Challenging Myths about Young People and the Internet Practical Participation

29 September 2011 - A Workshop on Access in Nairobi, Kenya


This workshop explores common claims about the impact of the Internet on children and young people & invites participants to explore the evidence base for each. It will identify where policy initiatives are based on misconceptions about young people and the Internet; and will look at areas where current evidence is lacking.

The workshop will draw upon a discussion paper outlining ‘myths’ that young participants in past IGFs, and partner organisations, have identified. Invited panelists will start discussion, but considerable time will be given to facilitated dialogue between workshop participants. The workshop will support evidence based policy making by sharing learning from studies of young people’s contact with the Internet.

Myths to be addressed with be identified through consultation with workshop stakeholders upon workshop acceptance, but will take as a starting point those put forward by danah boyd: Myths #1: The digital is separate from the “real” world; #2: Social media makes kids deceptive; #3: Social media is addictive; #4: Kids don’t care about privacy; #5: The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place; #6: There’s nothing educational about social media; #7: Kids are digital natives; and #8: The Internet is the great equalizer. boyd: Favorite myth-making news articles? September 11th 2010



A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
Claims about youth are central to many Internet Governance discussions. However, many of the claims made about youth and the Internet are based on myth and misperception rather than on reality.

Myths come in a variety of forms. Some are compelling, but mistaken claims: intuitively plausible, but not backed by evidence and research. Others are based on stereotypes or distorted media coverage given to issues. Other myths are propagated by those with vested interests or particular agendas, seeking to secure support for their cause by making exaggerated claims.

Workshop 92 provided a space for constructive dialogue about how we should understand claims made about young people in Internet Governance. Contributions from ten panellists and the floor addressed a wide range of myths or misunderstandings about young people and technology: highlighting where we need to think more deeply before making Internet policy based upon generalisations about children, young people and young adults.

This report looks at the myths in turn, before reporting some general points from discussion at the end. The Youth Coalition on Internet Governance will continue to develop a resource based on these myths to offer as an input for future IGF sessions.

The Myths addressed were:
- That young people are either digital natives, or digitally naive
- That the Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place
- That the Internet is a free playground for youth
- That youth don't care about privacy
- That the Internet is the 'great equalizer'
- That all young Nigerians as cybercriminals
- That social media is addictive
- That young People are all creating their own online content
- The digital is separate from the real world

The full detail of panelists responses to these myths are in the full workshop report (PDF attached) and outline that whilst there may be some foundations for some of the myths, they tend to be unhelpful generalisations when used in Internet Governance debates without deeper critical exploration.


Conclusions and further comments:
The Youth Coalition on Internet Governance will publish a list of the myths, and will encourage future IGF workshops and regional events to seek a deeper understanding of the realities of young people's online lives: addressing important issues such as freedom of expressions, and equality of access to technology, alongside issues of safety and digital literacy.