Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011 Potential-future scenario discussion: Youth Rising and Reigning

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Brief description:

IGF participants broke into three different rooms to discuss three different, possible potential-future scenarios for the Internet in 2020. In this session, the brief description given to the discussants was: Youth Rising and Reigning describes a future in which tech-attuned young people come to dominate over an aging world in which production and delivery are dominated by young users.

Details of the session:

Among the facilitators of the discussion of the Youth Rising and Reigning potential-future scenario at the Internet Governance Forum-USA 2011 at Georgetown University Law Center were Pablo Molina of the Georgetown Law Center, Chris Hemmerlein of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Kelly O’Keefe of Access Partnerships.

You can read the one-page PDF used to launch this discussion here:

http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/predictions/igf_usa/Youth_Rising_Scenario.pdf

The potential future drivers of change between now and 2025 that people were asked to consider before discussing this scenario included:

  • Global economic woes and the Arab Spring move young people to increasingly become power producers and consumers of Internet content. The power of social networks becomes evident, in part thanks to their importance in crises such as natural disasters, wars and other natural and manmade conflicts, and social networking alters human relationships in profound ways.
  • Cloud computing, hyperconnectivity, the Internet of Things (all devices connected wirelessly, including cars, houses and many more) all provide benefits and raise privacy issues and these and other challenges foster the requirement of mandatory biometric IDs. Mobile devices become personal IDs and electronic wallets and credit cards disappear.
  • A new form of cyberbullying emerges. control of information flow shifts from major media corporations to gangs of powerful information leaders, and online defamation becomes common with little recourse; copyright laws crumble, new content aggregators emerge with new business models.
  • By 2015, software for real-time language translation enable a truly global communications network with real-time Internet-based information exchanges that cross all previous barriers of language and geography. This allows the tens of millions of new Internet users in China, India and Africa to make key innovative contributions to new battery technologies and other breakthroughs.
  • Growth of concerns about online safety and identity theft, coupled with viruses, malware and financial risks lead to industry and government collaboration on online safety requirements and mandated digital citizenship training in preschools and primary schools.
  • By 2025, miniaturized video is integrated into everyday life, and people record and share all of their life experiences, often broadcast live. Police access to such feeds results in fines for the breaking of laws previously unobserved – for instance, speeding and recreational drug use.

Regulation of the Internet

Molina suggested that, because of online crime, identity theft and terrorism, access to the Internet of 2025 would require biometric identification for all online users, or even a license to obtain Web privileges.

“These are things that are going to happen in about 15 years from now,” Molina said. “They are likely—beneficial or not. And we’re here to debate that.

JULY 18, 2011 - An audience member participates in the IGF-USA "Youth-Rising and Reigning" Scenario Session

Anne Collier, a participant in the discussion and youth advocate from connectsafely.org, said government measures, such as restricting children’s access to certain websites, were ineffective at solving the issue of online security.

“Identification verification is not a solution,” Collier said, referencing a 2008 government discussion surrounding an out-of-court settlement with MySpace. “Attorneys general were looking for a prescription, which they said was age verification, and another one biometric identification. They came up with a prescription for youth safety online before there was any diagnosis.”

After a review of literature pertaining to youth online, Collier said the biggest risk for youth is the presence of cyber bullies, not online predators who would pose a threat offline.

Discussant Stephen Balkam, from the Family Online Safety Institute, said it is going to be very tempting for governments in all parts of the world to resort to requiring biometric identifications to regulate citizens’ Internet use.

“The temptations are going to be so strong,” Balkam said. “South Korea has already issued national ID numbers.”

Collier added that the notion “to control is to protect” was disturbing.

Youth Involvement

Karl Grindal, a participant from Georgetown University, said “youth” was too vague a term to discuss any single age range of Internet-savvy people, and that the youth being mentioned today are in the process of transitioning to the next phase of life.

“It’s a temporal concept,” Grindal said. “Twenty five year olds turn into 45 year olds. The discussion is more directly related to people who know how to use the Internet. In the long term, that becomes all of us—not just the youth or the middle-aged people.”

In response to one of Molina’s comments about the involvement of youth in citizen journalism, Grindal said the eventual rise of citizen journalism would not be attributed solely to youth involvement.

“Citizen journalism is not the product of youth but of a culture that tries to use the technologies,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any way the youth will always rule. That group will not likely produce the majority of (Internet) content.”

JULY 18, 2011 - An audience member participates in the IGF-USA "Youth-Rising and Reigning" Scenario Session

Other participants in the discussion suggested that youth, no matter what time period in the future being discussed, would have an increasing role in the development of business, government and society because of the Internet.

William Vogt, an undergraduate student from Georgetown University and another discussant, suggested the creation of online tools to effectively involve young people in politics. One example was the creation of more online forums to give people a streamlined method of contacting their representatives, rather than calling and trying to get in touch with a secretary to leave messages. Because young people are accustomed to instant communication and platforms to express their opinions in other situations, participants said youth would expect the same type of process for political involvement.

“Right now it’s cumbersome and takes a long time to effectively contact your representatives,” Vogt said. “If we reduce those barriers, youth can participate more. They’re not going to go through a pain-in-the-ass process to do it.”

Ali Hamed of Cornell University said that between government and private sector, he believed these online tools should be produced by whoever has the most incentive to use them.

“We need to first establish who has the most to gain,” Hamed said, “and whoever has the most to gain needs to be the one to produce it.”

The discussion shifted back to considering the dangers and benefits of government involvement, regulation of the Internet and how the role of the Web and its stakeholders would shift. The majority of participants agreed that people who misuse the Web would remain determined to do so, regardless of any imposed barriers, and the leaders committed to improving users’ online experiences would see that cause through, as well.

Collier said she believed the Internet, a “constantly changing in real-time product,” gives the user, including young people, more power than ever.

“We have governments going to media companies,” she said. “We have this kind of distributed power—kind of this social contract forming.  It’s a really fascinating, fluid time where we figure out how the Internet is governed. What it serves is changing at the same time. That’s fascinating.”

– Natalie Allison

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