"Under 18: Blogs, Wikis and Online Social Networks for Youth". The moderator was: Andrea Forte of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The panelists were: Danah Boyd PhD Candidate, USC Annenberg Center; Anastasia Goodstein Publisher, Ypulse; Kate Raynes-Goldie TakingITGlobal; Erin Reilly Exec Dir, Platform Shoes Forum; and Elisabeth Sylvan Researcher, MIT Media Laboratory. The presentation started with a slide which read "Young People Online are ... a constant mortal danger or fulfilling their inner potential?" This was a pretty good summary of the conversation.After attending a panel on collaboration earlier this morning, I attended the panel
Background Context from Danah Boyd
Each panelist opened with a brief presentation. Danah Boyd's opening provided great context for the rest of the discussion. She talked about how a hundred years ago 14 - 17 year olds participated in society and were mentored by adults. Then during the great depression the government instituted a policy of forcing 14 - 17 year olds to attend high school. She talked about how this began a process of creating a dynamic she called 'Age Segregation'. The concept behind this segregation being that society creates separate activities for teenagers. This however didn't change the fact that 14 - 17 year olds still yearn to participate and express themselves to society at large. The difference is that in the last few years they have begun doing it online. She pointed out 4 things that make this unique:
(1) Persistence - The fact that comments, posts, social network pages don't go away
(2) Searchability - The fact that anyone can find information about others easily. She commented that her mother would have loved to be able to easily search about her interactions, but when she was growing up this wasn't possible.
(3) Replicability - The fact that you can easily replicate a conversation (such as IM) in many other places (such as a MySpace Page)
(4) Invisible Audiences - The fact that you don't know who you're talking to.
With this background, the panel focused on three questions:
(1) What are young people getting out of their online lives?
(2) What is reality when it comes to dangers for young people online?
(3) What kinds of social, technological/design solutions are there once we identify experiences we want to facilitate and/or prevent?
What are young people getting out of their online lives?
The panelist all seemed to agree that while the medium has certainly changed and the four attributes of the medium mentioned by Danah certainly bring new implications to this, the things young people are getting out of an online experience aren't that new or different.
Interestingly, Anastasia talked about how individuals are really doing the same thing we did growing up; but doing it online. Also, she pointed out that while young people are doing a number of activities online, research indicates that the thing they value most is the ability to do research online. This led to Andrea talked about how she is helping bring wikis to high schools. In doing this, she has realized how scared teachers are of wikis. This lead to a nice conversation about the dangers of the COPA (Children's Online Protection Act), which threatens to eliminate access to social sites at public schools and libraries.
What is the reality when it comes to dangers for young people online
This was probably the most interesting part of the panel. Danah talked about how she grew up with a good understanding of who were strangers and not to talk to them. However, strangers were completely contextual. For example, the other children she met on the first day of school were not strangers. She feels that most young people in her research have a similar understanding of who is and who is not a stranger online.
The challenge arises when the young person has problems in general. Now, because of the "invisible audiences", a young person who is having a rough time is much more vulnerable. Therefore, she feels we need to leverage this for good - for example, she asked 'what if we had online social workers monitoring MySpace?'
Danah also pointed out that young people can teach us a lot about the act of online collaboration. For example, why do young people break up in the comments of another person's MySpace? According to her research, the reason is that they know that any other electronic conversation (such as IM) can morph. In My Space, a set of 'digital bread crumbs' is left to keep the record straight. She said young people intuitively know this and can add a lot to the conversation - we just need to learn to listen and engage them in dialogue.
Technology and Other Solutions
This led to the most controversial part of the panel: should we try to develop some type of 'Cyber-Ethics'? The idea being we would cover topics like: Online Cheating, Online Plagiarism, and Cyberbullying. Some panelist were of the opinion that we needed to start developing these and educating people. Others felt it wasn't a good idea to break this out as a separate topic - but instead we just should listen and learn and try to teach in general. Also, one of the panelists made the excellent point that this isn't exclusively an issue for schools - parents and other mentors need to get involved too. This received a very warm reception.
Also, while the panel was fairly universal that technology doesn't solve all the problems, they were of the opinion that it is important to educate people about some technology solutions. For example, while there is a lot of concern around plagerism, there are tools now that can easily help teachers identify this.
It was nice to see so many at SXSW engaged in this conversation. I also was impressed at how many people raised their hand at the beginning to indicate they are educators (probably 10% of the audience) The challenges and opportunities are great, but this was a particularly influential group of web leaders with which to converse about these topics.