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BIK Youth at COFACE Digital Citizenship Breakfast Byte – Are youth all natural digital citizens?

From Monday, 11 to Wednesday, 20 May 2020, COFACE Families Europe marked the International Day of Families 2020 by hosting Digital Citizenship Breakfast Bytes, a series of eight 90-minute online sessions (from 9:30-11:00 CEST) aiming to increase critical thinking and understanding of the digital world. Four Better Internet for Kids (BIK) Youth Ambassadors hosted the last session, "Are youth all natural digital citizens?" on Wednesday, 20 May 2020, discussing what being a digital citizen meant to them.

Each BIK Youth Ambassador introduced themselves and their work in the field of online safety and internet governance, before sharing their respective perceptions of digital citizenship. Joana, BIK Youth Ambassador from Portugal, opened the session by reflecting on her involvement as a Digital Leader at school, explaining that the main motivating factor for her has been being part of a global network of young people dedicated to changing the digital environment for the better. Youth Ambassadors are expected stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in the field in order to be in a position to share their knowledge and advice with peers. They also propose topics of discussion and start debates in order to gain a general understanding of their peers' opinions, which they then take to pan-European events such as the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) to be able to share these with key stakeholders.

Joana recognised that digital citizenship is an abstract concept which is open to interpretation, and she reflected on whether the concept of citizenship as it is could be transferred to the digital world, and whether we could even separate offline and online citizenship. For her, digital citizenship is fully part of citizenship. In this context, young people want safety, reliability, enjoyment and practicality in the digital world. A digital citizen is someone who is responsible, stays safe, well informed, and strives to make others' experiences in the digital world enjoyable and comfortable. It entails contributing to the improvement of the digital environment by giving feedback, praising positive aspects, outlining potential gaps, and offering ways to improve them. Joana introduced the BIK #YouthForYouth campaign on Instagram as an example of how young people can contribute to a better digital environment for all.

Beyond the focus on young people as digital citizens, Joana also mentioned that all generations have a role to play for a better internet and that they should not be isolated from one another. Young people are generally more disposed to being open-minded and creative, while older generations tend to be more sensible, experienced and organised. As such, intergenerational exchange and cooperation seems promising in order to foster mutual learning and growth.

João, Portuguese BIK Youth Ambassador, has been a youth advocate in the field of online safety since the age of 13, and is now the oldest of the group. In the last four years, João has embraced the wider internet governance ecosystem, attending multi-stakeholder events on the topic, while he pursues a thesis on Artificial Intelligence (AI) ethics. For him, being a digital citizen is about having a say in the digital space he belongs to and, most importantly, being listened to. João emphasised the importance for all stakeholders to truly take into account the views and recommendations of the young people they consult.

João also explained his vision of youth representation, which is split across different models:

  • Awareness: organisations discuss specific problems with young people and try to understand the difficulties they face, which is already a way of representing the views of youth.
  • Engagement: organisations "activate" the young people they address and work to make them leaders of their communities.
  • Participation: ideas, movements and initiatives are brought up by young people themselves, who try to have a voice in the broader community.

João would like to see more young people engaging in participatory processes. Although the aim is not to have every youth at the table, every young person who is willing to join the discussion should be offered a valid proposition.

Lili, Austrian BIK Youth Ambassador, started her involvement in 2015 as she participated in a radio discussion in Vienna, and met the Youth Coordinator of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) who recruited her to the national youth panel. She then joined the pan-European BIK Youth programme the same year, and attended the Safer Internet Forum (SIF) in Luxembourg. Since then, she has been involved in internet security and governance. Lili finished school in 2018 and started university, while simultaneously working at the Austrian SIC where she now is a Youth Coordinator herself; an experience that allows her to realise the dreams she had as a youth panellist, and to enable other young people to have similar experiences.

For Lili, young people are definitely "natural" digital citizens. From the moment they wake up, the first thing they do is check their smartphone, for fear of having missed something during the night. Lili thinks that it is this fear of not being good enough which fuels young people's engagement with the digital world. She wondered whether it is even possible for them not to be digital citizens, and whether they even have a chance not to be. Both online and offline, young people are constantly made to feel like they are not productive, fit, smart (the list goes on…) enough. This does not result from explicit messages that circulate online; rather, this impression is triggered by the fact that social media shows them thousands of other young people who have better, more optimal lifestyles than them.

For Lili, these standards keep getting higher and higher, including offline, where young people are being criticised for having unhealthy addictions to their digital devices. This means that young people are expected to be mindful of their screen time, while also staying up to date with the latest news from around the world, being digitally savvy, and curating their digital identity. That is a lot to think about for a young person. For Lili, it is this fear of not being good enough is what drives the economy today. So how can young people not be digital citizens? According to Lili, what young people need is a middle ground between these two camps, as well as digital literacy, freedom of self-realisation, and a world that is not interested in making profit out of their concerns. What they expect from adults is to enable the youth, and to give them a stage to express themselves.

Finally, Simona, BIK Youth Ambassador from Bulgaria was a member of the 2018 BIK Youth Panel and continues to be a youth panellist with the Bulgarian SIC. In this group, young people develop their digital and media literacy skills and play an important role in the initiatives and events organised by the SIC. As such, Simona has participated in many conferences on online safety. The Bulgarian youth panel also prepares its own campaigns, such as #YouAreTheHero.

For Simona, digital citizenship is the ability to think before you act online. It is respect for others, their privacy, and human rights in the digital environment. Social media are a powerful tool to harm and attack someone, but also to spread positivity and respect. Young people should always ask themselves whether they would say something face to face before sending or uploading it online. For Simona, cyberbullying prevention is an integral part of digital citizenship, and she shared four recommendations in that sense: treat others the way you want to be treated; help the victims of cyberbullying; think before you post; and there's always another way to communicate, to behave and to be.

Find more information about the BIK Youth programme on the Better Internet for Kids website.

To learn more about the COFACE Families Europe Digital Citizenship Breakfast Bytes, please visit coface-eu.org.

  • Type: Youth
  • Date:22/07/2020
  • Author:BIK Team
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