After School’s Takeaways from the 2018 Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

First published on the After School blog

After School Vice President Jeff Collins recently traveled to Paris, France to present alongside tech companies and internet safety experts at the 2018 Internet Governance Forum. Collins presented on the topic of Technology, Suicide, and the Mental Health of Youth on November 13.

Session Highlights

In the session, Jeff was joined by ConnectSafely’s Larry Magid, University of Iceland Professor Hrefna Sigurjonsdottir, Facebook Policy Manager Monica Guise Rosina, Tumblr’s Head of Social Impact Victoria McCullough, and student Philippine Balmadier.

Hrefna Sigurjonsdottir, discussing the connection between the use of the internet and a decline in mental health, clarified, “we do not know about causal factors yet although it is evident that it is important how young people choose to spend their time and we need to take care of basic needs.” She continued, “research done by the Icelandic Centre of Social Research and Analysis (ICSRA) shows us that there is a link between time spent on social media and increased depression and anxiety, especially among teenage girls and self-harm is on the rise among teenage girls.”

The session focused heavily on how public, private, and non-profit sectors can minimize detrimental mental health impacts of internet-related technologies while maximizing the benefits through collaboration. “There has been a lot of public discussion about the issue and intervention based on cooperation. So by using the same methodology of cooperation between all relevant sectors, running evidence-based practices and working on a community level instead of a whole country approach, we might be onto something,” said Hrefna.

The panel also discussed the different challenges young women and men face when using technology. Each have different risks and expectations when it comes to social media, including how they are targeted in instances of cyberbullying, sextortion, and other issues. Moderator Larry Magid pointed out that the suicide rate among girls has risen faster than among boys.

While the session was live in Paris, After School’s Safety Team and Communications Manager Michael Luchies led an online discussion on the topic. The live Twitter chat posed six questions:

  • How does technology impact the mental health of youth?
  • Can technology aid in preventing suicide among youth?
  • How can technology aid in preventing suicide among youth?
  • What information do we still need in order to better help youth prevent harm to their mental health?
  • How can the public, private, and nonprofit sectors minimize detrimental mental health occurrences from happening while using technology while maximizing benefits?
  • Does technology and social media provide more benefits to youth than risks of damage to one’s mental health or leading them towards suicide?

Learn more about the live Twitter chat by reading the recap post here.

IGF Observations

Collins joined other sessions throughout the event and spoke with many of the hundreds of thought leaders and researchers in attendance. Here are several observations made during the forum.

Barriers to Access and Representation for All in Tech

There are still barriers to worldwide internet access with just ⅖ of the developing world having access to the internet. Women have also been underrepresented in technology, and so have the elderly. By increasing access for all and increasing representation for females, LGBTQ+, the disabled, and the elderly, the internet and the technology we use to access it will be more inclusive and beneficial for all groups, races, sexes, and ages.

Importance of Multilateralism

The day before forum began, France hosted the Paris Peace Forum — part of the drive by French President, Emmanuel Macron, to reaffirm the importance of multilateralism and collective action in responding to current global challenges. The timing was apt because at the IGF, speakers and participants emphasized that collaboration across companies, borders, and sectors is paramount if we are to successfully address the challenges raised by the internet.

Restricting User Access A Tempting Trap

In what was a detailed policy speech, Macron laid out his vision for how the internet should be governed. He called for a middle ground, somewhere in between what he dubbed the “China Model” of overbearing control, and the “California Model” of hands off governance. According to Macron, some legislation is necessary if we are to prevent the proliferation of fake news, terrorism, and other internet-related issues. The trick is to determine where to draw regulatory lines, noted Macron. He challenged the IGF to come up with new, more effective ways to work together to create and implement frameworks to combat internet-related threats, from cyberbullying to terrorist recruitment.

Fake News is a Major Problem

In a poll held in the After School App, nearly 40,000 teens were asked about fake news. To our surprise, over a third of teens said they are not able to easily spot fake news. During the IGF, presenters stated that unless we fight against fake information being spread, we are on side of authoritarians who favor fake news and authoritarian controlled elections.

Counter-Speech Vs. Blocking

One way networks and governments choose to deal with hate speech and terrorist recruiting efforts is to block offenders immediately. The result is that the offender will find another network to spread their message on and their audience will likely follow them or seek out a different source for the same information.

Taking down content doesn’t change behaviors, but counter-speech might. Counter-speech helps educate content creators and their targets on terrorism, bullying, and other issues. By leaving some content up and providing counter-speech, behaviors may change and both the content creators of harmful content and their targets may be able to better avoid similar situations in the future.

Nothing is Really ”Offline”

IGF speaker Julia Kloiber discussed how nothing is really offline. In the commercial software industry, data is often converted into revenue, meaning nearly everything is recorded. Kloiber posed the question, “how do we as civil society and software engineers create those spaces where you can really be offline when you choose to be?” There is no easy answer to this question, but there are subject matter experts and organizations working to ensure that individuals can remain offline when they choose while others try to prevent that exact scenario.

Technology is Often Painted as the “Bad Guy”

From media coverage to fictional television shows like Black Mirror, technology is often presented in a negative manner. Instead of worrying only about a dark future with technology, Mozilla’s Cathleen Berger encouraged attendees to consider looking at the future positively due to technology.

We would like to thank the UN for hosting the IGF and for selecting After School to be among the presenters. Join After School’s Safety Team on Twitter @SafetyonSocial.

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