Reshaping The Internet For The Next Generation

The world has changed irreversibly since Tim Berners-Lee invented the world-wide web. The Internet has become a basic tool, used by practically everybody. Imagining the world without the online platforms and content that we have today may be possible for the older generation, including the Millennials, but young people born as Generation Z or younger simply cannot envision their lives without the world-wide web. Since children start using the internet as early as age three, concern for their safety as active participants in the digital world was noted decades ago. So how do we reshape the online world in order to make it safe for the youngest users while keeping in mind their desires and needs?

Multiple local initiatives have been launched to ensure the well-being of youngsters using the Internet. Due to shifts in society and the realization that this matter needs to be addressed from multiple perspectives, a lot of schools and NGOs are hosting events and workshops aimed at providing eye-opening experiences for both parents and children. One of those events was organized a few weeks back in Ansonia, USA when the Ansonia public school cooperated with the Assumption Catholic School and the local police to host a social media safety session for both students and parents. Being aware of the possible negative outcomes of young people using the digital space without parental supervision is certainly the first step to starting a productive dialogue on how to reshape the online world for future generations. But how much do we really know about the youngsters’ online habits and preferred content?

Recent research, conducted in India by the TCS Youth Survey, showed that India’s youth is immersed in advanced technology. The research was done by targeting youngsters aged between 12 and 18. The results of the survey showed that 75 percent of young people use online tools for completing school assignments, 69 percent uses it for instant messaging, and 66 percent use it to download music. On the other hand, a significant majority of children is using the possibility of online shopping (80 percent). While many believe that online shopping is a thing to be concerned about when it comes to children and the Internet, there are certainly more pressing issues that need to be tackled on a global level when considering the evolution of the digital world. The Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center have launched a major survey among scholars, technology experts, government officials, and other stakeholders to discover their perspective on the future of the internet and social media as one of the most popular aspects of the digital world. They were asked for their views on the evolution of public discourse online in the next decade. No major change in the online social climate was the answer of 42 percent of those questioned while 39 percent expect more negative activities and only 19 percent expect the Internet to be less shaped by harassment, trolling, and distrust. Many of us cannot even imagine growing up in today’s world, filled with the uncensored and hateful online content that is being shoved in our faces on a daily basis. Despite the fact that we believe we know what is best for our children and youth, one cannot dispute that their input in this matter is crucial. So what does the Internet mean for young people, and how to they want to see it evolve?

The Internet on Our Own Terms was a project launched by researchers at Leeds and Nottingham Universities and 5Rights, a children’s digital rights group aimed at getting children aged between 12 and 17 involved in the discussion about online safety and behavior in the UK. More than a hundred young people were involved in this project, and their voices were heard. They want the same moral standards that apply in the offline world to be introduced in the digital world as well, including more self-imposed responsibility, more privacy, and more consequences for bad behavior online. Young people want the Internet of the future to be more user-friendly in a manner that allows users to have more control over their own personal digital identity and online footprint.

So young people in the UK think that a compulsory “digital citizen program” should be implemented to promote a discussion among all stakeholders in the matter while ensuring that it provides technical knowledge for youth. The voices of children have shown that their interest in the matter is great, they want to be in the room when experts and adults discuss this question as they, too, take it very seriously and believe that the digital world needs to be improved.

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