Youth team prepare for UN conference

Posted on 21 August 2013

Guest blog: Matthew, 17 years old

Matthew is part of Childnet's Youth IGF Project, which takes the voice of youth to the Internet Governance Forum - a UN conference about the future of the internet. In this blog he shares an insight about what went on at this year's residential Summer Camp where the youth team designed a global survey and prepared for chairing a workshop about online anonymity.

Summer camp is crucial, not only because this year we welcomed Jaydene and Micaiah to the team but also due to the high goals we are setting ourselves for this year's IGF. Last year the YIGF project pushed youth participation to the next level with the youth delegates hosting a workshop in which we explored Freedom of Expression. This year following on from the success of last year we planned to host another workshop but with a less scripted feel to stimulate debate amongst the panellists and floor.

The summer camp ran over three days with each day taking on a slightly different objective. The primary aim of the summer camp was to plan our workshop giving it a clear structure and purpose; construct our global survey on anonymity and devise our own personal messages we wished to present in Bali.  

On the first day, we analysed our impact on the IGF last year as to give clearer direction to our planning this year. Additionally it was important to introduce the IGF to the two new delegates. Once this had been accomplished we discussed the main themes of the conference. After focusing on freedom of expression last year and seeing how successful and relevant this topic was, we decided to investigate the impact of anonymity on freedom of expression and the concept of anonymous use. 

Anonymity is a hard topic to define and as with many things on the internet, not everyone agrees on the boundaries in which one can operate with anonymous use. We firstly set about defining what anonymity online meant to each of us but then began to focus on particular aspects of its use for example, anonymity in commerce, behavioural effects when socialising and the different platforms which facilitate anonymous internet use. Each delegate held their own personal view on each matter, which proved extremely interesting when trying to discuss the governance of the internet. We tried to discuss questions such as, how do we manage to accommodate different views and how anonymity should be preserved while still protecting the user? Naturally there were a range of responses and after a long debate it was only right that the evening finished with a hearty meal!

The second day was the day on which we needed to write our survey and plan our workshop. The previous day had led us to base camp, so today we pushed for the summit! We spent the day in the offices of Facebook which was the perfect environment for constructive work, not only because of the board rooms we worked in but also due to the unlimited supply of food and drink! 

To begin, we needed to organise our thoughts on anonymity and begin to see where we wanted to take our workshop. To help us learn more about the various intricacies of the views on anonymity we were spoken to by Louise Bennett from BCS and Rosa from Facebook who works in the policy team for Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. Louise gave us an insight into how identity is formed with anonymity and spoke about the relationship between privacy, security and secrecy. We also heard about data aggregation, data as a currency and the affect of anonymity of these topics. We were given reminders of the internet being a utility not the 'real world' showing the detachment from real life. Louise finally focused on  the point that most users of the internet desire secrecy, or the assurance of protection, not anonymity itself.  

Rosa spoke next on the view that Facebook takes with the issue of anonymity. As Facebook is a real name service which wants to build trust, focus advertising and maintain its position as the largest social site it felt that anonymity restricted these aims. It was fascinating to see how Facebook operates around the globe reacting to government's preferences and other variables. It gave us real insight into why anonymity is seen as a corrosive element in Facebook's real name world. With recent and relevant news stories about Ask.fm (the anonymous Q+A site)  we questioned Rosa on why Facebook choose to link itself with this site (by hosting the Ask.fm app). 

The second day consisted of producing the questions to go on our global survey designed to discover more about the use and effect of anonymity. The questions were designed with our workshop in mind, enabling us to link the statistics produced to both the questions and debate.

On the third day we were back in the Microsoft offices and began to finalise our preparation for Bali. We took time to record a quick promotional video and have each been set tasks to complete before setting off in October.

This year's summer camp once again proved to be an invaluable time to focus our thoughts towards the next Internet Governance Forum. We are all looking forward to Bali.

Find out more about the project at www.youthigfproject.com - and take part in the global survey about online anonymity!

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