. “You’re like my aunt’s second cousin.”

Delcamp elaborated on the issue of privacy settings. “I think it’s ridiculous to have to adjust privacy settings for each individual aspect,” Delcamp said.

Smyers Speaking IGF USA 2012Samantha Smyers spoke up to say that there are ways to circumvent the privacy settings on most sites, and people may be able to access your information even when you think you have added some layers of secrecy – anything you post, no matter how you set your privacy settings may be revealed. “It’s hard because anything you put on the Internet isn’t private, even if you want it to be,” Smyers said.

Facilitator Hamed asked if any of the panelists could give a definition of online privacy. Facilitator Beller chimed in and asked if the panelists if any of them don’t have a problem with releasing their information.

Delcamp said she believes that before information is collected, the consumer should know what exactly is being collected and the consumer should be informed about what is being done with that information.

Charen took a liberal view of information dispersal. “As long as the Internet is working efficiently, I don’t have a problem with it,” Charen said.

Day had a similar perspective. “I don’t care what anyone knows about me as long as they don’t use it against me,” he said.

Beller said she is more selective about the information she divulges. “I’m happy giving Spotify my music preferences but not access to my Facebook page,” she said.

Hamed proposed that Internet governance discussions should emphasize finding a balance between innovation and regulation. Delcamp offered remarks in favor of innovation but with a stipulation. “The last thing you want to do is stifle innovation,” Delcamp said. “But there needs to be some sort of consequence if damage is done to you.”

Jim Prendergast, an audience member, told the youth participants he was at a youth conference earlier this year where the word “safety” came up. The students at the conference treated the person who brought it up as a pariah. Prendergast wanted to know if these youth participants felt the same way.

Charen offered his explanation. “Your average high school or college student isn’t concerned with privacy,” he said. “Our generation is the generation of wanting things simple, fast and free. I feel like they’re willing to sacrifice things and not even thinking about [the fact that they’re] sacrificing those things.”

George Britt, another adult audience member, said he is a teacher, and his students do worry about the “bad stuff” on the Internet. He said he encourages them to consider the value in Internet innovation, speaking to the importance of incorporating innovation as an ideal rather than a peril via the education system.

The forum worked to gather a small sampling of youth perspectives and prompted a discussion between adults and youth about youth perspectives of the online realm.

– Audrey Horwitz

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The multimedia reporting team for Imagining the Internet at IGF-USA 2012
included the following Elon University students, staff, faculty and alumni:

Jeff Ackermann, Bryan Baker, Ashley Barnas, Katie Blunt, Mary Kate Brogan, Joe Bruno, Kristen Case, Allison D’Amora, Colin Donohue, Keeley Franklin, Janae Frazier, Ryan Greene, Audrey Horwitz, Elizabeth Kantlehner, Perri Kritz, Morgan Little, Madison Margeson, Katie Maraghy, Brennan McGovern, Brian Mezerski, Julie Morse, Janna Anderson.