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Do we want to give young people the possibilities, the methods, and the tools to support Internet governance within their own environments and in their own ways? If yes, how? There are opportunities for youth to participate and engage in Internet governance (IG), such as the first-ever Youth IGF Summit hosted in Berlin, Germany, as a prelude to the IGF 2019. Here and now, with over 100 participants the discussions seek further youth perspectives.
The main challenges for youth in Internet discussions centre on the lack of the right kind of language and context for youth, where youth opinions, suggestions, and demands can be added to policy discussions. There is also a lack of information, know-how, and opportunity for youth to become actively engaged in the Internet governance ecosystem. Youth also need to provide more outputs to feed into the various Internet governance processes.
In Australia, according to Mr Elliot Mann (ISOC IGF Ambassador), there are low levels of youth involvement in Internet governance, perceiving it as an area driven by academics. But this is improving since the implementation of the Youth IGF. As motivating factors, he pointed out that Internet governance is also a good introduction to a career in tech policy-making and international policy. For computer science graduates it is a way of merging policy with a science that can open additional career pathways. Tech policy jobs will be the last ones to be replaced as AI looms over us.
South Korea hosted its first Youth IGF this year, as part of the South Korea IGF, as a result of capacity building initiatives such as ICANN’s Asia Pacific Internet Governance Academy (APIGA), explained Ms Jaewon Son, (Organiser of South Korea IGF and South Korea Youth IGF). In addition, mentorships and funds are needed for youth to sustain and navigate their active participation. The Youth4IG in Asia was recently formed to unite youth engaged in IG and bridge the mentorship gap. In the spirit of the multistakeholderism, it is important to attract youth from all walks of life, not just people who study computing-related fields. Getting young people to participate and understand different views on the multistakeholder concept is useful for future dialogue as well. Offering interesting and interactive training programmes is also key.
The lack of funding and other economic barriers to attending IG events and meetings underline nearly all discussions by youth initiatives. The lack of professional opportunities and the dependence on fellowship or sponsorships further dilute youth engagement in IG.
Youth need to be educated and trained not just about IG but also must keep up with constant changes in the IG ecosystem. The self-learning curve is high and tedious, and many sessions can be too complex to easily fully decipher, which, in turn, discourages youth and other newcomers from contributing meaningfully. Addressing the knowledge gap for middle and high school students is still an unexplored area. There is ample scope to bring students into IG at a much earlier age. Adding more emphasis on digital literacy, privacy, and similar topics is needed.
But the most important question is: How can we engage young people in training programmes like IGF fellowships and increase their influence? Whether it is facilitating an IGF workshop, helping create a global policy for domain names at ICANN, or helping write a request for comments (RFC), we must offer meaningful opportunities to learn and engage. The increased number of initiatives for and by youth, especially national and regional IGFs (NRIs) which also include Youth IGFs can be better leveraged with increased co-ordination among these initiatives.
Suggesting how to foster meaningful continued engagement, Mr Edmon Chung (DotAsia) noted the example of the global IGF 2015, where everyone from the youth community was talking about crucial subjects such as zero rating, Facebook’s Free Basics, and various human rights-related topics. The public outcry, especially from young people, did make a difference. Focusing on certain particular issues is important and helps youth realise their voices can make a difference.
Another way to increase motivation is to work with traditional youth engagement organisations like the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), which is open to all people without regard to a person's religion and gender. ‘Engaging traditional youth organisations is just as important as starting new initiatives.’ added Chung.
Programmes and initiatives such as the Internet Society (ISOC) and CGI.br’s Youth Observatory, Digital Grassroots, and Youth4IG were built by young people trying to mobilise more youth to join IG processes and localising them to be relevant to their local communities. The real benefit of attending IG events and processes is in learning and taking what’s learned back to one's community and join open micro-discussions. Engagement will be enhanced if conscious actions are taken to include youth organisations in IG strategies. This workshop organised by youth is testimony to the output and contribution to discussions by youth.
By Mili Semlani