College students have been reflecting on citizenship-related issues in the digital world and are making suggestions to governments, businesses, and individuals.
Fake news, filter bubbles, misuse of personal information, and vitriolic comments over social media are all impediments to healthy, respectful, inclusive and fact-based public debate.
Digital technology is now such a big part of everyday life that our citizenship extends to the digital world. But cybercitizenship is meeting with unexpected issues, such as:
- the speed of technological innovation;
- the slow updating of laws and regulations, and their shortcomings vis-à-vis overseeing the activities of foreign businesses and international platforms; and
- individuals learning digital behaviours that reflect the prudence, civility and civicism they would normally exhibit in the physical world.
A group of youth recently pondered the ethical dimension of these issues and proposed interesting solutions.
Tangible recommendations for citizenship to be fully exercised on social media
Every two years, the Commission de l'éthique en science et en technologie du Québec (CEST) [Quebec commission on ethics in science and technology] encourages some fifteen college-level students to think about science- and technology-related ethical issues as part of the Commission-Jeunesse (CEST-Jeunesse) [youth commission]. With input from teachers, they gather information over several months, and then meet for a few days of debate. Further to this, the CEST publishes their opinion.
Giving youth a voice is believing in innovation. Consulting with us is finding new ways of addressing difficulties. Globalization and open-mindedness mean that we are in constant contact with schools of thought from all over the planet, which our community undoubtedly benefits from.
— Noémi Brind’Amour-Knackstedt and Ann-Sophie Gravel, CEST-Jeunesse 2018 spokespeople
In 2017-2018, the seventh CEST-Jeunesse was dedicated to cybercitizenship, with a focus on social media. This was the first time the Canadian Commission for UNESCO (CCUNESCO) collaborated with the CEST-Jeunesse. It was an opportunity for Sébastian Goupil, Secretary-General of the CCUNESCO and Maria Mourani, the Quebec government representative within the permanent delegation of Canada to UNESCO, to have a discussion about UNESCO priorities with the participants gathered in Québec City in January 2018.
Further to this, the CEST-Jeunesse’s opinion, Ethics and Cybercitizenship: A Youth Perspective, put forward eight specific recommendations.
Though most recommendations are aimed directly at the Quebec government, some are also relevant in a larger context. The CEST-Jeunesse’s suggestions include:
- educating and informing citizens on the dangers of fake news and the impact of their online activities;
- providing all citizens with access to the digital public space and helping them acclimatize to it;
- developing a policy regarding the right to be forgotten;
- promoting the use of free and open software in schools and the public service; and
- making efforts to limit the undue influence exerted by a given individual or organization in the digital public space.
As communication over social media most often takes place on platforms controlled by foreign digital companies, the CEST-Jeunesse would like to remind these companies of their responsibilities: if they wish to set up in a given territory, they must comply with the laws to promote public well-being. With that in mind, the CEST-Jeunesse recommended that the government:
- favour cybercitizens’ interests over those of digital companies; and
- when possible, require these companies to provide clear and simple conditions for use, remove abusive clauses from the conditions for use, facilitate a careful use of their services by users and recognize the intellectual property with regard to content produced by individuals.
Nonetheless, the CEST-Jeunesse recognizes that citizens must take responsibility as well. It encourages them to conduct themselves properly online.
A digital citizenship charter
The CEST-Jeunesse’s closed out its recommendations with an ambitious idea: a digital citizenship charter, which covers freedom of speech and the quality of information, the personal and social responsibility of digital stakeholders, transparency, privacy and justice.
“Equitable access to digital capabilities . . . must be guaranteed to promote inclusion.” — Excerpt from the Digital Citizenship Charter proposed by the CEST-Jeunesse.
The CEST is impressed by the high quality of the work carried out by the CEST-Jeunesse.
“It is important to listen to these youth. They have an inside perspective as people who see and experience hands-on the possibilities for action and empowerment offered by digital technology, as well as its limitations.” — Jocelyn Maclure, Chair of the Commission de l'éthique en science et en technologie
The CEST is committed to passing the CEST-Jeunesse’s findings and recommendations on to the appropriate authorities, and the CCUNESCO is equally pleased to promote them.
“Now more than ever, we must ensure that the Web and social media favour civil debate and mutual understanding. These are considerations for youth, who are once again demonstrating their ability to shed light on issues and propose solutions tailored to our realities.” — Sébastien Goupil, Secretary-General of the CCUNESCO