Curating a conference: young people in a digital world

This is a quick blog post to link to the videos and social reporting content from last week’s Young People in a Digital World conferences in Wales which are now available through the newly launched Digital Youth Wales network.

You can find over five hours content, including a fantastic panel discussion with young people from Swansea schools and colleges, insights from e-Moderation and Moshi Monster’s Chief Community & Safety Officer, my interview with Tanya Byron, and some great examples of digital youth work from Swansea. You might even find a clip of me trying to unpack how, through the lens of youth work values, the Internet provides an exciting opportunity space for youth work.

Curating social reporting

As well as the webcast recordings (created by the ever friendly and professional Richard Jolly and Diarmaid Lynch) the event was also comprehensively ‘socially reported’ with live-blogging, video interviews and more being co-ordinated by David Wilcox and Chie Elliott.

All of which, thanks to the kind support of Sangeet from WISE KIDS who organised the conference, gave me a chance to try out further exploration of curating content from social reporting. Building on the IGF09 Drupal+FeedAPI framework, I’ve put together a micro-site within the Digital Youth Wales site which links together a record of live-blogging, with the webcast video, and any informal social reporting videos for each session.

Take a look here to explore the individual sessions – and do let me know your ideas for how this sort of social reporting aggregation could be improved or further developed…

Checklist for digital youth projects

[Summary: Draft of a new one page guide putting the critical questions approach to online safety into practice]

I’m heading to Coventry tomorrow to lead a training session in using social media for activism for young people involved in the DFID funded Youth For Fair Trade project. We’ll be exploring a whole range of social media tools that project can use to campaign online.

However, it’s important not only to equip young people with the skills to use social media, but we also need to talk about the skills to use social media safely. I’ll be including some elements from the ‘Critical Questions framework‘ I blogged about earlier this year, but, know that we’ll be tight for time on Sunday, and that leaving people with a aide-memoir is always a good thing – I’ve put together a draft one page ‘Social Media Checklist for safe and effective youth projects‘.

You can view it below, download the PDF here, and if you want to adapt and update it, as a word file here.

Like all the one page guides it is under a creative commons license to encourage you to take, remix and share back your updates. This is very much a draft, and so I would welcome your critical questions about it – and reflections on how it could be improved as a resource to support young people thinking positively and proactively about being sensible and safe as online actors.

Social Media Checklist for Youth Projects

Where are the practitioners sensibly addressing online safety?

danah boyd, US based researcher of all things social networking and youth, has put out a much needed call – looking to track down practice on-the-ground where professionals and volunteers working with young people are addressing online safety in their day-to-day work. As I’ve argued when talking about youth work and social networking it’s essential for all practitioners who work with young people to be aware of the internet as an element of young people’s lives, and then to think about how they might support young people to navigate risks and make the most of online opportunities – not by delivering scary presentations about online dangers – but by weaving in consideration of online safety to their regular practice. That might be through explicitly designed activities, or just asking the right questions at the right times.

Like danah, I’ve been talking a lot about the importance of this, but when it comes to finding good examples of it happening on the ground – I draw a blank. Not because it’s not happening – but because, as I discovered in the Action Research for the Youth Work and Social Networking Project, good innovative practitioners are often getting on with being practitioners – not creating case studies for researchers and policy makers. That said, I know a smattering of innovative practitioners do read or stumble across this blog from time-to-time, and hearing your/their stories about addressing online safety in a realistic and grounded way would make a real difference to the debate about how to best support young people on the web.

So – I’ll share with you danah’s call for input, and encourage you, whether you a are a practitioner working with young people, and including online safety in your work – however light-touch and occaisional  – or you know practitioners who address online safety in innovative ways, to drop in a comment – either on this blog post, or on danah’s original.

I need your help. One of our central conclusions in the Internet Safety Technical Task Force Report was that many of the online safety issues require the collective engagement of a whole variety of different groups, including educators, social workers, psychologists, mental health experts, law enforcement, etc. Through my work on online safety, I’ve met a lot of consultants, activists, and online safety experts. Through my work as a researcher, I’ve met a lot of practitioners who are trying to engage youth about these issues through outright fear that isn’t grounded in anything other than myth.

Unfortunately, I haven’t met a lot of people who are on the ground with youth dealing with the messiness of addressing online safety issues from a realistic point of view. I don’t know a lot of practitioners who are developing innovative ways of educating and supporting at-risk youth because they have to in their practices. I need your help to identify these people.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who are speaking about what these partitioners should do, who are advising these practitioners, or who are trying to build curricula/tools to support these practitioners, but I want to learn more about the innovative practitioners themselves.

Please… who’s incorporating sensible online safety approaches into their daily practice with youth in the classrooms, in therapy, in social work, in religious advising, etc.? Who’s out there trying to wade through the myths, get a realistic portrait, and approach youth from a grounded point of view in order to directly help them, not as a safety expert but as someone who works with youth because of their professional role? Who do I need to know?

(And if you’re a practitioner in the UK, or indeed from beyond the UK, who is exploring online safety and opportunity in your work with young people – do come and join fellow practitioners over in the Youth Work Online network…)

EU Kids Online – E-safety? Just get on with it! (And don’t forget opportunity)

[Summary: Notes and reflections from the launch conference of EU Kids Online research]

“Can we just get on with it”. Less talking and more action on child internet safety was the pretty clear message from Tanya Byron responding to the research recommendations at the launch of the EU Kids Online research today. But Tanya also made clear that the action should not be reactive, moral panic driven responses to internet use by young people – making the bold (but essential) statement that “We cannot and must-not build an environment for children to develop within which is built around what we see through the eyes of the most vulnerable child”.

There has been a lot of talk in sessions and coffee breaks today about the need for a more naunced approach to the often moral-panic driven debates about risk – not least with a great input from Janis Wolak reflecting on the different discourses that researchers are intentionally, or unintentionally constructing around the internet and young people. Crucially Janis highlighted the difference between the claim that

(a) The internet has risks

and the claim that:

(b) The internet promotes risks

The discourse often shifts from (a) to (b). But it’s hard to find research which backs this up. Janis encouraged us to consider whether the working hypothesis that appears to underly much work that “the internet amplifies risks” should have a priviledged place over alternative hypothesis such as “the internet can act as a buffer to young people experiencing harms”.

There have been many other insights shared today, most of which I’ve not managed to capture whilst taking notes, so I’ll mainly give a nod to the abstracts and papers from the conference available here – and share just one or two ideas or bits of intformation shared during sessions that I found particularly interesting…

  • In presenting recommendations from the EU Kids Online research, Sonia Livingstone made an interesting contribution to the media literacy debate – arguing that it’s important to keep ‘promoting safety’ as distinct from ‘media literacy building’.

    As I understood the point, Sonia suggested that media literacy programmes often arise because of a recognition that new technology is complex, tricky to regulate, and hard to legislate for when it is international and operating across borders. The new technologies create place new burdens on users to manage their own safety – and media literacy efforts similary ‘outsource’ safety to users.  Some users may not want to, or may not be able to, deal with these new burdens – and hence promoting safety as well as literacy becomes key.

  • Shirley Atkinson has explored how peer-education can play a role in e-safety education in schools in Plymouth and the South-West, with lots of lessons and learning that informal educators could draw upon.
  • The  Youth Protection Roundtable have been doing fascinating work to explore the need for systems that are ‘safer by design’ – and have a toolkit (that I’ve yet to read in depth I’ll admit) with an overview of techncal and process work on online youth protection.

And I thought it may be helpful to add links to few resources and other blog posts I’ve been working on which overlap with some of the focus in the EU Kids Online project:

And also – the Youth Work Online Network, Connected Generation unConference on the 11th July 2009, and the Network Particatipation space are all spaces of ongoing dialogue about positive work with young people online – which builds on safe-and-sound foundations.

Online Citizenship for young people – e-safety project ideas

[Summary: Ideas for online citizenship, digital youth work and e-safety programmes]

Project proposals
Project proposals

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Jonathan and Jackie from the E-Safety Sub-Group of Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board to develop ideas for a range of projects and programmes that could be run in the Borough to promote positive online citizenship amongst young people.

Brent LSCB have long been leaders in the drive to encourage every local authority to have an e-safety group within their Local Safeguarding Children Boards – and in encouraging organisations working with young people to have e-safety co-ordinators. Refreshingly their focus has not just been on a narrow definition of e-safety and safeguarding – but they have pro-actively recognised the importance of supporting young people to thrive online and be active online citizens as a means to promote online safety. And they have been very kind in letting me share the project and strategy ideas we developed.

So – here is Citizenship for Young People: promoting e-safety through promoting opportunity – proposals for positive project as a PDF download.

The document sets out a small portfolio of projects – some specific to the work in Brent – but, along with the critical questions I shared from this document previously, hopefully also provides a few general purpose projects that others working on e-safety might find useful. In particular:

  • The Content Creators (PDF) project proposal sets out a process for encouraging young people to consider online safety through creating digital media in their local areas. In particular, it works alongside the Critical Questions framework in the main document to suggest a series of stages of planning and working on online content with young people that provides opportunities to consider and reflect upon key online safety issues.

    Draft structure for the Content Creators programme
    Structure for the Content Creators programme
  • The proposal for Skill Swap sessions (PDF) suggests ways of getting young people to teach each other about online tools and technologies – and suggests using this as an opportunity to add in some e-safety messages. Underlying a skill-swap model, where young people are encouraged to teach each other about managing their online identities and keeping safe is a belief in building young people’s resiliency, rather than putting up barriers to protect young people; and a thesis that, given the right opportunities for reflection and discussion, young people are able to identify relatively unprompted, many of the steps they may need to take to be safe online.

    Both Content Creators and Skill Swap sessions have possible use in digital mentor style programmes with young people.

  • The Connection Hubs proposal (PDF) has a slightly different focus – on online outreach and taking content to where young people are. It outlines a possible strategy for having a core project presence online, and then ‘hubs’ out in different social media and social networking spaces to be able to engage with the online communities of young people in those spaces. It also fits with the idea of having a content strategy rather than a web strategy.

All the above are under a Creative Commons licence, and are very much initial ideas and sketches of possible projects. Brent LSCB have only been able to take a few of them forward at the moment, but hopefully in allowing them to be shared there may also be some value in here for other organisations exploring e-safety.

And of course – your feedback, reflections and comments (and edits even – let me know if you would like to Open Office/Word originals to work on) to help improve these would be most welcome.

E-Safety. Moving from restrictions & messages to critical questions

Moving from messages to questions
Moving from messages to questions

[Summary: Practical questions to use in e-safety education when working with social media and social networking sites]

Later this month the House of Lords will be spending two and a half hours discussing young people and social networking sites in a debate initiated by Lord Toby Harris. As Shane McCracken has pointed out, a focus on “the adequacy of safeguards to protect [young people’s] privacy and interests” risks as debate leading towards legislation to restrict and control how social network sites function or young people’s use of them. However, even if Shane’s more hopefuly scenario of “increased awareness about the need to educate young people and parents about internet privacy issues” results, we could still end up heading in the wrong direction.

Far too often e-safety education places it’s focus on communicating ‘safety messages’ which are either counter-intuitive to the active social network using young person (‘don’t share any personal information online’) or which end over-detailed, complex or in contradiction with the way social network sites operate (‘use a nick name’ – ‘but it asks for a real name’). Plus, being aware of a safety message and putting its content into practice are two very different things.

In a project I’ve been working on for the Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board E-Safety Subcommittee we’ve tried to explore how, instead of a focus on safety messages, we can use critical questions* to structure education about safe use of social media, whilst promoting the opportunities that new technologies offer at the same time. Using a critical questions approach can enable professionals to facilitate young people’s own exploration of safe and effective uses of new media, without the professional needed to be a new-media expert.

Here’s the current working draft of our question-bank:
All these questions were designed be asked in the context of some form of purpose driven online-communication – such as using a blog, social network or social messaging tool to run a campaign on a local issue. The questions are divided into six sections.

1) Think about: the idea

  • What are you trying to communicate?
  • Why?

2) Think about: intended audience

  • Who are you doing it for?
  • Who might also be interested in what you have created/posted/shared?
  • How long do you want it to be available online for?
  • Do you want to allow others to copy and remix it? Or should it be covered by copyright?

3) Think about: the impact of the information or media you are sharing

  • What difference do you want it to make?
  • What other impact could it have?
  • Could anyone get upset because of it?
  • What good things could happen because it it? What bad things could happen?

4) Think about: identity
Thinking about how you have/will share this information or media:

  • Is it/will it be linked to personal information about you? Who can see that information?
  • Do you just have one identity online, or are you a different person in different spaces?

5) Think about: interaction
Thinking about information or media that you have shared:

  • Who are you connecting with through it? Do you know them? Is it ok if you don’t know them?
  • Can people leave comments and feedback on it?
  • How would you respond to a comment from someone you don’t know?
  • How would you respond to a comment that said something hurtful or aggressive to you, or to a friend?

6) Think about: each other

  • What would you do if a friend shared a photo or video of you online that you didn’t want shared?
  • What would you do if you had shared a photo of someone and they asked you to delete it?
  • What would you do if someone you know was spending all their time talking to someone online who they have never met?
  • What would you do if you were worried about your friends being bullied?

Using critical questions

Whilst these questions don’t give explicit safety messages – in encouraging young people to develop their own understand and literacy with digital tools they are designed to act as a vehicle for exploring safety messages. In Brent I’m hoping that, with continued development, they will form the backbone of a programme encouraging young people to develop their digital literacy whilst creating and sharing online content about their local area.

Draft structure for the Content Creators programme
Draft structure for the Content Creators programme

However, I believe that moving from a ‘safety messages’ to a ‘critical questions’ and a ‘literacy building’ frame of engagement with social networking and social media also has other implications:

Some questions for you

I’ve not yet had chance to pilot and evaluate the critical questions framework in depth – and I’m keen to make sure it continues to develop to be as useful as possible in ensuring young people take up online opportunities in safe and effective ways. I would really value feedback from anyone working on e-safety:

  • In your experience, how well equipped are the young people you work with to respond to these sorts of critical questions about their online activity?
  • Are there other key questions you would add to get young people to consider issues not raised above?
  • How would these questions work with different age groups? In our experience is there an age range for whom safety messages, rather than critical literacy building, is the only option?

*Critical questions – as in ‘constructive criticism’ or ‘questions that make you think and re-evaluate activity or behaviour’.