Educating and Protecting Young Digital Citizens

Commentary | April 06, 2011

On April 4, 2011, the EastWest Institute hosted the International Youth and Technology Forum in partnership with Columbia University, where the event was held. It brought together everyone from cybersecurity experts and activists to government representatives and Girl Scouts to lay the groundwork for a new alliance aimed to protect – and empower – kids and teenagers in our digital world.

Dominique Napolitano, a fifteen year-old Long Island Girl Scout who has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives, described the new risks kids face online, from “sexting” to cyber bullying.

“We need to empower youth to take this problem into our own hands and find solutions that will work for us,” said Napolitano, stressing the need for early education on cybersecurity.

The call for education resonated throughout the day, as did the call for people of all ages to become better “digital citizens,” capable of applying real-world knowledge, ethics and personal responsibility to cyberspace.

“With industry leading the way, it’s clear that all of us need to work together to create a global culture of responsibility offline as well as online,” said EWI’s John Kluge, Jr., who organized the forum.

James Lyne, Director of Technology Safety at Sophos, warned that cyber criminals fueled by organized crime are “winning the battle for the internet,” deploying about 95,000 bits of malicious code to threaten consumers each day.

“We have to modernize our best practices and update our awareness,” said Lyne in his keynote address.  The goal, he added, would be to deliver a message to the criminals: “It’s our internet and they can’t have it.”


The spread of computers is connecting previously isolated societies, but it also compounds the challenges of keeping youth safe online, particularly when children learn to use the internet before their parents.  A documentary film clip screened by Michael Kleiman of Righteous Pictures focused on Peruvian children who received laptops from the One Laptop Foundation; Salma Abbasi, Chairperson and CEO of E-Worldwide Group, described her experiences with Pakistani children. She also urged young people everywhere to help develop a new code of conduct for the internet.

Young activists using the internet to organize for political change in countries like Egypt face real risk from government crackdowns, especially when social networking sites fail to protect their identities.

Mark Belinsky, the President and Founder of Digital Democracy, urged social networking sites to do a better job of ensuring users’ privacy and security.

Even in democratic societies, several speakers noted, governments and citizens need to pressure companies to better protect online privacy and safety.

“It has to be a multi-pronged approach,” said Jacqueline Beauchere, Director of Trustworthy Computing, a Microsoft initiative for online privacy and safety.

Diana Pentecost, AOL’s Program Director for Consumer Policy and Child Safety, agreed that the effort to keep users safe online must be inclusive, saying, “Everyone has to talk with everyone else.”

Engaging a range of industry, government and technical experts is at the heart of EWI’s Worldwide Cybersecurity Initiative, which regularly brings together leaders from the Cyber40, the world’s most digitally-advanced nations.

The International Youth and Technology Forum grew out of a working group aimed at protecting youth online at EWI’s first Worldwide Security Summit in Dallas in May 2010; participants include AOL, Common Sense Media, the iKeepSafe Alliance,UNICEF,, and others. On May 31, 2011 in London, EWI’s first International Youth Congress on Digital Safety and Citizenship, which will include many forum participants, will precede EWI’s Second Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit (June 1-2).

“The EastWest Institute may be one of the first organizations who have really recognized that child online safety plays such a large role in our worldwide cybersecurity,” said former FCC Commissioner Deborah Tate.

According to EWI President John Mroz, “Youth protection can bring people together, because it’s a critical issue everywhere.”

Click here for full list of speakers

Click here to learn more about the Second Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit in London