How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety.
Who: Ezequiel Passeron from Faro Digital
What: Workshops, talks and campaigns
Mission/vision: To promote, through co-design, the responsible use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for a more just society
Since: 2016 (but the team had worked together in different spaces since 2011)
Years of operation (as of February 2018): 2
Works in the field of: Responsible use of ICT, digital citizenship
Post summary: Faro Digital works with youth, through co-design workshops and talks, to discuss topics related to digital citizenship and the responsible use of ICT. This work in schools and spaces helped them create a notable campaign on safe sexting.
Highlight quote from the interview: “To raise awareness in youth, we need to co-work rather than just bring an adult-centric view of responsible use, safety, privacy.”
Interview with Ezequiel Passeron, Faro Digital
Ezequiel is part of a collective of young communicators who use their understanding of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to promote a fair society. This Argentine collective started working together in 2011, and established a non-profit organization called Faro Digital in 2016.
Faro Digital (Digital Lighthouse) gives talks and facilitates workshops on the responsible use of ICT in schools, in NGOs, and in spaces where marginalized communities gather. They also train teachers and parents on the ways that they can get involved in youth education in regards to the digital world.
As communications professionals, they have always shared a vision with the youth they serve: social media are great tools for communication. But they see that the adults around youth do not always share that view. Faro Digital see a need to explain to adults what is going on with youth in digital spaces, and to promote adult involvement in youth’s digital lives. They want to bridge this intergenerational gap by connecting adult family members with their children, and teachers with their students.
Ezequiel argues that connecting adults and youth can allow them both to reflect and learn together about responsibility online, which is the framing that Faro Digital favors to articulate its mission. Yet they are aware that “responsible use of ICT” is not necessarily a catchy term that will get youth excited about a workshop. A lot of their work aims to find shared vocabulary that generates empathy among youth; not to impose formal terms, but to use the terms youth already use.
They don’t want youth to feel like they are subjects of study, but rather collaborators, people who are having fun. At the same time, they also want young people to reflect about what they do online. Their overall framing of responsible use of ICT sometimes takes form in conversations about what it means to take care of oneself and others online; about bullying, sexting and non-consensual image sharing.
This points at a key element that distinguishes Faro Digital’s work from that of other organizations in the same field: their genuine commitment to co-design in the process. “To raise awareness in youth, we need to co-work rather than just bring an adult-centric view of responsible use, safety, privacy.”
Their work in co-design was inspired by the failures they saw when youth weren’t involved in the design process. “We failed in our first years. We had quantitative objectives, we wanted to teach and give tools, but then we saw that youth didn’t respond well to the discursive distance between us. Things we cared about didn’t resonate with them. Sometimes they just told us what we wanted to hear. To address this, we needed a structured methodology with goals, but unstructured enough to give youth agency in the process.”
Faro Digital’s work in co-design has been largely inspired in the Digitally Connected network initiated by Youth and Media at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, and in Lionel Brossi’s research and work in the University of Chile. But what does co-design look like in Faro Digital’s work in Argentina? They have two types of sessions: one-hour, to fit into the periods that schools grant them, and the longer two-hour.
In the one-hour sessions, they spend fifteen minutes interacting with the youth, asking what they like about the internet, what they don’t like about the internet, and what they would like to learn about it that nobody has taught them. Then they focus on two topics: with younger kids, they focus on grooming and cyberbullying; with older kids, they focus on digital footprint and sexting. They play a couple of videos, and kids are asked to come up with solutions to the problems they identify.
In the two-hour sessions, participants are divided into small teams. They start out each session asking youth to map out the online media they consume and spaces in which they participate: videogames, social networks, influencers. As a consensus-building exercise, they choose one of the networks or games they included, and then it’s time to analyze what they like about them, what they would change about them, and what they find bothersome about them. For Ezequiel, that’s where critical thinking begins.
Participants then are asked to pick a problem and think of solutions for it in different formats (campaigns, applications, even emoji). After this exercise, they wrap up the last twenty minutes with a conversation on digital citizenship topics, depending on the age of the group they are working with. With 9-11 year-olds, they talk about grooming; with older youth, they talk about sexting.
For Ezequiel, “some topics are always more successful than others, but a lot of it comes down to how you present them. I think audiovisual content is essential in this. When we play videos, there is no one who doesn’t pay attention; they are used to consuming this type of content”.
This creative methodology helps address some of the difficulties related to working as external forces in a setting where they will have a very limited amount of time with the youth. “At first, it’s challenging to build trust and participation. That’s why we speed into creative work; to help them feel comfortable with us and like they belong in this activity. For me, one of the most effective tactics is to turn fast when there are awkward silences. If we think there is lack of participation because it’s a painful or boring topic, we try to improvise and deviate the conversation from there”.
Through co-design, the responsible use of ICT becomes a discussion on digital citizenship’s hottest issues. But what are the underlying power dynamics that get uncovered through these conversations? For Ezequiel, the conversations that Faro Digital facilitates among youth enable critical thinking on gender oppressions, otherness and intergenerational trust.
Gender oppressions become clear as youth start to discuss sexting. When asking about their views on sexting, the Faro Digital facilitators make a point of asking about the gender identity of those in the most widely circulated photos – and why do they think that is the case. “At this point we have stopped talking about internet itself and now we are talking about society.” Talking about famous cases or the “fad of spreading photos on WhatsApp” can help warm up youth for this conversation.
Our relationships with others are a central topic of discussion also when Faro Digital facilitates a discussion on digital footprint. By discussing what youth find when they look for themselves on a search engine, and what they expect jobs will be able to find when they look for them after high school, they talk about one’s control in using the internet as a business card – an unrealistic stance. “We try to talk about the role of the other — the impact that sharing photos without consent, or tagging those who don’t want to be tagged, can have on these searches”.
Faro Digital’s conversations on grooming don’t rely on stranger danger narratives; they are about showing that meeting people online is not bad, and about restoring trust on the adults around them. “The objective is for them to understand that adults must take care of them, even if they don’t understand ICT. That sometimes, even if their first reaction if we tell them we are being sextorted is to be angry, their anger is related to their fear for us. And to not let that anger stop us from asking for help”. In Argentina, there is a public phone line against grooming, as well as legislation.
“Lots of kids criticize what they see everyday because it’s hard to ask for an ethical use of ICT when we take a snapshot society today. We see lots of violence, little empathy. Bullying and cyberbullying happening in most schools in Argentina. It’s by pointing at the unethical that the conversations about ethics begin. They received little education in values and what that meant for their use of technology, and I think that’s something that worries them. We have heard answers from youth saying, ‘I have to behave well, be careful online, but nobody does that. Why am I not going to be part of the mass that insults, that discriminates others online?’ It’s complex for youth because they are living in a society that shames, publishes everything all the time. I think this makes ethical use complicated”.
Having difficult conversations does not need to be boring, and, according to Ezequiel, the power of the co-design process can can be seen in the energy that’s generated in these spaces. “What educators who are there everyday tell us that their kids struggle to feel interested, to engage in everyday activities like this. And the high level of interaction we see shows that this is working. We can see interest and genuine answers about what they think”.
The lessons they have learned in Argentinean schools and youth spaces inspired Faro Digital to do a campaign on sexting. When they saw the disconnect in youth’s perceptions between sexting and non-consensual image sharing, and contrasted it with victim-blaming campaigns against sexting, they decided to take a different stance: remind youth that it is their right to sex, but they should do so carefully: opting for anonymity and secure messaging and storage.
#SexteáConLaCabeza, Faro Digital’s campaign for safe sexting
“It’s better to cover [your head] now than having to wear costumes later”
This campaign opened new collaboration possibilities for Faro Digital. Movistar Argentina reached out to collaborate with them as they did a campaign on grooming. The organization will launch a new campaign on Facebook focused on how not to share images of others, and is currently working on qualitative research on youth uses of digital tools funded by Google, and a campaign on “Convivencia digital”, digital coexistence, with UNICEF Argentina and the Government of Buenos Aires.
Though the responsible use of ICT was the core of their mission as they started, their main focus today is generation of methodologies to understand and co-create on what technology more broadly means for youth. They are interested in children’s creative and innovative uses of technology, as they think that that is where the potential of transformation lies.
Outside of workshops and campaigns, what would Faro Digital recognize as the natural progression of their mission? A digital cultural center where kids can go to learn about robotics, code, media-making, ignite talks; a space where youth can find something that changes their life. “We have a long way to go in seeing mediators (educators, parents, etc) use these tools to help kids find their passions”.
Ezequiel’s frustration with the Argentinean education model is that it’s too structured and insists on labeling youth. “The possible paths are too rigid and most youth don’t fit into them, and the internet could help us find our own and create a world where everyone can thrive”. If you involve youth in the creative process, the responsible use of ICT for a more just society can support broader youth development goals: it can allow you to seize “the potential of self-discovery enabled by access to new technologies”.