Young people under 25 are the most active Internet users, they are more networked, and they tend to adopt new services and technologies earlier than other demographic groups.
However, digital inclusion of youth can – and should – go beyond teaching digital skills. Questions around the extent of meaningful youth participation have preceded the Internet. Ladder models visualize the idea that participation is not binary, but exists in degrees. In low degrees of participation, young people might be used as decoration to give a process a more inclusive appearance, without being included in the “important” conversations that the “adults” have somewhere else. In higher degrees, it is young people themselves who initiate and lead projects while being part of the larger process at hand.
In this context, the larger process is Internet Governance. By definition, Internet Governance initiatives have to be open, inclusive, transparent, and non-commercial. This can create environments that are more accessible than other, more traditional, policy spheres. The multi-stakeholder model of Internet Governance allows for different groups to have a legitimate say in discussions, therefore gives youth the opportunity to become a recognized stakeholder group. The growing number of local, national, and regional Youth IGF initiatives shows rising interest and mobilization.
What is more, if judged by the effect that Internet regulations take on different parts of society, by mere numbers and exposure, young people are affected in many cases, and should be consulted. These are all obvious reasons to have youth participate and be visible in Internet Governance.
In any case, there are several preconditions for meaningful youth participation:
- Acceptance: understanding that youth have legitimacy in policy making
- Opportunity: active support of participation
- Capacity: education and opportunities for capacity building
- Advocacy: sustainable processes to further youth-relevant policies
- Inclusion: youth active on all levels of policy-making
This list is not exhaustive, but shall be a starting point to discuss how youth can actively shape Internet policy.
This article was first published (12th November 2019) online via hiig.de and is part of the publication "Critical Voices, Visions and Vectors for Internet Governance". In order to find the sources and literature used for the individual statements, please visit the publication.