I recently participated in an online forum called Women and Social Media: Path to Freedom of Expression and Transforming Culture. The discussion was hosted on Google Hangout, live streamed on Youtube, and took participant questions from Twitter and Youtube posts. The forum included speakers from every region of the world – Mexico, Serbia, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Ghana with just as diverse participants tuning in to watch. It was a creative way to integrate many free online tools to connect people globally and share ideas.

It was discussed that the internet is an easy form of democracy because it is a tool for empowerment and informed choices. People can use the internet to learn more about proposed policy or political actors. It can take away any myths or misconceptions. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter also empower people to be more active citizens by connecting people with similar interests and passions, and mobilizing them to act collectively. There are also opportunities for more traditional educational tools like online mentoring programs.

All of the presenters noted how important social media is in the work that they do. With social media being a fundamental component of many professions, not only those in the social sector, it is important that young people start learning how to use it responsibly and for reasons outside of merely chatting with friends. It is a means to open doors professionally. For example, one panelist mentioned that she contributes regularly to many blogs and this opened doors for her in the journalism field with offers for different publications. It is important for young people to gain professional development opportunities online because they are easily available and required to make it in this wired world.

The importance of online security was also addressed. Young people need to learn the risks involved and be aware of online bullying. They need to be equipped with the ways to handle these situations and to know that there are ways to seek help if they experience or see online bullying. By providing young people with safe outlets to connect and share experiences with others, this risk is reduced. Programs such as eKWIP teach young people how to use the internet responsibly and for positive reasons so that they do not fall into the riskier aspects of the internet.

-Beth Davis