Teenagers plot to save the Internet

It's Safer Internet Day. And the kids have it well in hand.

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In the course of researching this blog and other stories I write, I talk to a lot of people who work in high tech. I love to ask them how they found their way to this work and if they are glad they did. No one has ever told me they wish they had taken another path. But the first time I asked that question – eons ago – I was surprised by the answer: To change the world. After the 100,000th (slight exaggeration) time I got that same answer, it stopped surprising me. Now I start typing the answer as soon as I ask the question. That is what seems to motivate everyone who works in every part of this industry. (So go ahead and toss out your stereotypes of entitled, overpaid tech execs, the people with their feet on the ground are in it for the rest of us.) Ask a lawyer (I did this recently) why they choose to study and practice law and you might get an aspirational answer -- if you are lucky. When I tried it, though, I got, “I get paid well. (Shrug.) I like that.” So it comes as no surprise that the reason (to me, anyway) that the reason a collection of companies – Xbox Live, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google/YouTube, and Tumblr among them – tech industry experts, teenagers, and politicians gathered in Washington DC today for “Safer Internet Day 2014: Teens and Tech Leaders on Building a Better Internet,” gave for taking time out of their lives to talk about creating a safer internet was…yes, wait for it…to change the world. (ConnectSafely.org is hosting the official U.S. event. See also the Facebook Safety page or on SaferInternetDay.us)

Safer Internet Day is noted every year on the second Tuesday of February in over 100 countries but this is the first time it’s been observed in the US. “With the help of Senator Schumer and our partners, we aim to make this Safer Internet Day the most positive, powerful one yet by reaching classrooms and communities with accurate information on how youth and adults are using the Internet mostly as a force for good,” said Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org.

I cornered Yahoo! Tech columnist Dan Tynan, who moderated the panel, after the event in DC to ask him why the teens decided to travel – on a school day! – to DC and talk in front of a group. (For every teen I know, that was not a trivial decision.)

“I got the feeling,” he explained. “That they all felt the Internet was getting a bad rap. The teens don’t think the Internet itself is a danger. Some people just act badly there.” Bullying, for example, is a problem for these teens. But it’s more of a problem in real life than on the Internet. Mostly they see the Internet as positive thing, where they can connect with people and ideas and expand their own worlds beyond geography and the people they know in real life. They worry that it – and their access to it – is being blamed for the actions of a few jerks. So they are doing what they can to correct the situation. “For example, there has been a movement to actively post anonymous positive comments as a way to combat trolls,” says Tynan. In short, he says, “The kids have it well in hand. They gave me hope.”

Want to get some hope of your own? You can watch video of the event at SaferInternetDay.us.

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