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

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IGF-USA 2012 Youth Forum: Youth in an Online World – Views and Perspectives of Youth as Users

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Brief 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, graduate 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
  • 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.

James Day speaks during the Youth Forum- “Youth in an Online World” at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

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.

Reed 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.

Dan Spector speaks during the Youth Forum- “Youth in an Online World” at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Dan 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.

Kyle 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.

Samantha 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


Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Youth Roundtable: Digital Natives? Mythbusting Assumptions

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Brief description:

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project more than 93 percent of teens (ages 12-17) and young adults (18-29) are currently online. Many Internet governance debates are held in the name of youth and many Internet policy decisions are made to guard or guide the young. But what do we really know about how young people use the Internet and what impacts it may have on them? What are the common claims about the influence of the Internet on children and young adults that fuel the Internet governance debate? How do young people really use new communications technologies and what issues do they see as most important? This roundtable explored some of the common myths about young people and the Internet, bringing together a group of college-aged participants from several U.S. universities to engage in a peer-moderated discussion.

Details of the session:

What do you know about how young people use the technology tools available online? Moderators Colin Donohue, a journalism instructor and student media adviser from Elon University, and Ali Hamed, from Cornell University led a guided discussion with a roundtable of panelists and forum attendees about this point and more at IGF-USA at Georgetown University July 18.

The young people who participated in the roundtable were:

  • Ronda Ataalla, 19, rising junior at Elon University
  • Kellye Coleman, 21, rising senior at Elon University
  • William O’Connor, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • Chelsea Rowe, rising sophomore at Cornell University
  • Jeff Stern, 19, rising sophomore at Elon University
  • Kristen Steves, Cornell University student, blogger for End Slavery Now
  • Nick Troiano, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • William Vogt, rising senior at Georgetown University

Their discussion and the title of the workshop stem from a number characteristics often assumed by the public about youth online that have been contradicted by research, including:

– All young people are highly active users of the Internet.
– Young people don’t care about their privacy.
– The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place.
– All teens are naturally tech-savvy and adept at creating online content – “digital natives.”
– The virtual world of online communications is isolating young people.
– Social media leads kids to be deceptive.
– Social media is addictive to everyone who uses it regularly.
– The Internet is the great equalizer.

The Youth Roundtable discussed privacy, which generated conversations about the youth’s behavior on the Internet, how the youth online define friendships and to what extent privacy issues should be incorporated into education.

The panelists agreed that the youth value privacy, but have different views concerning what content is private or deserving of privacy.

“It’s not about knowing (about privacy),” O’Connor said. “It’s about younger generations’ values about what’s private and what’s public is different.”

JULY 18, 2011 - William O'Connor from Georgetown University (right) discusses the way online choices are affected by personal values during the Digital Natives Panel at the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011.

He discussed how he criticized his younger sibling’s activity online but acknowledged his parents’ similar sentiments about his own use of the Internet.

Vogt, Ataalla and O’Connor agreed that they are aware of, and content with, public access to content that is willingly posted.

“I think privacy is the wrong word for things that are public on Facebook,” O’Connor said.

The students argued against the myth that the youth are not aware of one’s own privacy. Those on the panel explained the benefits of sharing information, and Ataalla said her professors at Elon University encourage students to keep Twitter accounts public in order to attract employers.

Private social media accounts indicate you have something to hide, she said.

When youth expect privacy

Hamed asked the panel if there is a different level of thinking regarding something willingly posted on a social network site compared to information protected by a password.

Although the panelists agreed that they value technical privacy, they also agreed that “digital natives” are more likely to trust that corporations will protect their information.

“I guess maybe I’m a little too trusting,” Steves said. “I’m skeptical, but Google, for instance, I would look at the ratings and assume that maybe because everyone uses it I’ll be safe, but that may not necessarily be the case.”

Troiano said he believed it was in the company’s interest to protect the consumers’ information, which makes him assume a successful company is trustworthy.

On the other hand, Stern explained that when FireFox stores a user’s password, anyone that uses that computer has access to that information.

“It’s just something to think about,” he said.

The conversation suggested it is not that the youth do not value privacy, but rather that they distinguish between value-based privacy and technical privacy.

“We don’t understand this idea of privacy, the whole idea of data protection never crosses many of our minds,” Coleman said.

Nevertheless, Troiano said that he was not concerned with information released to advertisement companies because that transaction improves the lives of the users.

JULY 18, 2001 -- Will Vogt participates in "Digital Natives: Myth-busting about Youth in the Online World"

“I don’t think that’s an invasion of our privacy. I think that’s the efficiency of the Web,” Troiano said.

Cautionary relationships on the Web

While those on the panel admitted to trusting seemingly popular companies on the Internet, they expressed more skepticism concerning Facebook friend requests, Twitter followers and other more personal interactions online.

When receiving a request from a Twitter follower, Ataalla referenced Facebook to confirm the individual’s existence and questioned mutual friends to verify the person’s intentions.

Mutual friends and photographs help determine whether it is safe to accept someone’s request, Troiano said.

“We don’t get credit for thinking these things through,” Rowe said.

Although the panelists’ caution regarding relationships online counters the myth that youth are susceptible to dangers on the Internet, O’Connor identified meeting new people as one of the benefits of the Web. Coleman uses social media as a way to contact those interested in similar topics. She uses Twitter to find experts in journalism, her field of study.

“I have learned so much from the people I follow on Twitter, and reading articles and blogs and even having conversations with them,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to kind of learn from, not only experts, but also peers and have discussions with them about different things through those social networks.”

Hamed asked the panelists if social networks invite new connections or solidify the network users already belong to.

“It’s both isolating and opening,” Vogt said.

O’Connor first used social networks to maintain relationships with classmates he met at boarding school, he said. But he also said those same networks can create homogenous lifestyles and choices.

“There can be a discussion abut some of the things that are lost when surrounding yourself with people only like you,” he said.

How to communicate proper online behavior

Hamed asked the panelists if they believe the youth should be educated about proper online behavior.

Although some advocated formal education, others thought the Internet is simply life expressed in a new platform. In other words, the same values you learn that guide you in your everyday life are applicable, in some ways, to how you interact online.

“You can apply the same values you have in life (to the Internet),” O’Connor said.

For example, children are taught not to talk to strangers. Well, that concept is applicable to the Web, too. New social networks continue to enable the Internet to mirror real life.

“Our parents had the luxury of having a life where they could separate friend life and church life and family life, but information we’re putting out all has one shared life,” Troiano said.

Facebook categorized parents and friends in the same network, so all had access to the same content and information. Security controls were buried in the network, causing youth online to hesitate becoming “friends” with their parents.

But now, circles on Google+ divide social groups online similarly to how social groups are divided in real life. These fragmentations also help youth control who sees what content, giving users greater control over privacy.

Who should control Internet security?

Hamed posed another question about who should inherit responsibility of controlling privacy online.

Troiano said he doubted whether the government would have the right answers concerning privacy, but believed that the market would regulate itself.

“There are bad things that happen, but the Internet, in its free form, can counteract those things,” Troiano said.

Filters communicate what is appropriate to access, Stern said, but Rowe argued there should be formal education to teach young people how to search and find credible resources on the Internet.

Nevertheless, education does not need to come from a formal setting. The youth online have the ability to standardize online behavior, Coleman said.

“We have an opportunity, as younger people, to be a part of educating, not only younger people, but our peers about these things,” she said.

– Melissa Kansky