By the time the first participants arrived at “watch your web_Days 2015” on the morning of 31 October, Melanie Welters and Kira Schmahl, the two coordinators from “watch your web”, had long since forgotten their first-day jitters. There were barely any last-minute emergencies, the technical equipment was up and running, and the decorations were in place.
At 2:00 p.m. on the dot, moderators Sorina and Leonard opened the two-day event. Some 70 young people listened alertly to the words of Helga Springeneer, head of the Consumer Policy department at the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, who had come to represent the sponsor of “watch your web”.
Springeneer reminded her listeners of the three catchwords associated with “watch your web_Days 2015” – your data, your safety, your opinion – and wished to see a fourth one added: your freedom and privacy. “What is freedom and privacy worth to us in the digital world?” she asked, recalling the data transfers by Facebook from Europe to America and all the hate commentaries and right-wing propaganda in social networks – both high-priority issues for the Ministry. Would Springeneer listen to the young participants’ opinions once they had drafted their catalogue of demands during the event? “We won’t be able to adopt everything exactly as you propose,” she admitted, “but from Monday onwards we’ll read through it all very carefully and will take your demands seriously.”
Learning and discussion more popular than dancing
After the brief opening reception, the first workshop phase began without delay. There were eight workshops to choose from, the spectrum covering all the themes from “watch your web”: safety in social networks, cyberbullying, copyright, consumer protection on the internet, data privacy, internet policy, media literacy and Big Data. The workshops were accompanied by the project partners from “watch your web”, experts who were always ready to share their expertise when needed. The variety of themes meant that the working groups were small, and everyone had a chance to have their say.
The fascination of digital technology is what attracts young people and ultimately leads them to get involved in consumer and data protection and to stand up for their rights in the online world. For all the technology whizzes who enjoy connecting the online and offline worlds, Daniel Seitz from the Berlin association “mediale pfade” offered a digital scavenger hunt. Using tablet computers, participants had to track down and “collect” targets on the grounds of the venue. The groups that reached the targets first scored more points. This meant the players had to talk strategy, making the hunt a good team-building exercise. But there was one thing Seitz didn’t reckon on: how early night falls in the autumn. “I guess it was a bad idea to plan the scavenger hunt in the summertime,” he grumbled. Nevertheless, the teams held out bravely.
The evening programme opened with iPad magician Andreas Axmann and his astonishing show, and then it was time to proceed to the party in the main building of the wannseeForum and the concurrent Cryptoparty. A Cryptoparty is a public workshop that shows people how to protect data through encryption. Small groups gathered around tables to see examples and receive tips on how they can best protect themselves. Anyone assuming that most of the young people would rather dance than take part in yet another workshop would have been mistaken: the Cryptoparty was the main attraction of the evening, with participants happier to learn and talk than to dance.
The next morning, the regular workshops resumed. On the previous day participants had narrowed down the topics they found most urgent – now it was time to translate these issues into written demands. The document grew in the course of the morning – as well it should, because it had to be handed over early in the day to Gerd Billen, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, and subsequently discussed by an expert panel together with its young authors. The youthful participants once again impressed with their lively contributions to the debate.
Media literacy – an educational policy issue, too
In the closing plenary session, moderator Sorina called on the representatives from the various workshops to present their core demands. The participants in the data privacy workshop demanded the abolition of the recently passed data retention policy, as it does not guarantee data security. A law against bullying was called for, along with more active engagement with digital media in schools. Participants rejected the idea of censorship under the guise of protection of minors. The participants in the workshop on internet policy wanted to see “policies designed by people who themselves live on and with the internet, so that they know what they’re talking about”. The resulting package was quite comprehensive and substantial. The young people sensed this and received due recognition for it. “This dossier is every bit as professional as a position paper by an interest group,” noted journalist Falk Steiner.
The young people used the meeting with experts as an opportunity to address the realities of media use in their schools. “There are 1,500 pupils at our school. Only four computers are operational, but we’re not allowed to bring in our own laptops or tablets,” reported one participant. “I come from a media school,” added a young woman, “and we just got new whiteboards, but they’re used only as projection screens for the old overhead projectors.” The discussion of media literacy is an integral part of the debate on educational policy, moderator Ingo Dachwitz quickly realised. However, it’s not only the media literacy of young people that is an issue, but also that of their teachers and the school system as a whole. Malte Spitz from the party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen also recognises deficits in this area. “For years we’ve been seeing the same frustrating statistics: on average, there’s fewer than one computer science teacher per school,” he noted. Bundestag member Saskia Esken (SPD) is tired of just standing by idle. She says it’s time to do away with the prohibition of cooperation between the federal and state governments in the area of education, adding that “the federal government has to be able to offer support when it’s needed.” Esken does not see media education as the responsibility of the schools alone, however. “Cooperation between formal and non-formal education must be improved,” she said. She believes events like “watch your web_Days” can have a major impact. “Not everything can take place online. Getting together for 24 hours and talking things through is important.”
State Secretary Gerd Billen listened carefully to the animated discussion. To him, as he said, “watch your web_Days” was “an example of how to use tax revenues sensibly”. “You will get answers from us,” he promised.