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In the Digital Age, Why are So Many Young People Confident, but Not Competent Internet Users? And What are the Implications?

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As the digital world continues to grow and to play an increasingly central role in how we all learn and form opinions about the world and each other, it is more important than ever to be able to tell good information from the bad, truth from lies, and to ably navigate the grey area of opinion in the middle. These critical digital judgement skills are especially important for young people, who both trust and use the internet more than any other generation, but are not always savvy, critical consumers of online content.

For the past year I've been working with a team of young people, researchers, media professionals and educators on a project called Digital Disruption that responds to this issue. The Digital Disruption website launches today and has a suite of free, cross-curricular tools for educators to teach digital judgement skills in the classroom.

Targeted at the digitally confident - but not necessarily competent - generation of secondary school students, the Digital Disruption tools enable teachers to combine traditional critical thinking skills with 'new' knowledge about how the digital world works to effectively teach digital judgement in schools.

There's a lot of essential and brilliant work being done on e-safety at the moment, but Digital Disruption is important because it brings a new angle to e-safety. It protects young people online by empowering them to question the content they encounter and recognise some of the tools and techniques online that can influence their ideas, attitudes and real life behaviour.

As Demos put it in their recent 'Truth, Lies and the Internet' report, the digital native generation are often confident, but not competent Internet users. One third of young people believe that information generated by search engines must be true and 15 per cent base their opinions of a website on how it looks and feels to use.

Demos' report calls for a greater focus on teaching young people to find and critically evaluate information online in schools. Their survey of UK teachers found that teachers consider the ability to evaluate information on the web as central to young people's understanding of the world - and that teachers are worried about their pupils' digital skills. 99% of teachers surveyed think these critical digital skills are important for their pupils to possess, but they rated their pupils' ability as below average on a range of issues.

The Digital Disruption website and resources have been developed using insight and content generated in workshops with young people across the UK. Content on the site includes animations that break down some of the basic techniques of propaganda used across brand advertising, political content and conspiracy films online, and YouTube films that highlight how easily facts can be manipulated to push contradictory messages. A bogus conspiracy film and a 'reveal' film that deconstructs it show just how easy it is to create a credible yet untruthful film online. A 'Source Check' tool includes a Martin Luther King Jr website that ranks highly in a Google search and states itself to be 'a valuable resource for students and teachers alike' - further investigation reveals this website was created by a white supremacist group.

Demos argue that the internet can be both liberating and asphyxiating for young people, and we've seen first hand in our workshops that this is absolutely the case. Digital Disruption aims to realise the internet's potential to inform, instruct, enlighten and liberate, but it doesn't do this by telling young people what to think; it promotes critical and independent thought through exposing and deconstructing the techniques that can be used to manipulate them.

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