As we work to foster the multistakeholder model in Internet governance, we must include the voices of youth. They’ve grown up in the age of the Internet, where using connected devices is second nature and we’re beginning to have conversations around issues like encryption and privacy. Young people deserve not just a seat at the table, but to have a say.
Which is why the Internet Society supported the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) USA Youth Day Zero. It’s an event for young people to come together, discuss the Internet policy issues they care most about, and brainstorm potential solutions ahead of the IGF USA. Held at the Center for Democracy & Technology, Day Zero brought together youth from across civil society and academia to ask questions of professionals and talk with one another. It also provided an opportunity for young people to create and foster connections with one another.
The first panel featured professionals who shared how youth could get involved in Internet governance – and the importance of their participation. The panelists were Dustin Phillips (co-chair of the Internet Governance Forum USA and executive director of the Internet Society’s DC chapter), Katie Jordan (Senior Policy Advisor at the Internet Society’s North America Regional Bureau), Marilyn Cade (CEO of mCade LLC), Emma Llansó (Director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology), Rob Winterton (Director of Communications at NetChoice), and Melinda Clem (co-chair of the Internet Governance Forum USA and Vice President of Strategy at Afilias).
They shared advice, especially that youth should try to have a little bit of expertise in many different areas rather than focusing all of their attention onto one specific topic so early on in their careers. Similarly, they encouraged youth to focus on building up skills rather than pigeon-holing themselves into a single area.
The panel also stressed the importance of simply being young in the technology sector. Winterton said young people were inherently valuable by virtue of growing up with technology. The panelists empowered and encouraged the participants to use their ingrained skills to their advantage and not to shy away from sharing their perspectives.
The bulk of the event was a policy “hackathon” in which participants chose an issue they cared about, divided into breakout groups, and devised potential policy solutions for the issues at hand. Many participants discussed content moderation on online platforms and how online radicalization could move into the physical world. Certain ideologies can find spaces to convene online but they can also bring the violence they discuss to the outside world.
Another breakout group discussed encryption and arguments for why youth want stronger encryption. Young people – particularly women – may be worried for their safety and how hackers could use their data to compromise their security. At the same time, young women would want to be able to control their data, including who has access to it data.
In a hypothetical scenario, a young woman in a city could go missing during a run. If she has her running data uploaded to Strava (an app where friends can follow each other’s runs), the followers – whom she approves – would know her normal routes and could provide information as to where she might have been when she went missing. In this case, it would be useful and potentially life-saving to share sensitive, location-based data.
The encryption group’s potential solutions proposed avoiding the “backdoor” approach and instead relying on stronger encryption and privacy standards that allows user choice in data-sharing habits. Many young people have been online for most of their lives, and encryption would better protect their current and past data.
The group also floated the idea of an “emergency contact” system in which a user could allow a trusted family member or friend to access their digital life in case of emergency. However, that system could exacerbate potential harm if a user is pressured to make their proxy an abusive partner, parent, or friend. This system also does not allow a user to choose who gets to access which aspects of their digital life; a user may feel comfortable letting a family member know their location, but not their banking and health information.
Because they grew up with technology, young people inherently have a different perspective on platforms, devices, and security than seasoned professionals do. This different perspective is reason enough to include them in Internet governance conversations. They are used to the pace of technological change and are accustomed to having so much of their lives online.
While youth can be difficult to reach, they could engage through channels such as listservs, academia and professors, and social media. Moving forward, we should value the insights that youth can bring to Internet governance conversations. We can do that by providing more spaces for young people to come together, learn from each other, and prepare for discussions with others.