This year to mark Safer Internet Day, 5Rights has sent hundreds of copies of the Digital Times to schools across London. The Digital Times is a newspaper co-produced with children and young people who participated in 5Rights’ Data Literacy programme last year. It showcases how a different approach to digital literacy can make young people both safer and more empowered online.
Each article interrogates a different issue, debated by the young people: how could and should companies make terms and conditions fairer (p9)? How did they feel about being profiled, and that the inferences made by algorithms might be inaccurate (p5)? What is the cost of a reputation? It is ethical or fair to be able to pay for online reputational management? Is an internet that never forgets harmful for young people’s futures? (p9). What information were they happy to share with companies? (p2 - it turns out only the name of their ‘favourite band’).
“I am angry that people I don’t know are looking and finding out things that only I should know or my friends.”
In our work with children and young people, we have repeatedly found that digital technologies are central to young peoples’ lives, and they want it to remain so. But they do want more ‘meaningful’ control of devices and services, because they struggle to manage their time. They are frustrated by an e-safety agenda that focuses on adults’ fears, rather than one which reflects their own experiences and challenges. They want digital platforms to offer fairer terms for young people, including taking less data and putting less pressure on them to fit-in and be popular.
“There should be some sort of education that is not just about cyber-bullying and stuff, but generally about how the internet and companies on the internet work, and that they’re not necessarily doing everything in your favour”.
5Rights has used these insights to develop a different approach to digital literacy. Our workshops begin equip young people with critical skills and knowledge of the commercial drivers and designs in the digital environment so that they can engage not just as consumers, but designers and architects. We call it Data Literacy.
The Digital Times illustrates what happens when young people are given knowledge about the business model of the digital services they use, and an opportunity to express their hopes, fears and concerns about the digital space. They become active and critical drivers for the change that they want to see. They even started to redesign the digital world, using their own experiences to form the basis of ideas for new apps (p10).
Children and young people want and need to participate in online environments knowledgeably, creatively, and fearlessly. Their education must empower them to do this.