Vancouver Public Library chief librarian Christina de Castell says public libraries can help citizens learn to navigate the internet and to learn what is true and what is not.

By Christina de Castell | Published by The Vancouver Sun

Updated: May 15, 2019

Christina de Castell: Libraries Can Help People Connect and Learn How to Cut Through Misinformation

I invite you all to visit your local library, bring a friend and explore big ideas that have the potential to transform the world around us.

We are living in a time of deep societal divisions while wanting to feel connected with each other. Our digital world has made it easier than ever to communicate with others across the globe and allow us to share our perspectives and personalities. Our connected world also requires us to take responsibility for what we write and read.

Noni Nabors cannot recall a time in her 24 years when the Internet wasn’t available.

“We’re the first generation that grew up with the Internet,” said Nabors, a peer facilitator with Check Your Head, a Vancouver-based social justice non-profit helping youth build leadership skills and become engaged in their communit

Most young people in B.C. today have always had access to all the information the Internet holds. And, in recent years, their Internet use has given big corporations access to their private information, their time and their money.

“There are a lot of children who grew up with their information being online, and images and facts about them online, that they didn’t necessarily consent to. That’s a huge privacy issue,” Nabors said.

There is no shortage of headlines about Facebook’s privacy breaches, Twitter’s tolerance of hate and YouTube’s propagation of conspiracy theories. And yet “a lot of the services we use on the Internet are essential services at this point; being on the Internet is not optional,” Nabors said.

Youth also use these services, particularly social media, in ways different from older users, Nabors added, pointing to the student-led gun reform movement in the United States, or the global youth climate change march last month.

There are calls for greater government regulation of the Internet, but change isn’t coming tomorrow, and the Internet isn’t going away. How can we prepare youth to be digital citizens when we’re still unsure what that means?

Check Your Head is engaging youth directly on this question today in Youth Take Action: Digital Citizenship Day, a one-day, youth-led workshop. The goal is to let youth work out their own definition of digital citizenship, including their responsibilities as ethical Internet users; what they expect from governments and private corporations; and how to tell spot the real news from the fake.

The workshop is designed to complement the province’s Digital Literacy Framework, optional guidelines from the education ministry to help Kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers get students using digital technology to access, analyze and assess information.

Digital citizenship takes those skills one step further, by thinking through the most ethical ways of using those technologies.

Youth Take Action is just one of many events looking at our online lives that make up SFU Public Square’s ongoing 2019 Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age.

Emily Gorham, Check Your Head’s education program coordinator, said the discussion will include topics around inequality and the individual’s online role.

“A lot of what we’re going to be talking about is digital citizenship and digital justice, in the sense of not re-creating or perpetuating inequalities or injustices that we currently have in online spaces and not exacerbating them or creating new ones.”

Participants include high school students from Surrey and Vancouver, who will hear from guest speakers including Nasma Ahmed, director of the Digital Justice Lab, a Tides Canada technology and digital issues education project; librarians from the Vancouver Public Library who will discuss privacy; and a representative from CIVIX, a charity dedicated to educating youth about democratic participation.

But facilitated conversations among young people are the main activities. The aim is to prompt the students to consider not only their own rights and responsibilities online, but also the responsibilities of governments and corporations to protect society from injustices or harm as a result of online activities.

Guided by peer facilitators, the students will create their own Digital Rights Manifesto based on the day’s discussions. The young people will be encouraged to take back the manifesto back to their schools, their homes, and even their Member of Parliament’s office, Gorham added.

“Youth are huge stakeholders in this issue of digital citizenship and digital rights,” she said. “I see a lot of what we’re doing is a positive visioning of the future we want, and how it can make the world a better place.”

This article was originally published by The Vancouver Sun on April 18, 2019.