Peer education and youth participation for digital citizenship

SaferNet Brasil has been working in different ways to strengthen youth engagement since 2012. Considering the intensity of young people’s online presence and their need for self-expression, explore content and contacts, enable civic participation and learn, the mobile connection requires more efforts on self-protection and critical thinking education to allow a responsible autonomy in this new digital connected world.

2021-03-17 SaferNet, Brazilian SIC+ pilot programme participant awareness, youth hate speech children and young people, media specialist, organisations and industry, research, policy and decision makers

We believe that peer education and direct engagement of youth are game-changers to promote positive reflection and safer internet use habits. When children may potentially be always online, everywhere, the strategies to raise awareness and prevent online harm start by learning how to deal with risks and offering proper mediation to strengthen maturity and citizenship. Working with peer education enables a more friendly approach and a different style of mediation, avoiding adult-centric interventions.

In 2013, SaferNet launched a Youth Programme during the Brazilian Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and, in 2015, during the international IGF in Joao Pessoa, the Youth Programme was expanded under the auspices of the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br), in partnership with Google and Intel. The engagement in a broader internet governance debate is vital, but we also believe that we need to stimulate and support concrete action at the community level. Trying to enforce these strategies, in 2018 we created a Youth Ambassadors Programme for Brazilian Safer Internet Day activities, training young leaders to develop awareness activities across the country.

Also in 2018, SaferNet developed a more robust and ambitious project, the SaferLab, to offer a two-year support base to vulnerable youth groups to innovate on counter-narratives against online hate speech. With support from Google.org and partnership with UNICEF, SaferLab was a creative lab that aimed to inspire, empower and support young people to be protagonists in the creation of counter-narratives to tackle hate speech and online discrimination based on gender and ethnicity, within the principles of human rights. Results of the SaferLab project show how powerful youth participation is in creating innovative strategies to deal with human rights issues on daily digital routines. The groups produced online safety training content for young activists, an online royalty-free repository with non-stereotypical photos of Brazilian LGBT people, and a podcast on how to deal with hate speech against Amazonian women by giving voice to their narratives on issues related to health, sexual and reproductive rights focused on the traditional knowledge of the Amazonian forest peoples. Also, other groups created inspirational positive content about racial issues for educators, a campaign to confront xenophobic internet speech, content to encourage Black people to self-care and search for support to deal with mental health, and an anti-racist bot to create a racial education environment on Twitter and promote Black creator’s content. Finally, among other great projects, we helped young leaders to develop a campaign to share life stories about transgender people, and a platform to help women to fight violence and to find resources to break the cycle of violence. These were some concrete examples of great changes that youth groups can produce when we offer resources to support their ideas to promote a more positive digital environment; more information can be found here (in English).

In 2020, SaferNet developed a new youth programme, now supported by Facebook. “Digital Citizenship” (Cidadao Digital) is also a mixture of capacity building and a creative lab that again aimed to inspire, empower and support young people to be protagonists, this time by using the “train the trainer” model and focusing on peer education to foster online safety, well-being, and media/digital literacy activities for public schools in Brazil. In that year, we trained 15 youth ambassadors who impacted more than 97,000 teenage/young students and 61,000 educators, particularly from public schools, during the COVID-19 outbreak in Brazil. In a period of 5 months, the ambassadors promoted 660 remote activities, such as online classes, WhatsApp activities, online games, video teasers, and live stream/open meetings, in 19 different Brazilian states. 

Partnerships were essential throughout the project, with 234 partners joining or organising activities with us, particularly public schools, NGOs, and public education departments, as well as private companies and federal representatives. Our main goals were achieved successfully: empower teenagers from public schools, support educators with an e-learning course and educational materials, provide capacity building, mentoring and resources to youth ambassadors (including a scholarship to support their activities with students), and promote online events to highlight best activities to policy and local decision makers. Recognising digital exclusion patterns and other social inequalities that public schools face in Brazil was vital, so our youth ambassadors created activities for low-connectivity communities (using WhatsApp, for example), and even engaged in public TV broadcasting to promote awareness activities during the remote learning period required by the COVID -19 pandemic. 

Based on the train the trainer model, the core methodology of youth training was based on webinars, online mentoring, and challenges of online content creation. The content was adaptable to different contexts and designed to help young people focus their communication and education skills on the project topics. With an Action Toolkit (available in English) we provided a full range of educational activities ideas, both in-person and remotely. To also connect and engage educators, we offered an e-learning course with the same topics as the youth training. The project also had some formal agreements with public education departments that included the topics and materials of the project featuring in their activity agenda, so allowing a more scalable impact. One example is the educational content produced for some public educational TV channels, which will continue to be broadcast in the long term.

Beyond the COVID-19 context, a huge global challenge, we face other different challenges to implement peer education projects at scale. Examples are not only the saturation of online meetings but also that some public schools find it hard to plan e-learning activities in a continuum and systematic approach, beyond the COVID-19 quarantine exception. “Digital burnout” is also an issue to engage new audiences, so we invited experts to carefully approach mental health and well-being topics. We recognise the need for more specific content and content accessible for people with disabilities. Engaging students from states of Brazil that historically face disproportionately low connectivity rates and weaker public policies for human rights education is an ongoing challenge to achieve a more balanced participation of different Brazilian communities. Those challenges encourage us all to keep working to find new approaches and sustainable strategies. 

For more information about the organisation, visit the SaferNet Brasil website. For more information about Safer Internet Day activities in Brazil, visit the Brazilian Safer Internet Day Committee profile page. To learn more about the SIC+ pilot programme, read our dedicated article on the Better Internet for Kids portal.

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