Cybersafety and well-being of young people take centre stage at the Internet Governance Forum’s Youth Track

  • 16 Oct 2023
  • 5 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Waceera Kabando


This year, the annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was hosted by the Japanese Government in Kyoto from the 8th to the 12th of October 2023. The forum, in its 18th iteration since its inception, was themed, ‘The Internet We Want – Empowering All People.’ The key focus areas deliberated under this theme were:

  1.       AI and Emerging Technologies
  2.   Avoiding Internet Fragmentation, which has been defined as the opposite of what the Internet is according to the Internet Society i.e., the splinternet.
  3.       Cybersecurity, Cybercrime and Online Safety
  4.       Data Governance and Trust
  5.       Digital Divides and Inclusion
  6.       Global Digital Governance and Cooperation
  7.       Human Rights and Freedoms
  8.       Sustainability and Environment

Youth Track

The Youth Track was a highlight of this year’s forum, actively contributing to the development of the IGF Youth Strategy by facilitating capacity development initiatives throughout the year, culminating in Kyoto. The 2023 track builds on the achievements and outputs made during the IGF 2022 Youth Track.

This year, the track unpacked Cybersecurity and Trust issues of importance to youth and for youth. In engaging the youth, the activities were focused on:‎

  • Developing capacity on the overall concept of cybersecurity and trust policy area, focusing on opportunities and ‎challenges digital tech brings to policy shapers and makers.
  • Establish networking among young people from around the world; and
  • Support cooperation among youth-focused initiatives involved or interested in Internet ‎governance across the world.

There were four capacity development workshops delivered by experts on various aspects under the umbrella theme of cybersecurity and trust throughout the year and these included:

  1.       Nurturing Digital Well-being; Addressing the Impact of the Digital Environment on Youth Mental Health

The impact of online activities on mental health was discussed, considering factors such as content, contacts, and time spent online. This further relates to the importance of considering children’s evolving mental development and the role of state parties.

The positive and negative effects of social media on mental health were acknowledged, including concerns about personalised advertising and the misuse of sensitive data. Upcoming changes to European legislation to enhance Internet safety for young people were mentioned as a possible example of good practice.

The significant impact of the Internet on young people’s mental health was highlighted in the context of the need for preventive education to address cyber threats. Insights from a study conducted in Ukraine were shared, and suggestions on promoting mental health and addressing cyber threats were sought.

The varying impact of harmful online content on children was discussed, emphasizing the importance of teaching them digital skills and empowering them to navigate digital threats.

The need to empower and educate children was recognized, with a focus on the governments incorporating digital education into national curriculums. The issue of underreporting hateful speech online and the role of tech companies in mitigating hate speech were brought up.

Shared responsibilities in ensuring children’s online safety were addressed, including the mention of a model developed by a relevant organisation and the limitations of parental control tools. The importance of trust between young people and adults and the avoidance of restrictive solutions were emphasised.

The roles of parents, and businesses, and the challenges of balancing internet safety with freedom of expression were discussed. The importance of education, peer support, and identifying vulnerable groups for appropriate assistance were highlighted.

The difficulty of age verification and the European Commission’s initiative on age-appropriate design were mentioned. The significance of understanding user age for the well-being of young people and all Internet users was emphasised.

The complexity of protecting children online and the potential impact of relevant legislation were acknowledged. The importance of sharing good practices, promoting digital literacy among parents, teachers, and children, and considering the impact of online behaviour on mental well-being was emphasized.

  1.       Capacity development in cybersecurity: empowering youth for the future of Internet governance
  2.       Empowering Young People in navigating privacy, security, and freedom in the digital universe

Youth Predominance: In the Asia Pacific region, children and teenagers constitute most Internet users, emphasising the critical need to prioritise their digital safety and well-being. Understanding their online experiences and challenges is paramount to ensuring a safer online environment for all.

Legislative Frameworks: Policymakers are actively developing legal frameworks aimed at safeguarding children and young individuals in the online space. These frameworks encompass defining youth rights, setting age restrictions, enforcing consent mechanisms, promoting Internet safety awareness, educating the public on digital risks, and implementing sanctions for non-compliance. Effective legislation can serve as a cornerstone for enhancing online safety.

Data Protection Legislation: Robust data protection legislation significantly contributes to the online safety and privacy of young people. Such laws establish guidelines for the responsible handling of personal data, which is crucial in safeguarding individuals, especially the youth, from digital threats and privacy breaches.

Public Education: Continuous and comprehensive initiatives are indispensable for educating the public about their rights and responsibilities concerning data protection. Cybersecurity groups play a pivotal role in identifying and mitigating online threats. Promoting a culture of cybersecurity awareness is vital to protect users, particularly the younger demographic, from online attacks and data breaches.

Role of Technical Community: The technical community plays a vital role in upholding the fundamental rights of Internet users while ensuring their safety online. Their expertise is instrumental in supporting balanced policymaking that considers both technological advancements and user protection. Collaborative efforts to safeguard the online experiences and well-being of young people are of utmost importance. This entails the development of legislative frameworks, data protection laws, public education, coordination among stakeholders, rights-based regulation, and the active involvement of youth in decision-making processes. Additionally, promoting digital literacy is crucial to empower young individuals to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly. Decision-makers can lead to informed and effective policies.

Coordination and Collaboration Among Stakeholders: Effective regulation for online safety, including measures against cyberbullying and child protection laws, necessitates strong coordination among diverse stakeholders. Collaboration between government bodies, industry, civil society, and advocacy groups is essential to formulate comprehensive policies that address the multifaceted nature of online threats.

Rights-based Regulation: Digital regulations must align with international human rights standards, with particular emphasis on defending individuals’ freedom of expression and their right to exist online without fear or harassment. Balancing regulation with these core principles ensures that online spaces remain open, inclusive, and protective of users’ fundamental rights.

Youth Involvement: Initiatives like the Youth Council formed by the Safety Commissioner illustrate the importance of incorporating youth voices and interests into decision-making processes. Engaging with young individuals not only empowers them but also ensures that policies and practices align with their unique needs and concerns.

Digital Literacy: Recognising that young people may have gaps in their knowledge of their digital rights and access to information, it is imperative to prioritise digital literacy education. Bridging these knowledge gaps equips young users with the skills and awareness needed to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.

  1.       Advancing ethical AI for an Inclusive and Innovative digital landscape for Youth

The forum emphasized the ‎crucial significance of implementing sound digital policies, laying the foundation for a secure and ‎responsible digital future. During the Summit, the youth immersed themselves in digital innovation, empowerment, and ‎collective action to create a world where youth and seniors unite as architects of a better and safer digital tomorrow. ‎

In his address to the IGF 2023 Global Youth Summit, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Junhua Li noted that despite the digital age ushering in tremendous opportunities and conveniences, from instant and borderless communication to access and vast knowledge resources; it has also brought about numerous challenges, such as cyberbullying, online harassment, privacy breaches, and the spread of misinformation and disinformation. He highlighted the importance of engaging all the relevant stakeholders in finding the solutions to the problems.