Internet Governance is seen by many as a ‘dry topic’, and certainly the concepts discussed are not always easily accessible to a young audience – imagine asking a room of teens their opinions on openness, access, security and diversity! Yet the need for the involvement of young people in the IGF process has been widely noted.
Engaging young people in the IGF process is critically important as it is these young people who are at the forefront of using and adopting new Internet technologies. Children and young people have fully embraced technologies in a way that many adults have failed to do. For them, the Internet is a norm. It is a major part of their everyday lives, and the topics discussed at the IGF do affect them, even if the language of engagement that they use is different from the established pillars of discussion at the IGF.
In all of Childnet’s work we have sought and continue to put children and young people at the heart of what we do. Working directly with children and young people, and learning from their experience of interacting with technology, helps us to ensure that the advice we share with them and the messages that we communicate from them to government and others is credible and relevant.
To engage more young people in the IGF we have aimed to make the concepts of the IGF accessible and interesting to young people and to challenge them to think about how openness, access, security, diversity and the online rights agenda are relevant to their lives and what action they might want to consider taking as a result. We commissioned a film introducing the IGF and the topics for discussion, and have utilised some of the key online media that young people are using including social networking sites to promote the film, to ask further questions and to create multiple opportunities for young people to take part in the discussion.
The film was designed to be provocative and to be a starting point for discussions. Early on it was evident in the responses from young people, that while the topics of discussion are very pertinent to their lives, their understanding of them cannot be pigeonholed into a neat framework of discussion. We have encountered a range of responses and opinions, but have been struck by the overwhelming positivity from young people about being asked their opinions on a process that will most likely affect their future and their future use of technology. As one young person put it, “it is important for us to have our say about the net because we use it the most and sometimes know more about it than adults do!”.
We have talked about rights and Internet rights as a key theme during our discussions and conversations, and alongside this the notion of responsibility. One of the things that has been revealed through the project is that young people are faced with a conundrum; they have a desire for ‘automatic’ safety which often sits at odds with their desire for freedom and to be able to do whatever they want online. Engaging with young people on this topic has enabled them to think about their conduct online, their use of these technologies and what they want to see happen to the Internet in the future.
In making what young people have to say about Internet Governance count, the project has not just been about the process of engaging young people on this topic. Including the voice of youth at the IGF is not as simple as asking them questions and then considering that the task is complete. It is vitally important to continue to include young people in the IGF process moving forwards, incorporating their experience and thoughts in the discussions. The benefits of increased participation will be an increased sense of ownership and interest in this area, which in turn has the potential to positively impact on the online conduct of many young people as they gain a greater sense of awareness about their responsibilities and the difference that they can make. The amplification of the voice of youth through the Youth IGF Project is just the tip of the iceberg, and there remains a need to engage with more young people in the UK and internationally on Internet Governance and what it means to them.
We will be running a joint session with Eurim at the upcoming Parliament and the Internet conference to share some of the findings from the Youth IGF Project and to bring industry, parliamentarians and young people together in a discussion on the IGF. We hope that you join us.