Project:Connect Hackathon participants from HASTAC, New York, NY, May 9, 2013.

The New York Public Library hackathon team at Project:Connect.

The New York Public Library hackathon team presented "Advocate to Unblock!" a tool to allow "unblocking" of useful Internet sites at school.

Project:Connect Hackathon participants at Center 548, Chelsea, New York, NY.

Participants presented projects in the categories of social good, privacy, and web literacy.

Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation (left), and Cynthia Germanotta, president of the Born This Way Foundation.

Andrew Noyes, Manager, Public Policy Communications @ Facebook, and DWASH.

Judges for the day were Dave Steer of Facebook, Chris Bevans of the Billionaire Boys Club, Cynthia Germanotta, Anne Collier from ConnectSafely.org, and Diana Rhoten of Amplify.

If The Internet Gets Less Scary for Teens, Will It Also Be Less Cool?

Friending your mom on Facebook is so not cool. Friending Lady Gaga's mom? Maybe.

The Project:Connect Hackathon co-sponsored by Facebook, the MacArthur Foundation, and Mozilla yesterday in New York City, was an unholy alliance of the cool and the deeply uncool.

Project:Connect is a $150,000 initiative of the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative, and it kicked off with this hackathon in support of "healthy online experiences so young people can more easily make smart and responsible choices on the Internet."

Healthy? Smart? Responsible? You guys, this is the Internet we're talking about.

In all seriousness, Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation, points out that the greatest threats to kids online don't come from shadowy adult predators, but from their interactions with each other: cyberbullying, sexting, identity theft (where one kid impersonates another on a social network). "Our research makes clear the web is an extraordinary place for kids to learn, to become makers and producers," she says. "And at the same time learning happens in communities, and in communities we treat each other well."

The idea is to enlist young people, parents, educators, and communities in promoting positive, creative, and safe interactions online, while discouraging negative ones—"to help kids understand their rights and take control of their privacy."

I ask Yowell if Facebook makes strange bedfellows for an initiative that's supposed to promote control over one's own data, since there's a strong thread of criticism about Facebook's changing terms of service, privacy holes, and the way they profit off their users' growing digital footprints. She replied that MacArthur has to work with young people where they are on the web, and 90% of those over 13 are on Facebook.

For Facebook, the initiative is obviously good corporate relations. But there's a potential political element too, since Project:Connect is promoting voluntary solutions to digital citizenship issues over regulatory ones.

"One of the things that's so interesting about the time we’re in around the Internet is that risks and opportunities are intermingled," says Yowell.

"We are shifting towards overprotection. When we shut the Internet down in schools, kids don’t have access to all the possibilities." It's a nuanced, balanced approach that is fundamentally cool.

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1 Comments

  • cind

    Thanks Anya for the conference tip. I hear your reticence...delicate balance between 'too open' and 'too closed', and certainly one of the hottest topics now and for years to come.
    Where can I read the conference recap?