Google launches workshops for young people to combat ‘offensive speech and fake news’

Google is launching ‘Internet Citizens’, a series of day-long workshops for 13 to 18 year olds in cities across the UK, as part of its global YouTube Creators for Change programme, which supports creators who are tackling social issues and promoting awareness, tolerance and empathy on their YouTube channels.

The workshops will help young people find a positive sense of belonging online and teach skills on how to participate safely and responsibly, and use tools such as flagging and comment moderation to make the web better for all, the company said. Specific topics to be explored include what could be done in response to offensive speech, fake news, echo chambers and how they could use video to bring diverse groups together.

“The internet is a place where anyone can have a voice, be part of a community and generate positive social change. But the internet isn’t always positive or welcoming for everyone,” said Naomi Gummer, head of public policy for YouTube UK. “Nearly all of us will have come across comments or content online that shocked or even offended us, sometimes leaving us feeling isolated or powerless to change the conversation. For young people in particular, this sense of vulnerability can be heightened especially when something is shared on social media by a trusted friend.”

The initiative complements an aim of the Scottish Government, one of whose actions in its recently refreshed Digital Strategy is to use the Year of Young People 2018 “as a platform to establish a clear commitment to digital rights and responsibilities that empower people to access the digital world creatively, knowledgeably and fearlessly.”

The Internet Citizens curriculum was designed by experts from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, in partnership with UK Youth and Livity, and was also informed by its work with an advisory council including Faith Associates, Active Change Foundation, the police, Demos and the Diana Award. Hosting the workshops are Alain “Fusion” Clapham and Efe Ezekiel, along with YouTube creator Nadir Nahdi, Founder of BENI, known for using their voice and creativity to drive social change. “The Internet is what we want it to be,” said Clapham. “It can be an unpleasant place where people misunderstand and deliberately deceive each other. Or it can be this amazing place where we can share, collaborate, understand and help each other.”

Gummer added: “We’ve spent the last few weeks testing the workshop before our launch today in Liverpool, and have seen some promising results. With the help of UK Youth, we’ll visit youth clubs across the country over the coming months, and we’ll also explore ways to work further with youth workers and other partners to scale the programme. This is just one part of our commitment to a better web. Alongside this, we’re exploring more innovative ways to use technology and to partner with experts to help us tackle hate speech online. We’ll share more updates on these areas in the coming weeks.”