We asked teens how to exercise better judgement online. Their responses blew us away.
“How might we improve people’s judgement in digital spaces?”
This was the question that guided the Untagle the Web hackathon, a two-day event we hosted this summer in collaboration with DoSomething.org. We gathered 15 exceptional young people who had expressed an interest in improving online life and asked them to develop a wireframe for a tool that would do just that.
Untangling the web
Last year, we partnered with DoSomething to develop Untangle the Web, a campaign designed to kickstart intergenerational conversations about digital life. DoSomething asked young people to take a quiz about how they used technology and media. Based on their responses, they received a digital personality and an action guide to help them start a conversation with an adult in their life. Whether a News Detective battling misinformation or a Ray of Sunshine spreading positive vibes, each young person shared an insight about their relationship with technology with a trusted adult.
Through this campaign, we aimed to reach 25,000 young people. Fifty-five thousand took the quiz.
Clearly, this project struck a chord with youth. We saw that young people recognized the effects that technology had on their lives and were desperate for resources that would help them navigate online environments.
Building on this momentum, we identified a small subset of the most engaged teens and asked them to apply for a hackathon—a two-day event where they could actually design a product that would help their peers untangle the web. We selected 15 of the most promising applicants from around the country and flew them out to New York City to participate.
Designing a mobile application to improve judgement in digital spaces. © DoSomething.org
Working in small groups under the guidance of DoSomething mentors, these 15 teens developed wireframes for products that addressed our challenge question: “How might we improve people’s judgement in digital spaces?” They then presented their ideas to a panel of judges with diverse experiences in technology:
- Samarth Bhaskar, Senior Editor for Digital Transition Strategy, the New York Times
- Ross Dakin, adjunct professor of computer science, Lehman College
- Tej Gokhale, Civic Action Lead, DoSomething.org
- Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founder, The Knowledge House
- Calvin Stalvig, Director of Youth Programming, Beam Center
We wanted to make sure our participants had plenty of space to develop their own ideas, so we only had a few requirements. Products had to be feasible, with a well-articulated problem, simple solution, and clear distinction from applications already on the market. They had to be functional, with a fleshed-out user experience. Lastly, they had to be integrated with existing online platforms.
Working in teams of three, our participants developed five product ideas:
- Thinklight: a chatroom that connects users with mental health professionals.
- ZiN: a bot that sends users daily affirmations that reinforce positive behaviors.
- VeriLegit: an application that uses existing databases to judge the accuracy of online media.
- HideOut: a service that clarifies who will see the personal information that users share.
- BullyBeeGone: a program that automatically hides and deletes abusive comments and messages on social media.
The 15 participants. © DoSomething.org
What did we learn?
This inspiring group of youth taught us so much about how young people today relate to technology. Here are our main takeaways.
- Young people want their voices to be heard. Over and over again, the young participants expressed appreciation that adults were making space for their ideas—and their leadership. Knowing that their voices are truly valued can encourage young people to get involved.
- These issues resonate with participants. The 15 young people we invited to the hackathon care deeply about online interaction. They also believe that online spaces could function better for young people—and that they’re perfectly capable of fixing them. These people were willing to spend a summer weekend working hard to make the internet better. They skipped their optional breaks to do it. And they designed five really, really impressive products.
- Diverse solutions empower more users. In the selection process, we prioritized participants that came from different geographies, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and gender and sexual identities. This group clearly recognized that issues of online judgement don’t operate in a vacuum, and proposed solutions that took identity into consideration.
- Good online judgement means something different to everyone. We encouraged our participants to relate this topic to their own lived experiences. This allowed the cohort to focus on the specific issue or multiple issues that they felt were most pressing—and led to a diverse set of solutions. These participants didn’t necessarily agree on a single definition of “online judgement.” We think that’s a good thing. The one thing our participants did agree on? That it shouldn’t just be on them to exercise good judgement—tech companies have a responsibility to promote it.
The BullyBeeGone team. © DoSomething.org
What comes next?
Based on a set of criteria that included functionality, user experience, and potential for impact, our panel of judges selected BullyBeeGone as the official winner of the hackathon. Over the next few months, DoSomething will work with BullyBeeGone’s young designers to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) that will bring this great idea one step closer to the market. We’re excited by BullyBeeGone’s potential and thrilled that young people themselves are involved at every step of the design process.
Young people have really good ideas—and they’re willing to share them. It’s up to us to listen and to help them bring those ideas to fruition. In partnership with organizations like DoSomething, we’re striving to elevate youth voice and unlock young people’s potential as true agents of change.