Interview: danah boyd

danah boyd is a social scientist at Microsoft Research and a research associate at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. In her research, she examines everyday practices involving social media, with specific attention to youth participation. Lately, she has been focused on issues related to privacy, publicity, and visibility. She recently co-authored Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. She is currently co-directing the Youth and Media Policy Working Group, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. She blogs at and tweets at @zephoria.
This interview was conducted by Christine Newkirk, the Managing Editor of Youth Media Reporter at the Academy for Educational Development. Christine has worked for several years in the youth media field as a scholar, practitioner, social science researcher and evaluator in New York, Costa Rica and Brazil. She is currently completing her Master’s thesis in International Affairs at the New School University in New York City. Newkirk’s research interests include youth activism, new media technologies, and grassroots social and economic development.
YMR: Some people say that changes in technology inevitably result in changes in society, while others say that society continues as it will and new technologies are used as they make sense within existing social relations. What does your research on teens and new media technologies add to this debate?
danah boyd: As always, reality is somewhere between two extremes: “technology is radically changing and the lives of young people are turning upside down” versus “nothing is changing and the lives of teenagers continue as they always have.” I’ve found that teens are primarily engaged in practices that are common for their life stage but that technology has inflected those practices in new ways. For example, in using major social media, teens have to make sense of communicating in a persistent, searchable environment while balancing new tensions between what constitutes public and private.
YMR: Share with us some highlights from what you learned about American teen culture through your ethnographic research with teens.
boyd: The concept of ‘teenager’ is a social construction. The term was devised in the 1940s to address a marketable demographic. In contemporary American society, teens are primarily living at home and are functionally dependent. Teens make up an important part of American society, but they are also, in many ways, excluded from adult society and always have been. One prevailing attitude toward teens persists in this decade and is clearly reflected in the law: teens are perceived as vulnerable and therefore protected from interactions with adults, are perceived as dangerous and therefore kept out of the public sphere through curfew laws and penal laws. Teens are taught to be wary of adults that they don’t know. And while we want them to be politically engaged, we don’t invite them to be part of adult society in any meaningful way.
While most adults see formalized education as the ‘job’ of teenagers, most teenagers are focused on figuring out how the social world works. They want to understand how people relate to one another while making sense of social hierarchies. They’re trying to figure out their sexuality and their social standing at the same time. This sets the stage for their Internet engagement. For most teenagers, the Internet provides an opportunity for them to socialize with their peers in light of their limited mobility and access to public spaces. The Internet is to today’s teens what the mall was to my generation. It’s a place for flirting, gossiping, and hanging out.
YMR: If you found that teens are using social networking mostly to engage with people they know offline, what are the implications for youth media practitioners?
danah: The Internet used to be primarily about engaging with strangers who shared your interests. Public online spaces were “interest driven.” Today, they’re “friendship driven.” Teens turn to social network sites to engage with the people that they already know rather than meeting people online. As I explained in a talk I gave at State College in April 2009:

I use the term”social network site” instead of “social networking site.” This is intentional. While you might be off using Facebook and MySpace to network with business colleagues, high school mates, and the attractive individual that you think you might want to date, most teens are not. They’re focused on their friends. They use these sites to connect to people that they already know from school, church, activities, summer camp, etc.

Teens’ engagement with social network sites reflects all of the challenging social dynamics that exist in everyday life. This is why it’s complicated to overlay other relationships on top of the pre-existing networks. For example, many teachers want to use social network sites for classroom purposes, but kids who are working on a project together at school aren’t necessarily friends and forcing kids to collapse their social worlds and their school worlds can have serious social consequences. Educators need to identify exclusionary dynamics in the room and keep in mind that these will probably play out online.
It’s one thing to be networked personally and another to show all of your social connections to all of your friends. This may have particular implications for programs aimed at bridging young people from very different backgrounds. For example, I’ve examined strategies to bring individuals from separate and conflicting gangs together. I’ve seen that in spite of the affordances of technology, creating bonds between individuals from groups as different as these relies on the kind of time and social interaction that has always been necessary for building trust between strangers. Teenagers are particularly sensitive about what they reveal to their social world, and this is as true in digital spaces as it is in the real world.
Youth media practitioners might want to consider allowing participants to create alternate Facebook accounts help ease this tension. Once there are signs of acceptance, the two accounts might become fused into one. The key to creating thriving online communities that support youth media endeavors is allowing time and space for trust formation, and creating an audience in ways that feel natural to teens.
Some great examples include the use of social network sites to maintain connections made through extended social/academic activities, including the Model UN and summer camps and church youth groups. Social network sites function as an infrastructure for young people to continue ties with one another.
YMR: In your research, you identified discrepancies between adults’ expectations of what teens know about new media technologies and what teens actually know about these technologies. Can you talk about these findings and their implications for educators?
boyd: In order to address the gap between what “digital natives” supposedly know and what they really know, I believe that the best approach is bringing a dialogue about new media technologies into the classroom. While young people use new media technologies every day, they do not have a comprehensive understanding of how the information is negotiated, produced and reproduced.
Wikipedia is a fantastic example of a new media technology learning tool through which we can directly address some of these discrepancies. Young people know three things about Wikipedia: 1) it’s mostly accurate; 2) it’s easy to get to and covers most relevant topics; 3) it’s banned by all teachers. Given this, students use Wikipedia heavily while trying to obscure the fact that they’re using it so as to not upset their teachers. Students don’t have the critical skills to understand how to analyze Wikipedia; and, teachers all too often black and white understanding of the site does not help.
Wikipedia is a phenomenal source of information, precisely because it’s open. While all publications have their biases, Wikipedia’s are publicly exposed. As such, it’s possible to actually understand how the information was constructed, by whom, and with what biases. The particularly instructive parts of Wikipedia are not the content pages, but rather the history and discussion pages. Through looking at these pages, young people can develop a better understanding of how knowledge is produced. Bringing Wikipedia into the classroom can serve as an entrée into a conversation about the production of knowledge, the introduction of bias and control for bias, and the reproduction of information through new media technologies.
Additionally, there is space for conversation about authorship and intellectual property—a concept that has quite different meanings “on-the-ground” among young people and in law. For example, Andres Monroy-Hernandez, a PhD student at MIT Media Lab, has found that young kids often emphasize who shared content over who produced it. It’s not that young people do not recognize or value artists, but that they also value the individuals that they know who shared information with them and they want to give them credit too. This finding has broad implications for teaching not only media and news literacy, but also for bringing young people into the fold with respect to regulations around plagiarism in high schools and colleges.

Information Quality, Youth, and Media: A Research Update

The Internet has changed the ways in which information, knowledge, and entertainment is created, distributed, accessed, used and re-used (see Benkler, 2006). These shifts have not only led to an unprecedented amount of online information, but have also changed the information ecosystem. The limited number of standards for quality control and evaluation, the convergence of media and the shifts in context are complicating features of the new environment that make quality judgments for youth more challenging and respective evaluation skills more important (Flanagin & Metzger, 2008, pp. 12-14; Hargittai, 2008).
Within the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Youth and Media Policy Working Group Initiative—led by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser together with danah boyd, and generously supported by a MacArthur Foundation grant—we were inspired to find a new approach to these issues by three observations. First, while advocates of media education sometimes take for granted the ability to find information online (e.g., Buckingham, 2003, p. 77), as phrased recently in Youth Media Reporter, “without the skill to search and navigate mass information mindfully and effectively, it is increasingly difficult to locate reliable sources necessary to fulfill civic roles and life-long learning needs” (Cheney, 2010).
Second, while we as adults have not necessarily figured out ideal ways to navigate this new ecosystem either, the concepts by which we have been approaching evaluation may not be ideal to apply to youth. For example, Miriam Metzger, in her and Andrew Flanagin’s recent landmark study of Kids and Credibility (2010), found during early phases of study design that youth younger than 11 years of age were not able to grasp the concept of credibility well enough to involve in the study (Metzter, April 2010, private communication).
Third, and perhaps most interestingly, among youth there is a culture of content creation. While very few youth are creating sophisticated remix videos or writing fanfiction, even acts as simple as posting to friends’ walls on social networking sites are acts of writing and creation. Furthermore, when youth share links with one another, they are effectively identifying information as valuable in some way (interesting, useful, entertaining, etc.) and disseminating it. We hypothesize that this culture of youth content creation is likely to have an impact on the ability of youth to navigate the media ecology, and that information literacy might be able to draw on this culture. However, such possible links are rarely considered on a strategic level.
Assessing Information: A (New) Challenge for Youth
With these three observations in mind, the Youth and Media Policy Working Group Initiative has embarked on a comprehensive effort to compile background research and conduct original research as necessary, and then to use this research to develop educational programs and policy recommendations. We are nearly complete with the first stage, a comprehensive literature review examining the range of research related to credibility and information quality concerns. In addition, it explores corresponding youth practices of information seeking, consumption, application, creation, and dissemination. We have drawn on literature from the areas of library and information science, education, anthropology and ethnography, and psychology.
The main goal of the literature review is to explore the three observations introduced above. Two additional goals emerged in the process of conducting research. When we realized that there was a large difference between looking at issues through the perspective of youth and looking at issues through an adults perspective (Palfrey/Gasser, pp. 155-183), another goal became to organize such differences in perspectives. For example, when we seek to explore the challenges faced by youth, it is very different to ask, “what are young users’ goals and what challenges do they face in trying to achieve them?”, and to ask,” what objectives do we was parents, educators, etc. want youth to strive for that they currently do not, and how do we teach such objectives to them?”. It is important for us to consider both meanings, to make sure information literacy programs are relevant for youth, and do not aim only to accomplish the objectives of adults. Another goal of the literature review, also emerging from the literature, is to understand how the challenges that youth face are modulated by variables such as immersion in digital media, access (the “digital divide”), and cognitive development.
In order to achieve our goals, the literature review is not just an organization of existing literature and research, but an attempt to go beyond the terms in which the existing literature understands itself and build a new, comprehensive framework.
A New Framework: Information Quality
A major conceptual contribution of the literature review is to propose a framework of “Information Quality.” Contrary to what the term might suggest, by this we do not suggest that information (as “meaning”) has some intrinsic, objective quality we can assess (nor do we mean quality in the sense it is used in the juxtaposition of quality vs. quantity). Building upon a tradition established by Martin Eppler (2003) and others, our use of “quality” is relativistic. That is, quality is largely determined by the individual, so the exact same article or website may be “high quality” for one person but “low quality” for another, depending on user-based variables (e.g. prior knowledge about the topic area) and contextual factors (e.g. available time-frame for processing the information).
There are two central advantages of adopting such a framework. The first is that this framework of “Information Quality” shifts from a product-centered to a process-centered approach. The quality of information depends not just on the relationship of an information object to an individual, but also on how that information object is situated with respect to accessibility, convenience, speed, and relevance.
Already, credibility researchers have begun to modify the concept of credibility, for example by moving away from an “authority-based approach to credibility” to a “reliability approach” (Lankes, 2008, p. 106). But at their core, concepts such as “credibility,” “trust,” “authority,” and even “reliability” are proxies for truth, attempts to find a shorthand for assessing the truth of claims for which the media consumer has no firsthand experiential knowledge. Information Quality attempts to move away from an implicit correspondence theory of truth to a relativistic framework by defining the value (quality) of information by its contextual relationship to individuals, and not by its ability to be anchored to an external objective reality. Of course, this does not preclude analysis according to concepts such as those listed above: information that does not have consistency with experienced reality will be of lower quality. Quality is constrained by nature, but not uniquely determined by it and hence is not a stand-in for it.
The second advantage of this framework is that it has the potential to span both the descriptive and the prescriptive. An implicit tension between social science research (especially ethnography) and the field of education is that the former seeks to describe the behavior of youth in their own terms, whereas a central assumption of the latter is that youth habits and cognition need to be changed and developed.
To make this span between description and prescription more explicit, we introduce three “conceptions” of information quality: an ethnographic conception, an adult-normative conception, and a theoretical conception. The ethnographic conception is the most reflexive: quality is defined purely behaviorally, such that the highest quality information is the information chosen over other information. For a youth rushing to complete a school assignment about which she is indifferent, this may mean that quality criteria of “convenient” far outweighs what we (or even the student) might interpret as “relevant” or “consistent.”
The adult-normative conception is the application of adult criteria and standards to children. We use this conception of information quality mainly to classify hybrid literature that is partially social science in its study of youth behavior, but that interprets findings in non-ethnographic terms. Such literature employs concepts like credibility/reliability/authority, taking them to be well-defined even if student-subjects who are the topic of study do not use such concepts (e.g., see Eastin, 2008, pp. 37-38). Neither fully descriptive, nor solely prescriptive, such literature is important in measuring the behavior of youth against prescriptive constructs.
The third conception of quality, the theoretical conception, is a prescriptive formulation of information quality. This is how people ought to think about information quality. While criteria such as “convenience” and “consistency” will still be a part of overall quality, how such concepts are determined and weighed relative to one another will be different under a theoretical conception than under an ethnographic conception. Developing and instilling such refined standards of information quality, then, becomes the task of information literacy.
Opportunities from Content Creation
As discussed before, this literature review is the first step in a comprehensive process. The literature review in itself is not an educational program, or policy recommendations, and thus will not be directly useful for the day-to-day work of those engaged in teaching literacy in media, news and information. However, we can take some preliminary results and look beyond the literature review to some possible next steps.
Of particular interest to educators might be our explorations of how important learning opportunities for information literacy can come out of activities like the creation of profiles and communication with peers on social networking sites, self-expression through online journals, the sharing of media via popular platforms such as YouTube, and the writing of fanfiction. One opportunity comes through using such content creation for engagement. For example, another Berkman Center initiative has already developed a copyright curriculum that uses cases of “remixed” media as a way to introduce and begin a dialogue about issues such as copyright, ownership, source, and media control. This attempts to foster the understanding of creative rights and their limitations and link the phenomenon to the (implicit) quality criteria youth have about the media they produce.
Another example might be bringing remixing directly into classroom activities, similar to how creating collages from print media is sometimes used as a classroom activity. But unlike a collage (which most students would not do outside the classroom), the outcome would not just be to involve kids in media analysis with a “fun” activity; we would seek, with such an activity, to break down the barrier between personal and academic contexts. David Buckingham (2003, p. 112) describes “[repeatedly encountering] a high degree of cynicism about advertising among children at around this age [7 or 8]…” such that his attempts to teach kids to “see through” ads “can easily result in a situation which is all too familiar in media education: where the teacher appears to be trying to teach students things which they believe they already know.” He argues that media education must relate to students’ “own experience and identities” (p. 117). Bringing into the classroom media creation activities that youth do in their personal lives would, in addition to bringing in a range of potentially sophisticated analytical and creative skills youth already have, give a chance of breaking down contexts.
Recognizing that there is a vast range of content creation among youth (ranging from simple posts on friends’ walls, to blogging or vlogging, to full-out video remixing), and that many youth do not have the sophisticated skills we would seek to draw on for academic contexts, another opportunity the Youth and Media Policy Working Group Initiative is exploring is to establish a “Youth and Media Lab.” Such a lab could organize sessions to encourage tacit transfer of skills among youth peers—recognizing that while tacit knowledge between youth peers transfer abounds on the Internet, many youth not participating would still benefit from more organized encouragement. The environment of such a lab would also allow us to perform ethnographic studies of youth content creation to more effectively use it for classroom activities.
Next Steps
As a background to developing specific programs and proposals, we believe that it is an important task to organize social science research traditions. If we can coordinate not only sometimes disparate academic communities, but also establish a continuous dialogue between academics, education, policy, and law, we believe it will lead to better research, better education, and better policy and law.
The completed literature review will be publicly available through the MacArthur Foundation and the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) later this year. We hope that the insights we present in our literature review will help not only us but others as well to gain a more sophisticated understanding of the new information ecology, to help us as we move forward with our task of ensuring the health of our democracy by bolstering the skill set of the next generation of information consumers—and producers.
Urs Gasser is Executive Director at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. His research and teaching focus on information law and policy and the interaction between law and innovation. Current research projects—several of them in collaboration with leading research institutions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia—explore policy and educational challenges for young Internet users, the regulation of digital media and technology (with emphasis on IP law), ICT interoperability, the institutional settings for fostering entrepreneurship, and the law’s impact on innovation and risk in the ICT space. He has published and edited, respectively, seven books and has written over 60 articles in books, law reviews, and professional journals. Together with John Palfrey, he is the author of “Born Digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives” (Basic Books, 2008). Previously, he served as the Faculty Director the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), where he was an Associate Professor of Law.
Sandra Cortesi is a Project Fellow at the Berkman Center, responsible for coordinating research and educational initiatives. In addition to work on information quality and media literacy in the Youth and Media Project, she has worked on an exploratory study entitled “Working Towards a Deeper Understanding of Digital Safety for Children and Young People in Developing Nations,” and has helped develop curricula for schools. She has also been working for the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. Sandra has a Masters in Psychology, with a specialization in Neuro-Psychology and Human-Computer Interaction, from the University of Basel.
Momin Malik is a research assistant for the Youth and Media Project. In addition to working on information quality and media literacy, he participates in carrying out behavioral studies. Momin has a BA from Harvard, where he studied the History of Science with a focus on mathematics.
Ashley Lee is a research assistant for the Youth and Media Project. She joined the project to pursue her research interest in online youth and social media. Ashley recently graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she focused her studies on designing and evaluating interactive networked environments and computer games for learning. Ashley also holds a BS in computer science from Stanford University and has worked in software development at Oracle and Microsoft Research.

Works Cited
Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. <>,
Buckingham, D. (2003). Media Education: Learning, Literacy and Contemporary Culture. UK: Polity.
Cheney, D. (2010). “Fuzzy logic: Why students need news and information literacy skills.” Youth Media Reporter. <>.
Eastin, M. S. (2008). Toward a cognitive development approach to youth perceptions of credibility. In M. J. Metzger and A. J. Flanagin (Eds.), Digital media, youth, and credibility (29-48). The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. <>.
Eppler, M. (2003). Managing Information Quality: Increasing the Value of Information in Knowledge-intensive Products and Processes. Berlin & Heidelberg, Germany: Springer-Verlag.
Flanagin, A. J. & Metzger, M. J. (2008). Digital media and youth: Unparalleled opportunity and unprecedented responsibility. In M. J. Metzger and A. J. Flanagin (Eds.), Digital media, youth, and credibility (5-27). The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. <>.
Flanagin, A. J., & Metzger, M. J. (2010). Kids and Credibility: An Empirical Examination of Youth, Digital Media Use, and Information Credibility. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. <>.
Hargittai, E. (2008). The role of expertise in navigating links of influence. In J. Turow & L. Tsui (Eds.), The Hyperlinked Society (85-103). Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press. <>.
Lankes, R. D. (2008). Trusting the Internet: New approaches to credibility tools. In M. J. Metzger and A. J. Flanagin (Eds.), Digital media, youth, and credibility (101-121). The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation series on digital media and learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. <>.
Palfrey, J. & Gasser, U. (2008). Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. New York: Basic Books.

Google Maps: A Tool for the Youth Media Field

During the April bloom of 2007, Google introduced a refreshingly inventive new online social utility tool called Google My Map that, from my perspective, is a powerful addition to the youth media arsenal. The Google My Map (GMM) application allows users to add digital content (text, video, paths, shapes, photos) to a satellite-imaged map of Earth, creating a personalized and annotated mashup that can be shared online with anyone in the world. The tool is easily learned through Google’s own tutorials and beneath the surface lays an endless array of possibilities for youth media educators.
Soon after the launch of GMM, I worked with two dozen teens—one group in Chicago and one group in Barbados for a summer youth media workshop run by Open Youth Networks. OurMap of Migrations, as we named it, captivated the intellectual and creative imaginations of the youth participants who eagerly added their own photos, videos, bios, travels and research to the map, becoming equally engrossed in exploring its rich content and learning about one another.
In populating the map with a data array of migration histories, including historical information on the transatlantic slave trade routes as well as personal stories of family diasporas, 95% of participants ended up reporting in the workshop exit survey that the map “significantly altered their views on immigration and forced migration.”
The process of jointly authoring a multimedia online map transforms how youth learn, communicate and participate in civic and social spaces. It can also change the way youth and youth media organizations collaborate and communicate with each other.
Youth Media and GMM Examples
Maps can become instrumental in mobilizing action and building new communities across geographic borders; in essence, maps make a world of difference.
To see live examples, see OurMap of Environmental Justice, which documents the toxics and assets of a Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago.
OurMap of Environmental Justice

View OurMap of Environmental Justice in a larger map
Chicago Youth Voices Against Violence is a recent collaborative work-in-progress created by over a dozen youth media organizations in Chicago that are embedding youth media stories about the impact of violence in their communities. See the map below:
Chicago Voices Against Violence

View Chicago Youth Voices on Violence in a larger map
To take full advantage of GMM, it is important to understand its intrinsic properties and features. The following are suggestions for practitioners in the field to explore the vast aspects of GMM:
Invite Collaborators
Since its release, thousands have people have created GoogleMy Maps. But a quick glance at the index of user generated maps reveals that the vast majority of these are created by single individuals directing friends to their latest tour of Europe. Few take advantage of the most unique and powerful aspect of this tool—the “invite collaborators” button. This simple command feature allows multiple users from across geographical regions to collaborate on a single map, effectively allowing you to harness collective intelligence through crowd-sourcing—many voices contributing to one dataset based on their own localized knowledge and experiences.
Browse the Directory
Click this button and you will be taken to a directory of hundreds of other map data sets that you can choose to use as overlays. For example, we often add the Census Data to Ourmap of Environmental Justice. The census disaggregates population data by race and ethnicity. In a public presentation, all we have to do is click on the Latino category and the map shows that the highest concentration of Latinos in Chicago live in close proximity to some of the more toxic industries in Chicago. This usually evokes a big response among users—such visible evidence is hard to deny.
Create a Theme that is Geographically-based
It is a map after all, so the content should be meaningfully tied to location and place. What is the story of a place? Can the map reveal the past, present and future of a location? OurMap of Environmental Justice shows the close proximity of dozens of schools in the neighborhood to a coal power plant and other toxic facilities. The map brings that reality home in a way no other piece of media could.
Engage the User with Customized Icons and Creative Legends
The legend in GMM allows you to organize your data in a prioritized and readable form and it also helps the user navigate your map efficiently. Plus, you can create custom icons for this legend. For instance, we used animated images of skulls and crossbones in the Youth Voices Against Violence map to indicate sites where recent violence has occurred against youth.
Don’t Forget YouTube
Maps operate as a curated exhibition or film festival. For example, YouTube is the only video platform that actually works—but it works great and a multimedia map with photos and video is twice as engaging! Just grab the embed code, hit HTML on the menu bar, paste in the code and voilá—instant video. Check out some of the videos embedded into Chicago Youth Voices against violence produced by several different youth media groups such as BeyondMedia Education, Free Spirit Media and Community TV Network on the map above.
Embed Map in Websites and Blogs
You can choose to make your map public or private. If you choose “public,” it is automatically added to Google search directory. However, your distribution strategy should not end there. Ask your allies, supporters and members to embed your map into their blogs or websites. On your own website, it is best to embed your map directly onto a sidebar of your home page. Simply, hit the word “link” on the top right menu bar to get the URL or embed code. You can even customize the size of the map itself as well as the precise snapshot of the globe that you want to feature. The beauty of this embedding feature is that you can distribute knowledge broadly without worrying about it being accessed at only one centralized location.
Export to Google Earth to Create a Movie for Presentations
Make a public presentation of your map by exporting it to Google Earth. Simply select “View in Google Earth” and a .kml file will download automatically to your Google Earth application. Once your map is selected in Google Earth, you can choose to make a movie file of your map which navigates the viewer through from one placemarker to the next.
Create a Real Walking Tour Using Your Mobile Phone
If you own a mobile web browser you can easily pull up your MyMap on an iPhone, for instance, to lead you on a walking tour of sites that you have pre-placemarked. You can use the path tool to trace the path in the exact order of landmarks, reading about the sites or watching videos as you go. If you don’t have an iPhone, Google Mobile is an application that can be downloaded to virtually any other mobile phone device. Plus, the brand new speedy smart navigation tool in Street-view actually puts you right on the same street as you walk it. So, if you wanted to have new stakeholders visiting your local city to check out all youth media organizations, they can take a tour in real space and virtual space at the same time.
The possibilities for the field are vast when using the tool Google My Maps. As a practitioner in the field, I encourage you all to share GMM with young producers to come up with their own innovative ideas and uses. Through GMM, we can engage the field to unite on various local and national youth media issues, to learn more from one another across regions, and build a virtual understanding of our communities and our work. GMM has the potential to strengthen our alliances in the field, our visibility and our mobilizing efforts within new public social media networks. Through GMM, potentially hundreds of collaborators, who may be separated by real physical space, could be brought together in virtual geographic space.
Mindy Faber is the founding director of Open Youth Networks, a program of Columbia College’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media that trains under-resourced youth to use social media, games and emergent technologies for change.
Google My Maps Tutorials
Blogs on Maps
Geotagging Tips

Obamania: A Reflection on New Media Tactics Drawing Youth to the Voting Booth

Thanks to Senator Barack Obama, media coverage of this year’s Presidential election has attracted millions of new young voters to the political process. Though the success of his campaign can be tied to several reasons, the most important is his use of new media tools to introduce youth and others to his brand and message.
Ask anyone what comes to mind when they hear the name Barack Obama and they say two words: Hope and Change.
Youth media practitioners have been at the forefront of identifying how to reach young people with the growing number of communication tools and online social networking sites that are accessible to us (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, cellphones, internet, film, video, podcast, radio, and others). The Obama candidacy provides an important reference point to appreciate the impact youth practitioners have had on the development of new media and its appeal on youth.
The Obama campaign’s use of both traditional and new media tools has helped build a strong fundraising machine, register voters and increase the youth voting bloc. Yet it is equally important to note that the groundwork for the use of these tools and the continued experimentation and application continues to take place in youth media programs throughout the country with both non-voting age and voting age youth.
If you want to get youth civically engaged you can no longer simply call a protest rally. Today you send a text message; get on Myspace; send out an evite, or include artists who have a message to offer that young people want to hear. Just look at the November 2008 issue of VIBE and you’ll find artists from Jay-Z to Nas endorsing Senator Obama and asking young people to get out and vote.
Youth media practitioners understood long ago the simple fact that the messenger and medium is as important as the message itself. That is why they have worked to give youth the resources and tools to tell their stories to get more young people engaged to address issues that are dear to them: peer pressure, discrimination, poverty, education, healthcare, ending the war, and jobs.
Turning our eye to this election, it’s important to recognize Obama’s rise among youth and others was thanks to his understanding of the power and pitfalls of new media.
In the Shadow of 2004
While the voting age of 18 was set in 1972, it was only in 2004 and this current Presidential Election that we have seen a major surge in youth turnout. Anticipating the need to get young people civically engaged and in some cases make some money, a number of non-traditional voting advocates began to crawl out of the woodwork to jump on the youth vote wagon. In 2004, Sean Combs aka Puffy aka P Diddy aka Diddy led the way with his “Vote or Die” t-shirts, Russell Simmons and the Hip Hop Action Summit hosted events throughout the country drawing sold out crowds. Then we had traditional groups like Rock the Vote blasting the television airwaves with ads on MTV.
Thanks to such efforts, according to CIRCLE (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement), nearly 4.6 million more young people cast votes in 2004 compared to 2000. Yet, despite the increase in numbers, and the fact the majority of the youth vote went for the Kerry/Edwards ticket (55% to 44% for Bush/Cheney), the Democrats failed to win back the White House.
When all the ballots were accounted for in Ohio, many of us who worked on Get Out The Vote (GOTV) initiatives documenting the campaign as bloggers or journalists were left asking the question: Where do we go from here? In the despair, there was a silver lining that came from a young junior Senator from Illinois who gave a stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004—his name: Barack Obama. Another silver lining was the growth of the number of youth media organizations that used the election as a way to get young people engaged in the process so they could offer their unique perspective.
One way of measuring the growth of youth media projects during the 2004 election is the funding support that many groups received. Investment in groups like Children’s Pressline four years ago demonstrated that there an increase in support and a recognition on the power of youth media. One of the key takeaway or learned lessons from this was that youth practitioners found creative ways to incorporate the election cycle and build partnerships across the youth media field. These partnerships and approaches helped lay the groundwork for organizations to engage youth of all ages in civic action this election.
Even when they are not producing their own content, youth media organizations are providing the space for younger filmmakers to share their work. This year for example the Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel has hosted screenings of a film by 19 year old David D. Burstein. The film, “18 in ’08,” according to the producer “is a call for young people to overturn traditional under-representation in election campaigns and get involved.” “We wanted to show it because it’s relevant,” said Derrick Dawkins MNN Youth Channel Production Coordinator. “It’s a good tool to engage young people and open up dialogue for them to talk about how they should get involved.”
Before and after the 2004 election, it was clear that elections would become a central rallying point for youth groups to not only get groups civically engaged but to find ways to collaborate and empower youth and provide them with the training and skills to tell their stories and offer their perspective.
Media and Elections
This election season has seen unprecedented TV ratings. Senator Obama, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin all broke record ratings for Primetime acceptance speeches during the coverage of the DNC and RNC conventions. Each respectively drew nearly 40 million viewers during their speeches, more than the number of people according to MSNBC who watched this year’s Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing, the American Idol finals, or the Academy Awards. This close attention to the election says two things: people are engaged and they want to know about the issues and the candidates.
One of the most important roles that any media can play during an election is to help educate potential voters on the issues and those running for office—and new media tools tied to building online and offline social networks are perfect to share information among young voters who otherwise might not tune in to traditional news. We know that without some sense of the issues, a person is less likely to vote. Add in other factors such as income, race, earnings, age, and education then you get a pretty clear picture of why elections have gone against the interest of those under the age of 35. People have to feel their issues or concerns will be addressed, that there is a reason for them to get involved. For a number of young people Senator Obama has offered a sense of empowerment and that somone will listen to them.
My parents, and a number of the baby boom and older voting population get up every Sunday morning and watch the news programs (Meet the Press, Sunday Morning CBS etc) and to read the papers. As a journalistic endeavor, this kind of media tries to provide fair and balanced perspectives on the issues and the candidates themselves. However, the format and issues are not always appealing to young viewers.
Youth media helps offer another perspective that is not often captured in the media. They offer another angle and insight that tells the stories of young people and how they are facing the challenges and dreaming of the future. It was this power of storytelling through various media that turned out the youth vote—appealing to popular culture and not simply to the nightly news sound bite.
Obama, Web 2.0 and Youth Supporters
New media (Facebook, YouTube, blogs, etc)—tools that youth utilize—have been a major contributing factor in building up Senator Obama’s brand and rock star esque status while simultaneously drawing more youth of legal voting age into the political process. Youth media practitioners and Obama realize the power of the internet to share stories was key to mobilize youth and others. On Facebook alone there are 18 million young people between the ages of 18-29.
In the Washington Post’s article, “Obama’s Wide Web,” Jose Antonio Vargas coins, “Triple O – Obama’s Online Operation.” Vargas writes that “[This] year’s primary season, spanning six months, proved that online buzz and activity can translate to offline, on-the-ground results. Indeed, the Web has been crucial to how Obama raises money, communicates his message and, most important, recruits, energizes and turns out his supporters.” Senator Obama’s ultimate success in gaining the Democratic nomination had a great deal to do with him knowing how to utilize the power of media, specifically new media and its appeal to youth.
The media’s coverage of Senator Obama has created a cult-like, pop icon appeal that has attracted old and young alike to a historic campaign steeped in the messages of hope and change, themes that resonate with younger voters. Youth working with community based groups using media as an organizing and educational tool have given youth the skills to engage. For example, Rock the Vote has created specific resources on how to use new media tools such as the internet, and text messaging to give youth the power to get involved and get their voices and opinions heard.
Wiretap Magazine has also developed a similar project in partnership with Rock the Vote where youth journalists are reporting from across the country and setting up online video blogs and podcasts. Some more examples of these uses of online outlets getting young people engaged in the vote, are sites like MTVthink which has assigned 50 youth bloggers representing each state in the union to blog and report back from a youth angle what’s happening on the campaign trail in their state or city. Young people are attracted to making their own media and sharing their point of view. They recommend blogs as one of the best ways to engage in the process. It’s easy to do through open source sites such as blogspot.
As a result, it was young people and practitioners/youth media educators/programs that ultimately decided the outcome of the Iowa Caucus. 57% of youth supported Senator Barack Obama to help him win against his other opponents, which set the one-term junior senator from Illinois more known for his oratorical skills and less for his ability to organize and win primaries. It has been a long journey for the youth electorate since the cold Iowa night where they came out in record numbers. But what Obama understood and what Hillary learned too late was that the news had shifted to online blogs, YouTube and other online outlets—the very outlets reaching youth. If Obama happens to win the White House, and the deciding factor happens to be a couple of million youth voters in crucial swing states, we’ll be able to point to his ability to utilize the Web 2.0 technology in harnessing youth and new voters to turn out in record numbers.
Youth Generated Media – Challenges and Opportunities
“Unlike previous youth voter initatives, the League is not looking to ‘appeal’ to young voters—it is young voters.” – The League of Independent Voters
Youth media practitioners who have been documenting and working with youth to build this movement can take some of the credit for the Obama campaign successes. For all of us who have been working in the field of youth media, the internet has become a tool that has allowed us and the youth we work with to get our voices and views heard. No longer do we have to wait to have a reporter or journalist come out to cover a protest, rally or press event. We are our own press, covering our own stories and sharing them virally on the internet.
This political season especially has provided fertile ground for youth groups but also it has presented challenges. The fact is no matter how much they try, mainstream media fails to really capture the impact that youth have had on elections. It has been youth led media that has told this story and made sure it has been at the forefront of this election year.
Wiretap Editor Tomas Palermo said that, “It’s sad, but it seems for mainstream media they’re satisfied to get a few sound bites from Ivy League colleges and that sums up the youth vote angle for them. I believe other forms of media have done a better job, in particular the CNN/YouTube presidential debates have resonated.”
In comparing Obama and McCain, Palermo also shared that, “my perception is that the Obama campaign is making better use of new media technology, including text messaging, social networks, twitter and video to engage young voters. The McCain campaign doesn’t seem to be recruiting young voters, especially low-income and youth of color voters at all, nor using new media technologies effectively.”
This year Wiretap has reported extensively on the youth vote from various perspectives through weekly features, blogs, videos and podcasts. In addition, Wiretap and the Generation Vote coalition have launched Vote Hip-Hop (, a contest for emcees, poets, graffiti artists, video performers, artists and other hip-hop artists who want to express their perspective on why this election matters to them. Artists upload their work to the Vote Hip-Hop site, and will be contesting for $500 and other prizes.
For Palermo, the learned lesson for youth media organizations is that they “should start immediately hiring youth to design the next generation of sites and media tools for youth voter engagement. Youth need to be hired, and focus grouped and educated about what they can do to get involved. Youth are a powerful block, in particular Millennials, who will be a huge force in American politics from now onward.”
Alisha Cowan-Vieira, Executive Director of Project Set and formally of Think MTV, offered these additional thoughts on what the campaigns learned from youth generated media. “I feel like both campaigns have made it very evident that they are aware of how important it is to engage with young people through social networking—this is demonstrated by their presence on sites like Facebook, Myspace and Youtube,” said Cowan-Vieira. “But I also think it’s obvious that the Obama campaign has been more effective at doing so.”
Going forward the question is what could our organizations and groups dedicated to youth media learn from this moment in terms of solidifying our growing presence as a legitimate voice and force beyond election cycles?
The clear takeaway for many of is that we are the current and future reporters, documentarians, videographers, web-designers, and photographers that will capture the history of elections, and the story will not end with Obama reaching the White House. While this is a historic moment, the stories of young people—those who can or can’t vote—go beyond the ballot box. After the elections we still have stories to tell about our neighborhoods, our schools, our city governments, the stories that often go unnoticed in the mainstream media.
These moments are a reflection to know that we have the resources, skills and talent to create the media even when the media fails to hear our voices. At least for once, it seems a candidate like Obama, gets it.
Rashid is a Senior Account Executive with FENTON Communications. He sits on the board of Wiretap Magazine, Youth Media Reporter and Project Set.