Youth and privacy in the Americas: Pensamiento Colectivo, Uruguay
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: Luciana Almirón, Tania De Tomás, Cecilia López Hugo, Andrea Salle, Leticia Brandino and Agustina López from Pensamiento Colectivo
What: Campaigning and workshops
Mission/vision: To promote mass actions that ignite reflection on the future we want as individuals and as societies.
Years of operation (as of February 2018): 2
Works in the fields of: Digital citizenship, responsible use of ICT
Post summary: Pensamiento Colectivo is a collective of women that started out by producing viral videos to challenge victim-blaming culture Uruguay and Latin America, and have since started doing talks in schools to raise awareness on gender-based violence online, change-making and collective responsibility.
Highlight quote from the interview: “It was the ideal time to push a new message: don’t share. Don’t continue this humiliation. We realized we weren’t reaching the youth, who were the ones sharing these images [non-consensually], and that’s when we decided to create the video. Using the same means of the aggression, viralization, to counter the speech.”
More resources: Pensamiento Colectivo’s page on Facebook
Two years ago, a group of friends came together in Uruguay and asked themselves what they could do to change the world. “It sounds utopian, but we wanted actions that promoted reflections about the problems that affect society. We saw something in Uruguay that made us uncomfortable, and we realized that there was a lack of reflection around the phenomenon. The previous two summers, we had heard of women whose images had been shared non-consensually, with terrible consequences for them. Always young women.” Cecilia López-Hugo and Andrea Salle complete each other’s sentences as they described the way Pensamiento Colectivo was born. “The process was very fast. In two weeks we started brainstorming and contacting people. We launched a video in January 2016, just in time for the carnival season in February”.
On a Friday evening, during the Boston winter and the Uruguay summer, I had the luxury of speaking with Cecilia, Andrea, as well as Luciana Almirón and Tania De Tomás of Pensamiento Colectivo, a collective of young women in Uruguay who work to change the world by promoting awareness on responsible uses of ICT. They gave up a sunny evening to sit together, drinking mate tea and share their warmth and expertise with me.
What was the language needed for a video to captivate youth in the summertime? “It was the ideal time to push a new message: don’t share. Don’t continue this humiliation. We realized we weren’t reaching the youth, who were the ones sharing these images [non-consensually], and that’s when we decided to create the video. Using the same means of the aggression, viralization, to counter the speech.”
Pensamiento Colectivo’s campaign started with a video where a girl walks on the beach, telling the story of how everyone in her social circle will watch the video before she asks the viewer what their role will be in that process. “And it worked. We were surprised by the reach. We were surprised to see it work across borders. As a collective we didn’t want to work on technology, digital citizenship openly; these actions led us into the topic, made us read, and made us realize that it’s needed and an opportunity and this is where we saw the opportunity to work on these topics from Uruguay.”
The relatable nature of the story, told by a young woman in Montevideo, gave a local face to the phenomenon of non-consensual image sharing. This was important in a Spanish-speaking context where this phenomenon is sometimes erroneously called ‘sexting’, the English term, rather than described with local language (see, for instance, this law that criminalizes ‘sexting’ in Mexico). This speaks to one of the critical roles that organizations have played in youth and privacy campaigns: the creation of narratives that make the topics relatable and show their local relevance. This was a successful approach for Pensamiento Colectivo, whose video, without any paid promotion, had reached over 770,000 views by June 2018.
‘If you receive a video that exposes the intimacy of people, humiliates them or makes them vulnerable; don’t share it.’ Stills from Pensamiento Colectivo’s El video del verano.
But “campaigns weren’t enough. Through our own networks, educational institutions started to ask us if we had workshops for teenagers on this topic. So we thought: the next step is doing workshops.” Pensamiento Colectivo in Uruguay describes a similar intent behind their workshops, which they hold with parents and with students separately. Luciana and Cecilia: “The intention of workshops with parents and children is to narrow the technology gap between them, open up a dialogue, and find a path towards prevention and a better coexistence in the digital world, where on and offline lives are entirely mixed. We believe it’s in the exchange with kids and parents that we can all enrich our experiences.”
Their workshops are about good practices online. The topics they cover are the digital footprint, personal data online (how to care for one’s own, as well as for others’), sexting and grooming. They try to work twice with each group, for a couple of hours each time, and give them assignments to reflect on between both sessions.
‘Reflection, resignifying, prevention. Digital citizenship workshops.” Pensamiento Colectivo’s workshop ad.
Pensamiento Colectivo promotes their messaging on empathy not just in their youth workshops, but in their workshops with parents, too, which focus on sharenting—the practice of sharing representations of one’s parenting or children online. “With parents, we talk about empathy. We believe that the development of empathy is a way to take care of oneself and of others. This is a hyperconnection that disconnects us, and it is good to bring up the idea that there is someone crying at the other end of the screen.”
Pensamiento Colectivo in Uruguay push messages about responsibility, and their desire to use it to talk about broader social dynamics, through another frame: digital citizenship. Andrea Salle explains that in Uruguay, where Plan Ceibal, the local One Laptop Per Child initiative, has been one of the internet access policies since 2007, “the State made an effort to train educators, to get kids to use a computer at home, but from a very technical side; not from a digital citizenship perspective. It was viewed from a sense of universal access. And it went well; access is almost total. In almost every house, there is a device. Public plazas have wifi. We have fiber optic at home.” A 2016 survey showed that, over a decade, the number of households with an internet connection increased by 70 percentage points, and 82% of households in Uruguay have broadband.
“The State tried to democratize access to technology, but didn’t promote the social learning about it.” Luciana Almirón: “We work to give information that helps people take a stance. Apart from chatting, hanging out online, there are risks. So we suggest tips for people to take care of their data. E-government, personal data protection, those fields are already developed; we are interested in the aspect of human connections, interpersonal relationships. We think that our role is in giving information, giving a human perspective based on empathy to improve our relationships. We ask ourselves what people need. What are parents facing at home? We try to help them in this social construction woven by new technologies. We are in a different scenario of coexistence that calls for new norms.”
To create new norms, they recognize that gender is the underlying topic to discuss, and use their space to challenge the assumption that blaming the victim is “somehow good to coexistence”, without wasting the opportunity to question other oppressive dynamics at play. Luciana and Cecilia say: “The exposure of women’s bodies is rooted in our culture. There is an entire apparatus saying that that is right. All cultural references reinforce these gender norms, leading women to self-objectify, believing that they are empowering themselves by posting pictures of themselves naked. To what extent is it empowering, to what extent does it only feed sexist culture? We are all becoming objects of consumption. And our idea behind the video was to show that there is a young victim suffering the consequences of this objectification.”
One thing is to choose topics and messages for workshops, but how do they turn them into rich conversations? They believe that critical thinking arises from posing concrete stories and experiences, from showing that things can be done differently. From asking questions such as, “ If all goes viral, what will happen? What will happen to me, to someone else? Could something else have happened? Apart from highlighting stories and other possible scenarios, they drive the conversation in ways that make risks more tangible. “We try to make the concepts related to the internet more tangible. We bring them down to earth with numbers. ‘X people in Uruguay are connected to the internet. X in the world. This is what it means for me to lose control when I put something online’. It’s about being graphic about what internet means, what reach means. That’s when we see faces of, ‘Oh, this is bigger than I imagined’. We compare things to analogical situations like leaving doors open. These contrasts promote a form of communication.”
Luciana also thinks that “some [audiovisual materials] make you think or pose you a different situation where kids have a moment where everything clicks, and where they think something else can happen.” After all, schools contacted Pensamiento Colectivo after their audiovisual content “went viral.”
“We ask them things and rely on their inputs and participation to see what happens. It’s not a lecture. When we give them a voice without judging what they say, sometimes we see very intense dialogues between them, and educators themselves tell us about the level of attention they witnessed from the students. We are talking about teens, youth, who sometimes are portrayed as kids who are all the time on their phones, but we see incredible things. Their capacity to reflect and be critical has been kept silent by system that forces them to do things all the time.[…] Kids haven’t been given this space to ask, reflect.”
It is worth mentioning that Pensamiento Colectivo is all based on volunteer labor. When I interviewed them, after two years of working, they were finally reaching stability through having jobs outside of their volunteer work – all of them in media and communications. They get some funds from workshops, which only covers the workshop costs.
This means that, in the realm of initiatives with different budgets, Pensamiento Colectivo’s campaign is paradigmatic: a simple video produced by six young women who came together with the utopian desire of promoting reflection on an issue. Their video promotes youth agency, points to collective responsibility, and encourages people to have empathy for those affected by non-consensual image sharing. It was viewed over 770,000 times; it received video responses from different individuals who held handwritten signs of the campaign slogan; and it was featured on mainstream media in Uruguay. This shows that youth across the Americas are eager to consume, share and create content on the issues that affect them the most, and for which they have not received much relevant, non-judgemental, and constructive advice.