Giving the floor to youth at EuroDIG 2019: Their future, their voice, their right

  • Youth
  • 16/07/2019
  • BIK Youth

The opportunities for children that result from the widespread digital environment available today are undeniable and virtually limitless. However, such opportunities are accompanied with many risks such as cyberbullying, grooming, sexual abuse or other types of exploitation. It is, therefore, extremely important to enable children and young people to freely exercise their rights of access to information, social participation, freedom of expression and privacy in the digital world.

In this context, a workshop entitled "Children in the digital age - How to balance their right to freedom and their right to be protected?" was held during the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) 2019 which took place in The Hague, The Netherlands on 19-20 June 2019. The workshop's aim was to discuss suitable policy recommendations that would allow young people to exercise their rights and freedoms in the digital world freely. To voice the opinions of young people, Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Youth Ambassadors Liliane (Austria), João Pedro (Portugal) and Charalampos (Greece) participated in the workshop.

The discussion, which was moderated by Jutta Croll of Stiftung Digitale Chancen, revolved around the following questions:

  • Do children know their rights and how do they interpret their rights?
  • What challenges to their rights arise from their everyday life?
  • What opportunities does the digital environment provide for exercising their rights?
  • What do children expect from policy and other stakeholders?

The workshop was a great and informative session for the participants as the observations, opinions and ideas voiced touched upon very important aspects of children's rights in the digital era. Active participation of the BIK Youth Ambassadors ensured the relevance of the discussion to the younger generation, enriched the discussion, and shaped the final messages and policy recommendations.

The session highlighted the fact that the rights of young people in this context are shaped by adults, who do not have the same understanding as children and youth. What is more, there are not enough platforms available for children and young people to voice their opinions and their participation is not taken seriously enough by policymakers. BIK Youth Ambassador João Pedro informed the audience that the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) is one such example where young people find opportunities to voice their opinions. Referring to decision makers and industry, he rhetorically asked "Is someone listening? Who is listening?" and added that "if the messages of the youth are not heard, you create frustration". Similarly, Liliane exclaimed that people often acknowledge her participation in such events and call it ‘cool', but they never actually ask her opinion; "I just spent time working on something, but does it actually have an input?".

It was also argued that dialogue with youth should be based on what they are actually doing and not what adults assume they are doing. From there, moving to what rights they have will prove to be more productive in encouraging them to participate and voice their ideas to shape their future. One final point on the issue of participation was offered by Liliane: a possible way to overcome the challenge of reaching youth to encourage them to participate would be to make various online platforms deploy the Smart Active Participation Algorithm (SAPA). She defined it as an algorithm which would replace some of the advertisements children and young people get via social media platforms with content encouraging them to participate in events such as EuroDIG and YOUthDIG.

Another issue raised during the session was the use of heavy legal language when explaining their rights, as well as in the terms and conditions of many popular services which young people use. It was suggested that a more accessible language should be developed to better explain their rights. In terms of improving accessibility, participants also discussed the necessity to not see children as a homogenous group; there are various subcategories (such as vulnerable groups, ones living in poverty, children with social-emotional issues, and so on) that have different needs when it comes to the use of the internet. Moreover, it was also noted that not all children have access to the internet, hence it is important to provide more access points for those with less or no connectivity so that more children can learn about and exercise their rights.

One final topic which the participants of the workshop focused on was digital literacy education. The discussion was initiated by BIK Youth Ambassador Charalampos' comments regarding the need for digital literacy education, not just for the children and young people, but also for adults (such as parents, teachers and other educational staff). It was argued that children may have some knowledge of their rights at best, but better equipping them with such knowledge requires a digital literacy education that encompasses them as well as the people around them. Moreover, industry and data controllers should also assume part of the responsibility, in order to foster a multi-stakeholder approach to digital literacy education.

The last part of the workshop was a short reiteration of key points for policymakers, which resulted in three messages:

  • Give more room to the voices of children and young people, acknowledging them as a serious and important part of the discussion.
  • Develop a fully-fledged digital literacy programme for all parties.
  • Involve industry in utilising SAPA or similar algorithms to encourage youth participation.

One particular aspect of the success of this session was the fact that all three messages were based on ideas by the BIK Youth Ambassadors, essentially proving the possibility and value of youth participation in the field of internet governance.

For more on the work of BIK Youth Ambassadors, see the BIK Youth minisite.

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