As part of the Kids Have Your Say project, coordinated globally by ConnectSafely, Insight , our U.S. partner, My Digital Tat2 convened a meeting of high school students in East Palo Alto, CA on September 19th to talk about what they want the internet to look like. Similar meetings are taking place around the world. If you want to participate, visit SmarterInternet.org for more information.
The teens were initially handed a form to write-down their top issues and concerns but they quickly abandoned that approach, feeling like the issues were more nuanced, and instead just talked about their concerns.
What emerged was the impression that the internet and mobile technology was working for them. They were getting a great deal out of being online. But, as you might expect, not all was rosy. The teens had their complaints about both institutional issues and online behavioral issues.
Chief among their concerns was a lack of authenticity, which manifests itself in numerous ways including the posting of incorrect information (“fake news”), being acting and posing in authentic ways (“people putting on a facade”), people saying things “even when they don’t know what their talking about.”
The conversation around manipulating your image online to look as good as possible got a mixed reaction. Some argued that it makes others feel worse about themselves and contributes to a culture of narcissism and inauthenticity but others defended the practice, arguing that it’s good to try to look your best online. One person said “we don’t recognize real.”
One teen pointed out that there are ways to change the sound of your voice to try to convince someone that you’re not the person or even the gender you claim to be. Some talked about people impersonating celebrities and how some vulnerable teens have come to believe that a celebrity is in love with them. That, said one participant, is why it’s so important to look for verified account badges.
The group also talked about more insidious forms of impersonation and lying about one’s identity, such as “catfishing,” where someone pretends to be someone else for the purpose of deceiving and often hurting their victims. One of the teens explained why some fall for catfishing, “the need for a connection overcomes the possibility of being played.”
Too much ‘drama’
Perhaps surprisingly to some adults, the term “cyberbullying,” was barely mentioned, but there was plenty of talk about “drama.” A couple of the teens even felt that what is sometimes called bullying is really “drama for the sake of drama,” in that the person saying negative things is motivated more around getting attention (even if anonymously) and creating “drama for the sake of drama” then hurting others, even though that may sometimes be the result.
There was talk about ignorance and bigotry from this group of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and caucasians both straight and LGBTQ. One person complained about “ignorant white people” posting on topics like Black Lives Matter, even if “they know nothing about it.” Another complained about “white radical conservatives” making “hateful comments.”
There was generally agreement with the comment, “People feel justified sharing even if they don’t know what they’re talking about. They just want attention but they’re detracting from serious topics.” Another added, “people need to take time to be empathetic. People ‘go in with an opinion’ and ‘find ignorant people to reinforce it.'”
One person added, “Some people don’t’ mean to harm but don’t know the weight of their words,” referring to a “new type of bullying just to get a reaction.”
Social media habits
There was support for services like Snapchat where teens can post stories that disappear after awhile because “you don’t care what you look like, you can be more authentic.” There was also talk of “not posting to everyone,” being “more personal,” and “catching up with friends.”
The Kids Have Your Say project will be formally announced on November 12th at the U.N. Internet Governance Forum in Paris.