Are social networks actually connecting us? Youth consultations

17 November 2020 – As a part of the project Make Future Together: EU and the Western Balkans from the Youth Perspective, European Policy Centre (CEP) organised nation-wide youth consultations in order to find out the youth’s perspective on internet freedoms and regulations of online content. Throughout the two hours, the youth gave their opinions and provided significant input based on their personal experiences and attitudes.

Consultations brought together 12 motivated youth representatives, aged between 16 and 24 from different cities and municipalities in Serbia. In order to facilitate these consultations, Zoom platform was used, which allowed for the connection of this diverse group and their exchange of ideas.

Discussion began in a group setting where the participants reflected on their use of the internet and social networks. Throughout the discussion, the youth concluded that they spend majority of their time with their phone in their hands. Moreover, they realised that during the COVID-19 pandemic, they relied upon technology and the internet and their social media profiles in order to function, keep in contact with their peers and family, but also to gather important information. Therefore, three best and most important aspects when it comes to navigating the online world is the availability of information, ability to use the platforms for activism and to share one’s opinion with others. On the other hand, alongside with these positives, youth indicated the existence of several negative aspects of the internet – fake news and disinformation, data privacy, the possibility of addiction and the worrying effects on mental health.

Second part of discussion focused on finding ways and mechanisms in which these negative aspects can be mitigated and who would be entrusted with such a serious task. Results and conclusions indicated that the youth does not trust national-level institutions due to a fear that someone’s interests will be represented, rather than remaining objective and neutral. On the other hand, the participants recognized the importance of self-regulation of big social network platforms such as Facebook and Twitter with their fact-checking mechanisms. Additionally, they acknowledged the importance of working on our own media literacy skills in order to mitigate the above mentioned issues. Participants recommended including civil society organizations in the system of formal and informal education and approaching the issue on a holistic level where everyone could be included – from marginalized groups, parents, states to multilateral organizations such as the European Union. One of the conclusions also indicated that a creation of an independent regulatory body for the freedom of expression on the internet could somewhat contribute to the resolution of the issues.

Irina Radosavljević, one of the participants from the consultations, earned an opportunity to present these findings obtained during the consultations at a panel filled with experts in the field. She also got the opportunity to ask important questions posed by her peers – does anyone have the power to control individual expression online and who would that be.