From international climate change activism to engagement with hyperlocal issues, youth have tapped into the networking power of social media and other online spaces to build communities, inform themselves, and engage in social and cultural change. How is digital media providing unique ways for youth to advocate for more positive outcomes for themselves and their peers? How does the intersection of race, gender, class, and age affect what online leadership and engagement looks like for different youth subpopulations? What can caregivers, educators, and communities do to embrace and safely encourage children’s desire to get involved in social movements for positive change online?
Children and Screens’ #AskTheExperts webinar “Engaged for Change: Youth, Digital Spaces, and Social Movements” was held on Thursday, April 27, 2023 at 12pm via Zoom. A panel featuring a leading youth digital advocate and experts in adolescent development, education, and social welfare examined the development of civic engagement in young people, provided examples of online youth leadership and community, reviewed challenges and risks youth may encounter, and discussed factors that enhance positive use of digital spaces.
Dana R. Fisher, PhDProfessor of Sociology; PresidentModerator
Maru Gonzalez, EdDAssistant Professor; Youth Development Specialist
Tiera Tanksley, PhDAssistant Professor of Race, Technology & Education
Shakuntala Banaji, PhDProfessor of Media, Culture and Social Change; Programme Director,
Laura Wray-Lake, PhDProfessor of Social Welfare
Emma LembkeFounder and Executive Director
[Kris Perry]: Welcome everyone to today’s Ask the Experts Webinar: Engaged for Change, Youth Digital spaces and social movements. I am Kris Perry, executive director of Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. We’ve all heard the sayings, “children are our future” or “the children of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” While these are certainly true, they overlook the roles that youth may play as leaders of today in their families, schools, communities and even around the world. Among other developmental changes, adolescence is marked by increased abstract and complex thinking, and this can drive motivations for action that might bring positive changes to their lives and the lives of those around them. Looking back across history, it is perhaps not new that young people are getting involved in or even leading these efforts. But the increasing visibility and access through digital platforms is new and might be shifting the landscape of these experiences. Today, we’ve brought together a panel of experts, including a youth digital advocate, to examine the development of leadership, engagement and action in young people to review the opportunities, challenges and risks youth may encounter when building communities and movements for change, and to discuss factors that may enhance positive outcomes, including how adults best support youth who are interested in getting involved. The panel has reviewed your pre submitted questions, but please feel free to submit additional questions throughout the workshop using the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. The recording of today’s workshop will be available on our Youtube channel next week for those who wish to rewatch or share. Now, I am thrilled to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Dana R. Fisher. Dr. Fisher is a professor in the sociology department at the University of Maryland, the president of the Eastern Sociological Society and a nonresident senior fellow with the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution. Her research focuses on questions related to democracies, civic engagement, activism and climate politics. Professor Fisher has authored over 75 research papers and book chapters and has written six books. Welcome, Dana.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you so much for having me, Kris. And welcome everybody to this exciting event to talk about youth, digital spaces and social movements. As Chris already kindly introduced me, I just thought I would talk for a minute about kind of setting the scene, if you will. As I mentioned, I’ve been studying youth civic engagement and activism for almost 25 years now. And one of the things that’s really interesting and is particular to this moment is the way that digital affordances have grown and as they have grown over this past period of time, so to have the opportunities for engagement, connection, movement building, but also challenges have arisen. The group has put together today an amazing panel of scholars and experts who can speak about how these affordances are providing opportunities for young people and for social movements, but also providing challenges. So with that, I’d like to get us moving to talk to our panelists. I’m going to begin today or will begin today by talking with Laura Wray-Lake. Laura is a professor of social welfare at UCLA. Her research examines the development of civic engagement in adolescents and young adulthood and factors that enhance youth civic engagement. She has received grant funding from the National Science Foundation, the Templeton Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and AmeriCorps. She received a mid-career award for Research Excellence from the Society for Research on Adolescence and serves as an associate editor for the Journal for Research on Adolescence. Without further ado, go ahead. Dr. Wray-Lake
[Dr. Laura Wray-Lake]: Thank you so much, Dana, for that introduction. And I’m really glad to be here today. I want to start us off by grounding the conversation in the development of civic engagement for young people. So thinking about what civic engagement looks like for young people in general and in the context of social media. So first, what do we mean when we talk about civic engagement? Civic engagement is defined as actions to address political and social issues. And civic engagement goes beyond behaviors and includes related values, attitudes, knowledge and skills. There are many different ways that young people can be civically engaged. They can help others and build community. They can participate politically in elections or to challenge political systems and policy. Civic engagement can be done individually or collectively, and can be, of course, done in person or online. One of the takeaways from the large body of research on youth civic engagement is that young people are engaged in many different ways and they choose different forms of engagement depending on their interests, their experiences, their backgrounds, for example, their race or ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, immigrant status, social class, etc. and the opportunities that are available to them. So there’s a lot of variation. And Kris already sort of mentioned this a bit, but becoming an adolescent comes with many different changes and a lot of these changes lead to a developed capacity for civic engagement. So cognitive development gives young people increased capacity to understand social problems, particularly complex social problems, critique existing ways of doing things, and envision new solutions to those problems. Social development gives young people exposure to broader groups of other people, and they bring interest in and capacity for building bonds and creating communities with broader groups of people. This is fundamental for civic engagement at all ages. And then identity development entails developing a sense of who you are, what you value, and how you fit into the larger world. And as young people go through this process of identity development, it often leads many of them to civic engagement. So not surprisingly, given this developmental landscape, adolescence is a period of rapid growth in different types of civic engagement, including increases in political interest, political participation, community helping, and also critical consciousness. Critical consciousness refers to beliefs and actions that challenge oppression in society. Young people’s online civic engagement has increased rapidly over the past decade, and especially since 2020, after the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, and we’re seeing this rise in digital civic engagement globally. One thing I love about studying youth civic engagement, is that young people are constantly creating new ways of being civically engaged. And sociologist Karl Mannheim called this “fresh contact with society”. This idea captures that young people have energy, they have created creativity, and they bring new perspectives on social issues compared to previous generations. I’d like to highlight some examples of some of these creative new forms of online civic engagement, and this is based on a qualitative study with young digital activists led by my graduate student, Sarah Wilf. So these young digital activists, Sarah interviewed them, and they described restorying where they share their own personal experiences to raise awareness of issues, to challenge dominant narratives of marginalized groups and their histories that exist in society, to imagine more equitable conditions and to engage in self-love, to challenge negative stereotypes about their own identity groups. And all of this was under the umbrella of civic engagement for them. They built online community by supporting other people and acting as allies to strengthen movements. And they took collective action in creative ways by using art and also harnessing digital technologies. So there’s a lot of different ways that young people are engaged online. And I definitely wanted to emphasize that youth online civic engagement has real, tangible impacts on elections, on policy conversations, and on policy change at the local, national and global levels. Here I just pulled some of the some prominent examples, but there are many other wins that young people have had through digital activism and importantly, young people often blend their digital and their in-person activism when they’re working towards social change. So I want to highlight that social media, of course, is a vital context for youth civic development. And like any other context that research has examined, so families, schools, communities, social media can also have positive or negative impacts on young people. So I want to start with some of the positive aspects. So as a youth directed space, social media offers freedom for use to be creative in putting forth their stories and opinions and taking actions in ways that sometimes can challenge adults. Research shows that youth directed activities are particularly empowering and build leadership skills in contrast to adult led civic spaces, which can sometimes be designed where young people are passive learners. Social media also dramatically lowers the barriers for young people to build community with other people who share their interests and identity. And this is especially helpful for young people of color and gender and sexual minority young people, as these communities can help sustain their activism and also promote well-being at the same time. We should also recognize some of the potential risks of social media as a civic developmental context. One is that social media is a 24 over seven environment, so information and opportunities to engage are ever present. We know that misinformation is a potential concern for young people. And just this morning on the way in, I heard a story on NPR about A.I. with imaging and how it’s hard to tell the difference between images that are created by A.I. and that are real. So that’s definitely a concern. Although some intriguing studies show that young people consistently outperform older adults in recognizing fake news and the ever present nature of social media also does leave young digital activists at risk for burnout. So that’s another consideration that we should take into account. Also, social media is a mostly unmoderated public space. And what that means is that young activists can sometimes face trolling, doxxing, discrimination, or other harmful experiences, and these experiences can be detrimental to their health and well-being, especially again, for youth of color and gender and sexual minority young people. So I’m excited to hear what my other panelists have to say. So I’ll just end by saying that we know that young people are powerful civic actors and civic innovators, and the basic, yet very important implication of that is that adults can and should work harder to listen to, to value and uplift young people’s voices and support their actions. We know that social media is a vital positive context for civic development, but it doesn’t come without harms as well. I’m happy to share any of the resources that I use so you can feel free to email me or find me on Twitter. Thank you.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you so much, Laura. I actually wanted to ask you one quick follow up question before we go on. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what the research tells us about long term civic engagement when young people get involved long term. And, you know, particularly I’m interested in, you know, the way you can talk about or what you know about how this experience can play a role in young people eventually pursuing leadership roles or at the same time, the degree to which we know whether or not this experience can make them more jaded or make them feel, you know, jaded about the system or more broadly.
[Dr. Laura Wray-Lake]: Great question. Thank you, Dana. I think overall there is a body of research showing that when young people get involved early, they tend to stay involved and be involved later. So there is a continuity to civic engagement. So when young people start this process in adolescence, they develop these values and lasting commitments that tend to last through adulthood. But at the same time, it is important to recognize that there’s no one size fits all trajectory of civic engagement for people and for young people. There’s a lot of variability in change over time and what their experiences are like. Young people do sometimes experience burnout. So like I mentioned, either from not seeing any wins or experiencing discrimination in the face of what they’re trying to do. Also, it’s sort of a never ending process of trying to fight for social change. So young people are experiencing that type of burnout. So I think we need to understand that better. We do know that connection to community and support from a network of other people is one thing that can reduce that and then sustain activism over time.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Wonderful. Thank you so much. So I’m going to turn now to our next speaker, Dr.Shakuntala Banaji is a professor of media, culture, and social change in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She also serves there as the program director in the Masters of Media Communication and Development. Professor Banaji’s research addresses the intersection between socio political context, media, identities, and participation. Please continue with this conversation.
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Thank you so much Dana. Thank you for inviting me. I’m just going to get my slides started. So I’ve been working in the sphere of media and communications with young people for a number of years, and one of the things that I like most is watching young people change their engagement in social issues from-
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: I don’t mean to interrupt, but we can’t see your slides.
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Oh, I’ve shared my slides. Let me try again, sorry
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: There we go, thank you.
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Yes, okay that’s great. So one of the things that I’ve been looking at for the last three decades actually, is the way in which young people change their different forms of participation when they come into communities with other young people who are also involved, engaged, interested in asking questions. And I really I’m actually unable to see my own slides now, can you see my questions? I really would like to have today to look at some of the theoretical questions that we often don’t stop to think about when we ask young people to get engaged. So one of the questions I’d like to ask, for instance, is how can digital media support and enable young people’s civic and political engagement? We heard a little bit about what they’re doing online. I’d like to engage a little bit more with that. How do inequalities and injustices increase the dangers that young people face online? And also a little bit about what young people can do to protect themselves from the various different ways in which people are trolling them or creating problems for them because they engage online. In all the years that I’ve been working on this subject. There’s been a huge push towards arguing that social media and the Internet are going to increase young people’s engagement, and very little thought has been given to the way in which that increasing engagement needs to be protected or supported through other kinds of digital tools. So, for instance, we have all welcomed the speed, the anonymity, the global reach and the ultra personalization of new media. But very few people have thought about the way in which all of those things also can impact on young people’s mental and personal health. So we’ve allowed for instance, many young communities who are middle class to volunteer their time and some working class young people also to access civic ideas and new media and spaces that were otherwise limited to adults or to only wealthy people, or to only able bodied people or only to people in cities. And in that sense, this has been a really big and important change. But what we haven’t done is we haven’t been asking questions about the people who can’t access those digital spaces. So there’s still a lot of access issues across the world. And this works much, much more strongly in the global South and particularly in rural areas of the global South. We’ve seen the Internet really bring in groups who are negative about traditional politics, disaffected by politicians behavior, by corruption and sleaze. It’s allowed them to connect and debate and mobilize amongst themselves. But I’ve also watched over the years when things didn’t go so well, this having huge effects in terms of young people’s disengagement. I think new media and social media has proved time and time again to be an unparalleled node for learning mobilization, organization, information, and planning. And that continues to be the case. One of the really great positives that it’s brought is youth visibility and justice movements, like my colleague was talking about, as well as it’s allowed young people to contest misrepresentations of them, which are absolutely rife across not just new media, but old media also. And I could give you an example.For instance, we did a piece of research around the referendum in the UK to exit Europe, and it was shown repeatedly in our focus groups with young people that more than 80% of young people had dissented from the general view that that Britain should leave Europe or the United Kingdom should leave Europe, and that they had argued a very tenaciously with their families, that a lot of the misinformation coming in about what would be the benefits of leaving Europe was being manufactured by trolls, was being pushed out by large disinformation networks, and families had ignored these young people’s warnings. And yet now, five years later, a lot of the things that they had warned about are coming true. And social media was the place where they had put their ideas into practice. We can also see how new media forms an archive for young people, something that helps them and supports them in going back and forth between what people did say, what they promised, or what a politician promised and what they actually delivered. And they can use that archive as a way of holding people to account. And across the global north and global context, for instance, in the climate change work that I do with young activists. It’s very, very clear that social media provides a really huge fount of inspiration for local and global campaigns, and this is not going away any time soon so there are many reasons to be positive about the Internet. And in the case of some of the more invisible minorities, so young people with various types of disabilities, young people who have engaged in atypical behaviors or who have been seen to be outside of the norm in schools at the time of the pandemic, we could see in countries like India and Pakistan that you had parents and children’s groups and young people’s groups forming online, which were absolutely impossible to imagine happening in real time, in real space. So the Internet provided some kind of place for preventing anxiety, giving care, but checking in on people there were groups of young mothers in their early twenties who were able to share tips for looking after little children when they were at home during the pandemic. An example from one of our pieces of research in the Middle East and North Africa is this group called CHOUF, a group of young women who primarily young women and non-binary people have come together to talk about the issues facing women and sexual minorities in Tunisia and in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. And they have engaged repeatedly in this really wonderful activism using digital and non-digital means to spread messages through very accessible visual visuals that call for participation. For instance, in that Tunis International Feminist Art Festival was answered by multiple applications, 75 plus applications from around the world. I do want to talk also about the unique risks, the dangers and harms that we can see happening to people when they’re in these digital spaces. So the first one I think I’ve already mentioned, but I can’t stress it enough, the idea that you put out a program for safety, for instance, for people facing domestic violence, young teenagers or young individuals, LGBTQ individuals facing some kind of domestic violence, and you put that call out only online means that a lot of people who are really not connected or who have lost connection due to being thrown out or being homeless don’t actually get the call and they don’t get the help and the resources that they need. This is obviously less the case in first world countries or globally connected countries, but in rural parts of India still today, this persists as a real problem. Another issue, of course, is that we assume that youth engagement and youth activism will be pro social justice. But of course, there are also many people who are extremely uncritical. And again, I would say my research in Turkey and India and other parts of the global South has shown that these young people can quite easily be mobilized by either standing politicians or authoritarian youth movements, and they’re funded heavily by political parties. So the assumption that all young people who are going to get involved will get involved in pro-social endeavors is really problematic. Parents will often be much more pleased by young people who get involved and engaged, but do so in line with the family’s political views. And this can be really troubling and problematic if your family happens to follow an authoritarian political party. And hate and disinformation is something that is extremely well organized. It’s not just organized online, but it’s organized offline. It’s paid for. We’ve spent the last five years looking at organized political networks of vigilantes in the far right, supremacists online who target young people, especially when they appear to be becoming visible influencers and are taking up social justice causes. So, for instance, even someone with the profile of a singer like Rihanna when she tweeted something in support of a social justice fight in India, found herself the object of multiple hate tweets and accounts were doxing her repeatedly. So she was being encouraged to withdraw what she had said. There is clearly a hierarchy of hate, which my colleague referred to. And I think this is something we have to take into account if we’re supporting our young people to go into online spaces. Individuals and groups get targeted far, far more for being part of a sexual minority, and they get targeted with homophobia, transphobia, racist and misogynist narratives and images and the kinds of things that you might wake up to in your inbox if you happen to be in a minority in India, like Dalit or Muslim, or if you happen to be queer or disabled, just a sort of absolute litany of hate. And I can imagine having interviewed young activists as well as older people, that this does not get easier. So people of all ages could be really sort of undermined by this. But it has a particularly deleterious effect on young activists engaging for the first time and might actually push you off social media completely. Underfunding means exploitation or in some cases self exploitation. And this is something that I think was linked to burnout in the previous talk, which I think is really important that we remember. Volunteering is not cheap. It’s very hard to be the unpaid social media person of a large activist organization doing work around climate change. And that’s often the assumption that young people are still living at home, that they don’t need support and they don’t need to be given money. So older adults, while they get paid, younger ones work for free. And I think taking on too much responsibility is really tough even for very young activists overwork and emotion online and political environments can be so taxing on mental health that people have really bad breakdowns. It does lead to unbearable stress. And I think we need to talk about ways of protecting ourselves. This image is one from India, which shows some of the kinds of young people who work very, very hard to support their families but aren’t present in online activism. Doing civic action online needs to be done far more safely and sustainably. We need to suggest and support young people into knowing their limits and refusing to cross them by doing so ourselves. So if we overwork and if we push ourselves as activists online, we’re going to find that young people are doing the same thing. I think it’s important before one engages online, to have really strong civic and caring networks offline. There’s no way in which the Internet can replace those kinds of networks of care and compassion. I think we also need to be really careful about the way in which privacy is taken seriously and in building profiles, young people need to read the small print. This is not something that even many adults do as far as my research is telling me, but we need to know who owns what. So whether you’re creating stuff or you’re making a campaign, whether it can be taken down by asking you to take it down or simply taking you off air, be aware of surveillance and data histories. Governments and corporations are tracking you and they’re very organized. They put money into the tracking systems which look at and save your data. Be prepared for a backlash. Nobody’s ever really prepared for a backlash. But in the world we live in today, one of culture wars. If you’re from a minoritized group, you’re always both invisible and hyper visible. You can get attacked online for really innocuous posts about social, about social things which aren’t related to social justice. Praise things carefully and do due diligence. Use different accounts, and this is something we saw repeatedly amongst young activists who’d been in the field a while. So even if they were 18 or 19 years old, but if they were working on issues to do with racism or anti-racism, they were often using completely different accounts. And finally, I think it’s really important to note that we must continue to report hate to platforms because these platforms have a responsibility to their constituents, but actually it’s not often going to be taken seriously. Thank you very much.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you for your talk. I have one quick follow up question I’d like to ask you now. And the question has to do with what skills do you think are most important for us to make sure our youth know, or have, prior to them jumping into the digital space and engaging in activism so that we can expect to find the best possible outcomes?
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: That’s a great question. Thank you, Dana. My colleague, Professor Wray-Lake actually started to touch on this in saying that young people need the skill of being able to check and do due diligence to see if something is disinformation or misinformation first. So two different types of due diligence. One of them and one of them actually goes to the heart of “what does the text say and what does it mean”. So in different countries, different languages, you actually need to be able to do some kind of fact checking to find out where something originated, who produced it. So if the producer was a commercial producer, why would they produce it and what are they putting out? Or if they’re some kind of non-government actor acting on behalf of a government? It’s really important and very difficult to be able to find out where certain types of information come from into the public sphere. And the second type of due diligence, of course, is the one around who owns what you’re putting online and what can be done with it, who owns it and who can see it. So a lot of people go into what they consider to be a private or secret group. So let’s say we are an activist and we want to start a private group for young LGBTQ people of color or for young men who face domestic violence. You might want to start a private group, but the idea that you’re doing that on Instagram or Facebook and you assume that you are entirely private is completely not the case. So be aware that pretty much everything you put online is going to get screenshotted by someone and may well be owned by someone else.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]:Thank you so much for that quick response. I’m really looking forward to the conversation we’re going to have at the end of these presentations. But without further ado, I want to bring us to our next presenter. Dr. Tiera Tanksley is an assistant professor of equity, diversity, and justice in education at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her scholarship, which extends conventional education research to include socio-technical and techno-structural analysis of school based technologies, has been awarded several competitive grants in computer science and engineering, including an NSF grant in 2022, Tiera received the emerging Leader in Critical Race Technology Studies Fellowship from UCLA. Please continue the conversation.
[Dr. Tiera Tanksley]: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to do this. So my quick mini talk today is going to be about race, activism, and digital trauma: examining the power and peril of social media activism for black girls. As It was just mentioned, I’m Dr. Tiera Tanksley at CU Boulder, and particularly I look at the ramifications of algorithmic racism for black youth. So my research study focused on black girls and their social media engagement during the Movement for Black Lives. This research was started back in 2016, and at the time Black girls were some of the most visible, vocal and digitally connected youth online. And they still are actually. I shared some statistics here that kind of encapsulate how powerful black girls are online. So in general, African-Americans in the US sustained some of the highest rates of social media use across youth demographics. They average about 13.5 hours of social media use per day. Within that college age youth in general have high social media consumption, but college age girls maintain higher rates of social media use compared to their male peers. And young black women and girls regularly out consume their male peers by at least one hour of digital media intake a day. And then, you know, all of this is saying that black girls are online, they’re connected. But very importantly, black girls are more likely than other groups online to be consistently engaged in race based and politically oriented social media content. So I was really interested in, you know, the benefits and the experiences of social media activism and for, you know, leaders of movements like MeToo, Time’s Up, Black Lives Matter, Say her name. And at the same time, I was recognizing that there was a pervasiveness of graphic images of black people dead and dying. You know, we had Philando Castile, George Floyd, Tyree Nichols. And so at the same time thatI was trying to figure out black girls’ experiences with a positive, I was also worried about their mental health. Right. And these are just some statistics about videos of black people dead and dying that go viral. So when George Floyd was murdered by police in 2020, his nine minute death video was viewed over 1.4 billion times online. And similarly, when Philando Castile was shot by police, his video, which was live streamed to Facebook as it happened, accumulated over 2.4 million views in just 24 hours. And these numbers continue to grow right? Because these videos are still available online and they’re still being circulated regularly. So, of course, like my colleagues have already said, I found that social media activism had a lot of benefits for black girls. Right? They talked about feeling connected to a community. A lot of them went to predominantly white colleges and institutions, and so they felt like they had a connection on sites like black Twitter to their peers that they didn’t have on campus. They also were able to augment educational resource gaps. Right. If they didn’t have classes that talked about critical theories or their experiences as black women, they were able to go online and find those resources and learn the histories and the knowledge that they wanted to learn. And also one of the most important things they said is that social media was magical, right? Like they were able to manifest tangible, transformative change offline. And one example is, you know, recently after Philando Castile was killed, there was a movement that was started by a young black girl in Minneapolis to defund the police in the local schools. And lo and behold, the school defunded the public schools, defunded police, and eventually the university in the area also defunded the police. And so, you know, the black girls in my study were like these things would not have happened if we didn’t have access to this global social media platform. And at the same time, they talked about the trauma of witnessing videos of black people dead and dying at a constant rate. So one of the main topics that came up amongst my participants was this notion of PTSD. That term came up most often. I have a quote here from a participant that says, “We all have PTSD because of social media, because of all this constant we have this fear of the police. Emotionally, I can say it has taken a toll on me. It’s taken a toll on all of us.” Similarly, they talked about the digital harassment they experienced when they did post about Black Lives Matter or Say her Name, right. And so one of the participants talks about getting thousands of inbox messages where she says, “people were calling me a lot of names I had never heard before in my life. When these messages keep coming in and people keep calling you racial slurs for simply pointing out a fact that just takes a toll on you. And you’re like, okay, let me just step back for a little while.” And a lot of participants talked about receiving hate messages, getting stopped by bots, all kinds of things. And finally, with all of this digital trauma at the forefront, there were educational impacts. So many of the students felt like they weren’t able to engage fully in their classes. A lot of them felt disconnected, desensitized, numb. And so I have a quote here where a student says “there is just sometimes when I see the actual video and that’s when I don’t want to leave my room because it’s scary. When I saw Philando Castile, I didn’t want to go to class. I was so upset, I just felt done. I just wanted to zone out.” So it’s really important to me to capture some of the often ignored, you know, downsides of being constantly active. But then when I started to think about these digital traumas, I really wanted to understand what algorithmic systems were in place that were either making black girls hyper vulnerable to digital harassment and perhaps under-protected. And so I found that black girls are actually one of the most vulnerable populations and highly targeted populations online. And actually a 2018 study by Amnesty International found that although abuse is targeted at women across the political spectrum, women of color were much more likely to be impacted and black women were disproportionately targeted. I also looked into content moderation algorithms, and at the time of my studies, Facebook had a content moderation system that determined which groups online should be protected from hate speech. And at this time, this is the slide that they actually had in their presentation to their content moderation staff to explain how the algorithms were supposed to work. And this little quiz says “Which of the following subsets do we protect? Female drivers, black children or white men?” And the answer shown below is white men. And so this algorithmic decision making where black girls are systematically positioned as not a protected subgroup, makes them extremely vulnerable to attacks, which actually explains why so many of the girls, when they tried to report hate speech levied against them, the algorithms determined that it wasn’t actually hate speech, and so they weren’t able to actually use these systems to protect themselves. I also found that black people dead and dying are some of the most searched and thus most profitable queries according to Google Trends. This came out in 2020, and most recently when I searched for the top terms. As you can see here, I have some screenshots. Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and George Floyd are some of the top searches, and these graphs show the related searches. So when people search for Trayvon Martin, these are the top related queries. So Trayvon Martin body, Trayvon Martin dead, Trayvon Martin pictures, Trayvon Martin dead body, Eric Garner video, Eric Garner Death, Eric Garner, NYPD. So Black Death is something that is fetishized and interesting. And we have to remember that our clicks are not actually neutral. So in George Floyd’s video is watched to fight 2.4 billion times, we have to recognize that each one of those clicks has a value to it. Right. So we see here that in 2021, these are some of the average click rates for data across content or across platforms, which can range from $0.38 per click all the way up to nearly $6. Right. And so this explains why when the black girls in my study were trying to report these videos of Black Death and dying that were in their new views, violating safety guidelines. That the videos weren’t taken down. Right. Because Black Death is and always has been a monumentally lucrative business. And simultaneously their posts were taken down not because they necessarily violated community guidelines, but because they violated the algorithmic underpinnings of racialized wealth. And so I kind of end my talks usually by saying the need for critical algorithmic consciousness. I’m in the field of education, so I like to teach youth about algorithmic awareness, right? What are algorithms? How do they work? What are some of the most common ones We come into contact with? How do issues of race, gender, sexuality come into play? And when we talk about algorithmic justice, and most importantly, how can we have these systems to make these spaces more safe and supportive for hyper minoritized communities? Thank you.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you for the really interesting talk. I want to ask you one quick question before we move forward. And in some ways it builds off of the questions that I’ve asked and the responses we’ve gotten, the presentations we’ve gotten from the previous speakers. But I’m just wondering, so as algorithms and algorithmic control grows in our digital lives, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about what’s the best way to ensure digital safety and if there are, you know, specific things that we should keep our eyes out for as this process becomes more and more central in our lives, particularly our digital lives?
[Dr. Tiera Tanksley]: Yeah. So like I said, I like to raise critical awareness around algorithms. That’s normally my first step. And I teach students the same slides that I’ve given here today. And then I also talk about what are some of the safety strategies that the systems actually have installed. And so we go through each platform and I actually show them how they can access their data, what data is tracked, how they can see how issues of race and gender come up, because you can actually determine, the apps you what it thinks it knows that you want to see, And so like mine, when I look at the data, it says African-American like activism. So if those types of things are coming up right, I’m more likely to be shown sponsored content related to images of Black death and dying. And so we talk about how can we have agency over some of the ideas that the algorithms have about us, some of the data it collects, and how we can curate and push back against these systems. But yes, that’s one of the ways I do it.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Well, that’s fascinating. Thank you so much. I think we’re going to have a great conversation when all the presentations are over. But first we have another speaker, Dr. Maru Gonzalez is an assistant professor and youth development specialist in the Department of Agriculture and Human Science at North Carolina State. Dr. Gonzalez is P.I. for Pass the Mic Use a youth led multimedia program, including a podcast and blog which aims to amplify youth voices, shine a spotlight on youth led community engagement, and provide educators with resources and research based curricula for cultivating critical consciousness. Dr. Gonzales.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: Thank you so much for the introduction. Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. It is a pleasure to be here with you all today and engage in this important conversation And so I’m very excited to talk to you all today about nurturing informed activism from the perspective of parents, caregivers and educators. And this is something that’s really important to me, not only because I study youth activism, but I’m also an educator and I’m also the parent of three children. Before I jump in to recommended practices, I want to highlight the benefits of youth leadership and civic engagement of which there are many. So a vast and growing body of scholarship has found that informed youth participation in social and systemic change initiatives is linked to increased self-confidence, increased academic performance and more increased student engagement, a greater sense of community and connection, increased understanding of issues related to equity and justice, also known as critical reflection, and also an increased sense of political efficacy, which is the belief in one’s capacity to create change. And I want to mention that all of these benefits are more likely when young people have supportive and encouraging adults in their lives, like parents and educators. So our role in this work is really vital. Research has also found, and this has been mentioned already by some of my colleagues, that civic engagement during adolescence translates to sustained engagement throughout the lifespan, meaning that informed youth activism is beneficial not only to youth, but also to the broader community. So with all of that in mind, what can parents, caregivers and educators do to nurture informed youth engagement? So first and foremost, it’s really important to cultivate an equitable and strengths based environment, and this can be done in several ways. First, leading by example. Put simply, if your child or your student sees you as a leader and as an agent of social change, they in turn learn the value of leadership and social and civic engagement from a young age.Second, it’s really important to nurture youth voice, and this refers to valuing the perspectives, ideas and insights of children and youth. If young people know that their voices are valued, they’re more likely to speak out about issues that they care about, and they’re also more likely to be engaged in the classroom. Related to this is centering equity and and belonging. So if you’re an educator, this means, number one, taking steps to foster an affirming dialogic and welcoming classroom environment and for both parents and educators, centering equity and belonging requires a level of intentionality about the conversations that you’re having with your child or with students, the books that you’re reading and the stories that you’re telling. Being intentional and reflective to make sure that that equity is being centered in those stories and in those conversations. For educators, sponsoring a leadership or actual action oriented club, like a gender sexuality club, an environmental justice club, or a multicultural club is a really valuable way of not only connecting with students, but also creating space for them to build community and find meaningful ways to engage. In fact, there’s a lot of research that suggests that involvement in a leadership or action oriented club is linked to community engagement, civic and youth activism. And finally, it’s really important to keep the lines of communication open so that you’re building a trusting relationship. If there are any issues or questions that youth have, either you know, a student or a child, they can come to you and talk about it. And related to this is incorporating media literacy and digital citizenship into your teaching and parenting practices. As some of my colleagues have already mentioned, there’s a lot of disinformation and misinformation around there. And so teaching young people to be able to identify credible sources and weed out some of the disinformation and misinformation that exists is really paramount. Another tip is to be supportive. So being supportive starts by having an open mind, even if you don’t fully agree, having an open mind, being encouraging and being willing to learn is really important. I think there’s a tendency for adults to think that, you know, you have nothing to teach us and that sort of we know more than them. And that’s not always the case. And if you have an open mind, you’ll quickly realize how much young people have to offer in the way of particularly social justice issues. Showing up can look a variety of ways. It can mean physically showing up. As you know, if you go to a march or rally and physically showing up. But it can also just mean being supportive and in terms of validating words of encouragement, providing access to resources, driving youth to an event, sitting down with your child to write a letter to an elected representative. There are all sorts of ways to show up and to get involved. And then finally provide opportunities for meaningful engagement. In schools, I used to work as a counselor, and I was always really surprised at the lack of student involvement in decision making processes, especially decisions that directly impacted young people, you know, whether that was an anti-bullying policy or the dress code. I never saw young people sitting at the table being part of these decision making processes. It’s really important for them not only to have a seat at the table, but for their voices to be heard, for their voices to be valued. And the more opportunities young people have to meaningfully engage in this way, the more likely they are to continue engaging in other ways that are meaningful. It’s also really important to amplify the voices of youth activists past and present. Young people have long been on the front lines of moving the needle on a variety of social justice issues and really showing up and making progress in civil rights and social justice movements. And yet their contributions are seldom recognized. I know growing up I never learned the contributions that young people have made in civil rights and social justice movements. And so integrating and amplifying those stories I think is really important. And the research supports that. So I teach a course at the university for first year students called Storytelling for Social Change. And as part of that program, I’m really intentional about bringing in stories of young people who have created change and students always react. Number one, you know, with shock, like, “wow, I never I never knew that. Like, why didn’t I ever learn about this?” And second, with inspiration, a sense of like, “okay, I see how other young people have been effective at creating change. That’s something that I feel like I can do as well.” So one of the programs that I lead is called Pass the Mic Youth, and it’s an extension program out of N.C. State University. And we try to amplify the contributions that young people are making, particularly with regard to youth activism and civic engagement. There are lots of young people doing incredible work, and it’s important for people to know about it. And so we do this through a youth led podcast and blog. We also do podcast trainings, so we’ve helped to launch seven youth led social justice themed podcasts. We have an annual Pass the Mic camp, Storytelling for Social Change curriculum, and an annual TEDx youth event as well. And finally, and again my colleagues have mentioned this as well, just the importance of prioritizing self-care. The work of activism can be incredibly taxing, especially social justice activism, and particularly activism that centers identity. And so it’s important to give, you know, if we if we work with students and if your child is is civically engaged, creating space, building space for them to share their concerns and also finding moments for joy and celebration, celebrating progress regardless of how small- all of those things are important. And finally, being committed to being committed to this work and sharing some of that burden so young people know that they don’t have to shoulder it all on their own and that’s it.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you so much. This is a wonderful continuation of this conversation. I do have one quick question. And actually, this is a question that builds off of you know, we’ve had questions that came in from audience members ahead of time, but this also, I’m going to tweak it somewhat as a parent of a teen myself who’s getting involved in her own digital life right now. So the question is, how do I start a conversation with my teen to get them thinking, getting more involved in doing something positive in their community when all they want to do is play games or watch TV or, in my daughter’s case, hanging out watching Tik Tok videos, particularly ones on dances and about bands.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: Yeah, I think this is such a great question. And first, I think it’s important to start by changing the narrative around youth activism. Some of you know my colleagues have already mentioned that youth can get engaged in a variety of different ways. I think that there’s this tendency, when we think about activism, that that means like holding a megaphone at a protest and that’s that it can look like that, but it doesn’t always have to look like that. And so when young people know that there are different ways that they can get engaged and they can contribute in ways that leverage their strengths and they feel comfortable with, right? So that can mean, you know, keeping it focused to social media, it can mean, you know, one of my colleagues mentioned art, right? There are all sorts of ways of being engaged. So having a conversation saying, you know what, your child is interested in and going from there and making sure that they have opportunities that, you know, this work is much more likely to be sustained if it’s done in community, if they’re not sort of by themselves doing this work. And so if they can find a community of their peers that they can engage in this work in and make it fun and make it something that they can connect with and feel good about, then they’re much more likely to get started.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you so much. And so last but not least, we have our final speaker for today. Emma Lembke is a 20 year old youth digital advocate working to address social media as impact on younger generations. As a senior in high school, Lembke founded L-O-G O-F-F or maybe LOG OFF is the right way to say that. A youth movement dedicated to uplifting and empowering youth to tackle the complexities of social media and its impact on their privacy, safety and mental health. Emma also co-chairs Design it For Us, The only youth-led coalition pushing for online platforms and social media to be designed with kids and teens in mind rather than as an afterthought. Emma, tell us what you have to say.
[Emma Lembke]: Absolutely. And thank you so much. I’m super honored to be here to kind of wrap up this last conversation. I don’t have any slides. I just want to talk with you all briefly today about, you know, my experience as an activist, how I found the amplification of my voice through the online world and how LOG OFF and specifically my role in the space has allowed me to engage with a lot of other advocacy initiatives and with other youth activists. And what I kind of want to lean into this conversation by noting the fact that as just mentioned, I never thought that I could be an activist or that I would ever consider myself one, because I was taught as a young kid that an activist really looked like someone with a megaphone. So to me, as a young 12 year old girl in Birmingham, Alabama, who was struggling with my screen time usage, I thought, there’s no way that I can be an activist for digital change. No way I could do it alone. Not my environment. I don’t have a megaphone on me. And as I will kind of walk you through my story today, I think it’s really important to note that there can be so many different ways to advocate in your online community, in your in-person community, with your friends and family. I always say this to every member of my team within Log Off that if you have one conversation with that individual fighting for something you believe in, trying to take an action to change the system, that’s activism. It doesn’t matter at what scale. So kind of leaning into my own story, I got social media at the age of 12, and when I first downloaded Instagram, I was in love with the app and platform. I followed everyone from Olive Garden to Kim Kardashian, but very quickly, that allure wore off and I was left with this harsh reality that while social media can be a wonderful tool for connection, for expression, for exploration, and it also has many negative externalities that came in the form specifically of my mental health being harmed. I had increased rates of anxiety, depression, being fed a lot of, you know, dieting videos and exercise videos led me towards a path of disordered eating, and all of that really came to fruition and formed an addictive cycle where I would enter these apps seeking for connection. I would be harmed, but yet nudges and addictive features would keep me on and keep scrolling. So I was scrolling for 5 to 6 hours every day. And then eventually, after 4 years of that, in the ninth grade, I reached a breaking point and I said, I no longer can stick with the status quo. And I really just want to better understand why is it that I’m allowing for an app to have so much control over me, really seeking to understand the system, the system at play that was pulling me in. And as I began my research as a little ninth grader in Birmingham, Alabama, I found a ton of emerging dialog and conversations regarding social media’s impact on young people, how it can lead to and fuel mental health issues. I found this emerging conversation. Yet what was missing and what I was struck by was the fact that young people weren’t in those conversations. Young people weren’t at those tables. They were not being included. And I thought that that was a really huge misstep, seeing as Generation Z digital natives have grown up with social media, We have a very, very deep knowledge of how social media can harm and benefit its young users. So that being said, I kind of took that lack of youth perspective and voice and said, “Well, I’m going to turn to the beast itself, turn to this connective, expressive, exploratory mechanism that is social media to find my own community and work together with them to advocate for a healthier digital online experience that protects young people, not profit.” So that all began, and it started with raising awareness about the harms and benefits of social media, going to Reddit, going to Instagram and saying, “Hi, I’m a teen and I’m really excited about this advocate for this issue. Does anyone else care?” And finding those individuals and pulling them into the Log Off movement. We began to then critically think about how can we advocate using this online container in our offline experience as an opportunity to push for digital change and to foster healthier, more mindful online practices. And in that process, we really discovered that Log Off had become this jumping off point, this incubator for youth led digital advocacy projects that were at the intersection between social media and its impact on mental health. So Log Off was creating podcasts that were emphasizing youth led perspectives and using storytelling as a means to spark digital consciousness. Young people in our space were going to Instagram and using hashtags and taking very tangible steps to pull in other individuals and mobilize the community online. And most importantly, you know, we found that a lot of our creative campaigns were having real world impacts and real world change. So I think one of the best examples I can bring to discuss this is my experience as the co-chair of the Design it For Us Coalition. So specifically Design it For Us was a Log Off youth led campaign that was created online. It was a multimedia online, youth led storytelling campaign that projected young people with a thing on their phone that just said, Design it for blank. I put developing minds, other people put my sister my own mental health. And it just was a jumping off point for people to use their online platform to share their experiences about why they wanted social media to be designed with them as a priority and not profit. That was in support for the California age appropriate design code and that California age appropriate design code, because of our work and the work of a lot of other coalitions, applied tremendous public pressure to California lawmakers. And it became the most significant piece of social media legislation to be passed into law in the past decade. Because that bill has seen pop up design codes for- So in that major design of rest push, we saw how critical it was that the youth perspective was not only included in the conversation as a passive participant, but as an active agent of change. We really saw how that manifested in the Design it For Us push and we have shifted that to then build out an entire coalition of young people to continue to engage in those multimedia, personal storytelling campaigns to see tangible change in one’s environment. And a lot of my work that I continue to do currently I’m a sophomore at WashU in Saint Louis studying political science is regarding how to use and really know how to productively use social media as a young person to spark my own civic engagement, to activate those around me, around issues I care about right now. It’s specifically, you know, digital rights, digital storytelling. But down the line, I think I’m very excited to explore how to continue to civically engage online through a lot of these amazing digital affordances that I’ve fallen upon and that I feel like I’m very proficient in as a digital native. And I think that that’s something that we’re going to see building out. Digital natives have this very deep knowledge of online spaces, and through that deep knowledge, through one’s placement in their life, I think young people have a very nuanced, unique ability to creatively engage with those affordances to push for change in very unique and new ways. For me, it was coming up with that multimedia campaign for Design it For Us using personal storytelling and, you know, going into the future I continue to hope to engage with young people around these type of issues to help produce more creative advocacy campaigns and to see them pop up as new social media emerge as others fall, but as we continue into the technological age. So that’s a little bit more about me and my story. And I’m very thankful to kind of be here to cap off and provide light and to I think a lot of one of my other other colleagues have spoken about how important civic engagement is for young people and specifically continuing and nurturing that civic spirit.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: That’s wonderful. I have to say that that was a wonderful way to wrap up and bring and pull through a lot of the themes with your personal experiences. I do want to ask you one question as well, and my question to you actually builds on a question that I originally asked to Laura. So right at the beginning of our whole discussion today. So there we were talking about how to get people to stay engaged, and if there are ways that getting involved early can lead young people to become more jaded. And I feel like your experience can tell us a little bit about how you personally pivoted away from the more damaging personal experiences you felt from the digital media. And I’m wondering if you have any specific lessons for young people or advice to other young people and to those of us who study and work with young people about how to help them pivot away from these experiences that might lead to burnout or to be personally damaging?
[Emma Lembke]: That’s a great question. I think it’s twofold. I think one, having a support system is so critical. For me as I continue to engage with my own digital advocacy. I have felt burnout. I have had many months where I’ve been less engaged, where I have felt that like too many people’s feelings. There’s a tremendous weight. And when a lot of action doesn’t happen, that can be very discouraging. But one of the reasons that I think I’ve been able to persist and a lot of the other youth around me have been able to continue forth in their advocacy is because in those moments of struggle and in those moments, moments of continued harm, we have a support system to go back on. I had my Log Off community to talk through my issues with and to feel empowered to have those emotions, but to push through them in a conducive, productive way through my advocacy. And I think with a lot of the other youth activists I’ve spoken to, they’ve echoed that, you know, without this community, I don’t really know what to do with my personal experience. I didn’t know what to do about my story. So I think for individuals who want to engage civically, seek out other people around you who are doing similar work and see if you can build that community and that support system so that in those periods of struggle, in those moments when you feel less inclined to use your voice, you have someone else there to encourage you to continue to do so in the most conducive way for you and your well-being.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: That’s great. Thank you so much. I think all of the panelists are now going to be joining us here on the stage and while people are turning back on their cameras, I was going to invite the panelists before we turn to people who are currently in the audience. I wanted to open up the floor for a moment for the panelists to see if you have any questions or comments you’d like to make having listened to what everybody else has to say. I just want to mention and highlight here, we’ve seen a lot of threads having to do with speaking to young people, engaging young people, empowering young people, identifying challenges and potential harms to young people, and thinking about how to mitigate against those harms. And I just thought maybe, you know, you might have questions for one another. And I wanted to give you a brief moment to ask them. Anyone?
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: I guess I have a question. As someone who’s not in the United States, and who works primarily in the Global South and also works in Europe and the UK, I wonder how interested because here I find a lot of young people in the U.K. are very, very interested in civic and political participation on the part of young people in the U.S. and that’s the case even in India. It’s really interesting how people keep their finger on the pulse because the U.S. is really a big you know, it’s a big hub of production. But I wonder how much news and interest has taken in global youth civic participation and other movements amongst young people in your social circles, your children, the people you teach?
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Well, that’s a great question. I mean, I would just say in my work with youth climate activists, there’s a lot of connection through Fridays for Future global networks of youth, but I don’t see it nearly as much for youth activists who are working online in other areas around other issues, particularly because particularly if we think about the the movement against gun violence in America, which is unfortunately a very unique problem here in the United States, but I’m sure other panelists will have something to say. Anyone want to speak to these questions?
[Dr. Tiera Tanksley]: I was going to share that across my research studies with black youth in general, but black girls in particular, they’re very invested in global activism because they see very explicitly that anti-blackness is a global phenomenon and they understand its offshoots. Right. And how it mediates other types of violences. And so actually in the study that I did, I ended up getting black girls who were in Canada as well, which was like- I kind of like I didn’t realize that I had done that. I had posted on something that was actually like University of Toronto, and I thought it was like University of Texas or something like that. And they were like, Oh, we’re so excited to talk about this because like, you know, we follow Black Lives Matter and it’s definitely like a global phenomenon. And then like, you know, my participants in the U.S., we’re talking about all of the movements that they were involved in and that they learned about because of social media. And they felt like Twitter in particular was really powerful because they felt like they were in this U.S. bubble and Twitter really like opened their eyes to what was going on outside of the U.S. and how anti-blackness manifest differently. Like, it was just like one of the things they were really excited about. Like, yes, I can be a global citizen because the U.S. does like a lot of intentional like gatekeeping, right? Making us seem like we’re in the center as I felt like this was like a really radical disruption and being in communication with folks who are across the diaspora.
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Thanks.
[Dr. Laura Wray-Lake] And I would just briefly add that my students and I have some work together on immigrant origin, young people in the United States and how they’re using Twitter and other social media to really broaden the conversation and bring in a global perspective from their home countries or their cultural backgrounds. So I think that’s one group in the United States is really trying to connect global issues to what’s going on in the United States and have that broader perspective.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Maru Do you want to add anything? I think you haven’t gotten a chance.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: No, but I had a counter question.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Go ahead.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: So I’m interested, given sort of where our political climate is currently, there’s a lot of pushback against, you know, so-called wokeism. And I’m not sure if you’re seeing that across Europe, but that’s something that I know young people are, you know, learning how to navigate and respond to. So I’m just wondering sort of how it’s showing up.
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Absolutely. Here it’s in all the work I do in the U.K., it’s absolutely swept across France. It’s across India. It’s the same discourse. Very clever. Far right discourse, which has somehow permeated the mainstream media. So basically asking for anything which is human rights or social justice is labeled as wokeism. And then that is associated with all kinds of things which say a good religious, very heavily religious person might regard as somehow, you know, like really bad and and sort of against religion. And these things are packaged very carefully. That’s why I said these disinformation networks across Europe in the U.K., are highly funded, heavily funded, and then they’re posted out constantly and they’re given a lot of platform in the mainstream media. So what we didn’t talk about so much today is my research, which looks at the way in which mainstream media actually amplifies certain voices of young people online. So say, you know, a right wing young person will get a massive platform on mainstream talk shows and media and get invited repeatedly. So conservative black voices, our U.K. government at the moment is literally made up of conservative black and brown people. It’s a very strange moment worldwide, but they’ve made their name and come to power by attacking woke young people and social justice warriors.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Well, this seems like an opportunity perhaps, for Emma to chime in if you have anything to add here. No pressure, though.
[Emma Lembke]: No, no, absolutely. I think, at least for me, when I started to advocate specifically for digital wellbeing, I thought it was going to remain in the United States. But I opened up an application. I sent it around to as many different organizations as I could. And the second applicant was from the Philippines. And at a certain point in our life span for Log Off, we had 13 different countries represented and I realized how important that was once I was in a place where I was hearing so many different, diverse firsts like perspectives on digital wellbeing in certain different cultural contexts. So for me specifically, I always tell my young people in the Log Off space, like, if you need to go and advocate somewhere, it’s great to do it in your local community. But having this wonderful kind of perspective, coming back to the log of community and gaining that nuance and understanding how digital wellbeing touches different areas and people so differently, it’s really critical to be an informed and impactful advocate, which I think a lot of people obviously also looking at social media being an echo chamber, kind of stick to one path and remaining in that very narrow scope. But I think expanding that scope is just such an important and mindful practice that a lot of young people fall into to just stay in their lane when in reality it’s just so much more fulfilling and so much more impactful to expand. So that’s what I continue to always do in my space, is make sure I’m serving, even when it’s in a legislative matter, understanding what else is moving globally.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: That’s great. That actually brings us to a question that came up for me, and it actually has come up with all of these responses just now. Many people here have spoken about Twitter, which is the platform that is facing its own algorithmic challenges, shall we say. I think that would be fair. But I want Tiera to just make sure that if she feels like she has something to say on that. But I wanted everybody to talk a little bit about what we’re working with youth. In my experience, I find that younger people are the less likely to be on Twitter and much more likely to be on Instagram. And then the youngest activists that I work with are mostly on Tik Tok. And I’m wondering the ways that you think about and work with people across the different platforms and also talk with them about a lot of these challenges that’s here brought up. Particularly I’m thinking through algorithmic systems and the degree to which they are controlling conversations as well as empowering certain voices or lifting up certain voices against others, etc. So for that I have some notes here on those slides at the end, but I thought I would open up here and see what people have to say.
[Dr. Tiera Tanksley]: I mean, I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to Twitter. I’ll just keep it brief because I could do a whole dissertation. But I think it’s really important to recognize that, you know, as soon as the free speech, you know, which is really rhetoric in support of hate speech. Right. It’s a particular type of free speech. As soon as that was made, an algorithmic decision. When they removed the content moderation policies to, like, enhance free speech, the N-word went up. Right. The use of the N-word went up by 500% immediately. And so I think we can kind of see how anti-blackness is a central feature of these platforms, how, you know, when I was doing my study, there were some basic algorithmic protections that still were leaving black youth hyper to this type of violence. And so now the youth have talked about- they still use Twitter strategically, but they’ve left because they understand that it’s going to get even worse. And so, yeah, it’s kind of like this-, they’re very upset right now. And also they see it as a way to actively disrupt black activism like this was a move very intentionally to disrupt this global force that we had going, right. That it was not just like an accident, it was strategic.
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Can I jump in and just say that I’ve done quite a lot of work on Facebook in South Asia and very much like Twitter, they make extremely monetarily based, profit based decisions about who can be hated and who’s hate can stay online and who’s requests for moderation need to be taken seriously. And so when it’s a very, very sort of wealthy party political person against and a very small time activist or individual on any issue, corruption, the environment, racism, Islamophobia, they will always take down the words or the images put up by the younger activists. They might even end up having those people arrested. They cooperate with the police when it comes to very unconnected young activists. But they don’t when it comes to governments asking them to do stuff. So across South Asia, and they’ve had to apologize for this. They participated in genocide in Myanmar, Facebook. They’ve been implicated in genocide in Sri Lanka. They’re participating in enhancing pogroms in India against Muslim and Christian populations. They’re absolutely appalling. And some kind of global pressure movement clearly is needed to bring people to account.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: And I’ll just jump in and say, I think all of this really underscores the need for media literacy and for young people to be able to kind of distinguish fact from fiction and also know what you know, there are lots of bots out there that are meant to push false narratives to show division and and being being able to identify what those are and sort of just stay focused on on the issue at hand and uplift one another and be supportive of one another, I think is really important. So teaching those media literacy skills is really paramount.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Laura or Emma, do you want to speak to this at all? Nope. Okay, great. Well, then I actually I want to I want to go back to Maru for a second and just say I was really intrigued by the podcasts work you’re doing and the podcast trainings, and I was wondering if, if those resources are at all publicly available and if so, if so, can you share them? Because I’m imagining that I’m not the only one of us who would love to see what kind of resources you have.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: Yes, indeed, I can put it in the chat. I will say that we’ve, as of late, we’ve sort of shifted our focus on curriculum development, you know, podcast trainings and also other initiatives like Pass the Mac and have done less of the podcast recording. But we do have a website with all links to all the podcast episodes, blogs and then corresponding questions for extended dialog that educators and youth serving professionals can use so they can play a segment or a piece of the podcast episode and then have a conversation with young people.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: That’s a great resource. I want to go back to one final question before we are going to have to wrap up here and just ask one, one of the comments. Oops. We have a live question. Before we go to my final questions for comment, let me ask the live question here. The question is, can panelists speak to the extension of the attention economy to include AI hacking, intimacy like AI chat bots and the potential impact on children’s mental wellbeing?
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Can I say a little bit about that? I mean, this is something that we’re starting to look at and I think that if you’re working with children in online environments and they’ve done a lot of work with children in online environments, there are already enough things that people should be worried about that they can, you know, that they can talk about in terms of hijacking. So, for instance, watching online gameplay, for instance, can both be a really sort of useful and good bonding experience between parents and children. So five year and six year olds are watching. My five year old watches, endless videos of US gamers in their twenties playing Mario Brothers or Mario Kart or other Super Mario games. Now, if you’re sitting with your kid and you’re watching that happening, then you are there. So the dangers of AI, chat bot and hijacking are only as much as the dangers of someone else, an adult coming in and trying to communicate with your kid on same Musically, what used to be Musically and is now Tik Tok if you’re not there with them and so preparing your children for that in both those circumstances. So when I’m not in the room and something happens, having those conversations now work the same for human intervention and AI. And so I think focusing only on AI and solutions to AI actually could be quite problematic or counterproductive with children’s safety at issue.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Does anybody want to add to that? I know it’s a new theme, and I guess we’re all going to have to look at and just noticed all of the AI chat bots that add these sexy video comments to everything posted on Instagram and TikTok, which is just unending and endless. Okay. So I wanted to just go back for a second and to ask the panel if people have any thoughts about how we might be able to hack these systems to make the space safe, safer and more supportive. And I know Emma is doing this with her group, so maybe Emma, you want to start it. But then this is kind of an opportunity for everybody to provide final thoughts or one take away. If you have that or something that you think is where we should be focusing our attention in the coming months.
[Emma Lembke]: Yeah, I’ll just start off quickly by saying, you know, when when you see young people civically engaging in topics spanning what needs to be fixed, supporting those youth voices, I think that support for young people is very necessary to continue to curate change, to guide and provide, you know, I get administrative and financial assistance from a fiscal sponsor that has allowed me and my organization to maximize more and do more. So looking for ways, provide that support, knowing it doesn’t just have to be monetary, it can be guidance is really crucial to help uplifting young people, to not only allow them to have that visibility to maximize their impact. And also to many people’s points in allowing for discussions to be had in a more nuanced way that provides your wisdom as members of other generations, while also providing and pairing that with the creativity and excitement of young activists.
[Dr. Tiera Tanksley]: I was going to add, when I think about hacking, I think about Dr. Ruha Benjamin’s. She’s a professor at Princeton and she talks about hacking as having a type of mastery and an in-depth understanding of a system, how it works and how a plan and the ability to make it better. Right. And in particular, make it do something it wasn’t meant to do. And she talks about hacking as this type of abolitionist premise, right. That we can dismantle a system and build something new in its place. And so I actually have a program that I do at UCLA. It’s an abolitionist, eight hour program with black youth. And we actually engage in abolitionist technology design. So how do we learn how to code in ways that center black joy of black life and black living in the algorithms right in the machine, learning in ways that we can ensure that black folks are protected online? That’s actually the default setting, that black life is the default setting instead of black death and dying.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: That’s great. I want to give the last three speakers an opportunity to speak briefly because I know we’re running out of time and we want to make sure that we are mindful of everybody’s deadlines.
[Dr. Maru Gonzalez]: I can just jump in and say, you know, to echo Emma’s sentiments, the importance of supporting young people and really trusting young people to lead. I think a lot of us, you know, like the idea of giving young people a seat at the table but are a little bit hesitant when it comes to sort of turning over the reins because we don’t trust that they’ll do a good job. So supporting young people and trusting them to lead, because I think we do ourselves a tremendous disservice when we underestimate the power of potential that young people have to make a difference.
[Dr. Laura Wray-Lake]: Thank you, Maru. I was going to say something very similar and just uplifting. What Emma has shared with us, and that with any decision that we make or any conversation that we have about how can we support young people, how can we design these spaces, young people need to be leading and part of these conversations.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Shakuntala Do you want to add anything finally?
[Dr. Shakuntala Banaji]: Just to reiterate what I said in my talk, which is that, you know, we need to make sure that that each other is safe, we need to not just concentrate on our own tiny, you know, like siloed struggles because believe you me, the people who are stacked against us, including governments and military organizations and, you know, and so on and so forth that they’re huge. They’ve got massive amounts of money. The only thing that we can have is our networking. So we need to take account of each other’s struggles and be there for each other.
[Dr. Dana Fisher]: Thank you all so much for all of these wonderful comments and insights. I’m going to pass the conversation back to Kris now to wrap us up.
[Kris Perry]: Thank so much to all of our panelists today for sharing your valuable expertise and insight and to our zoom audience for listening in. As a reminder, the recording of today’s session will be available on Youtube next week. As you leave you will be prompted to complete a brief feedback survey. Please, take a few minutes to share your thoughts about today’s workshop and make suggestions for future events. To learn more, check out our website at childrenandscreens.com. Follow us on these platforms and subscribe to our YouTube channel. We hope you will join us again for our final spring webinar on Wednesday, May 10th on Boredom: Screen Time, Free Time and Child Development. Thank you.