Creating Technology for Social Change

Youth and Privacy in the Americas: a blog post series

How do allies who work with youth, in informal learning contexts in the Americas, promote critical thinking on privacy?

Before I came to MIT, I worked for five years as a technological capacity builder in nonprofit organizations in Latin America. Through this work, I encountered strong tensions between the missions, visions, and methods of organizations that work on youth and child issues, versus those that work on digital rights. Youth and child rights organizations seemed to advocate for stronger regulation and law enforcement capacities to keep minors safe online, while digital rights organizations pointed out at the ways this infrastructure could be used to silence dissent and harm activists. These tensions are part of a discussion on youth privacy that has not found much common ground between organizations that appeal to moral panic and those whose visions of net freedom are blind to child and youth rights and needs.

In making sense of the different threats to youth privacy, the needs of different populations, and a fast-changing media ecosystem, youth allies who work at the intersections of youth development, digital rights, and online safety face a complex challenge: how to support critical reflection by young people that transcends specific media and particular contexts, and develops into an evolving stance on the ethics of sharing personal information.

In many discussions on privacy, youth are framed as fragile and in need of protection. This argument is then used to justify surveillance systems that help target dissidents. Youth are also framed as mindless media consumers whose relationships with technology pose a threat to democracy. I want us all to instead engage in initiatives where youth are recognized as subjects of rights with specific needs, yes, but also as actors with agency.

This is the motivation behind my Comparative Media Studies graduate thesis, and the basis for this series of interviews with non-profit workers, youth advocates, and allies who work on youth privacy issues in the Americas. This blog post series will feature different organizations: the ways they carry out their work, their takes on youth and privacy, and the ways they support the development of critical thinking and practices.

A note on process: after each interview, I draft a blog post and share it back with the organization. Some have responded with immediate approval or minor changes, and others have taken a more active role in editing the post – co-authoring the post, in a way. The posts in this series therefore reflect this back-and-forth conversation and editorial process.

I will update this post with links to each interview: