In April, we announced the selection of our first Council for Digital Good – a group of 15 teens from across the country that we will work with to advance digital civility and safer online interactions. Now that we’ve officially kicked off council activities, we want to introduce this impressive and dynamic group!
The council is made up of nine young women and six young men from 12 states, ranging in age from 13 to 18. They are:
- Bronte from Ohio
- Champe from Oregon
- Christina from Georgia
- Erin from Michigan
- Indigo and Katherine, both from California
- Isabella and William, both from Washington
- Jacob and Miosotis, both from Florida
- Jazmine from Kentucky
- Judah from Tennessee
- Rees from Maryland
- Robert from Connecticut, and
- Sierra from North Carolina
Since selections were announced, we’ve held two conference calls with council members, and we’re preparing for the first council summit at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, in August. The teens have high hopes for what they want from the council experience and they’re eager to change the (online) world. They’ve experienced, witnessed and are dismayed by online bullying and harassment; they’ve seen hate speech and other displays of incivility online, and they’re eager to learn, get involved and make a difference. Here are some fresh thoughts from a few council members in their own words:
- The “concept of respect often seems to be forgotten as soon as we are ‘concealed’ by a screen,” says Christina, 15. “We’re not actually hidden, though; in reality, there are still consequences for all of our actions.”
- Katherine, 16, agrees, adding that she expects the council experience to be an eye-opening one for herself and her peers. “Amongst the sea of information, posts, messages and videos, we tend to lose our own identities and hide behind the screen.”
- “I really want to understand perspectives (of the other council members) and use the information to reformulate my own views,” says Jacob, 14. “I hope council members can contribute to the discussions in a way that helps form a positive impact on life online and online interactions.”
- Jazmine, 13, is excited that her community recently launched a digital inclusion plan to eliminate the digital divide. “This is great news … but with access comes the need for more education to ensure that youth, like me, understand their digital responsibilities and how to use the internet and the wealth of accessible information, for good … (With) more access, awareness becomes essential.”
- Isabella, 12, recounts a related incident where technology was misused at her school. Officials responded with a class dedicated to digital citizenship. As students, she says, “we were never taught to be safe on the internet. We had no guidance on what to do or how to act online, which is one of the reasons technology was being mistreated. If we had informed our students before, this incident could have never happened. This made me realize the importance of online safety and what a difference it could make.”
- Indigo, 13, noted near-ubiquitous internet access. “I want to contribute to making the online world a safe place for kids and teens … Almost every kid today, even toddlers and babies, have access to the internet. I know from experience that bad things happen” online.
The internet is truly the landmark invention of our lifetime, but it’s not without risk – and those risks seem to be morphing and increasing in line with the rapidly developing pace of technology. We hope to gain perspective from council members on the state of online interactions today; what might make the online space healthier, safer and more enjoyable, and consider how Microsoft can play a role in shaping that future. We don’t profess to have all the answers – or many, for that matter – but forging a constructive dialogue with young people adapting to and embracing new technology is a meaningful place to build from.
As part of the council experience, we plan to share our work, with its emphasis on digital civility – leading with empathy and kindness in all online interactions and treating each other with respect and dignity. Exercising digital civility goes hand in hand with helping teens to fully appreciate and understand digital risks and potential harms, and to challenge them to create, adopt and share new “rules of the (digital) road.”
We are eagerly awaiting the summer summit. On our last conference call, we shared the preliminary agenda with council members, which includes topical discussions with Microsoft leaders and external guests, projects and activities to get them thinking and engaged, and some general exposure to life at Microsoft and careers in technology. The highlight here is a “speed-mentoring” session with Microsoft employees from various teams and disciplines. Erin, 14, told us she’s most excited for this session, and even shared the name of a specific Microsoft expert that she’d like to meet. (We’re trying to recruit her, Erin!)
At Microsoft, we’re eager to grow a kinder, more empathetic and respectful online world, and we look forward to helping to make that happen by teaming with this inspiring group of young people. As Bronte, 16, said, “I am sure we are all very smart individuals … so what we all pool together will be nothing short of amazing.”
At the time of writing of this post, Jacqueline Beauchere’s title was Chief Online Safety Officer.