In the words of my fellow Council member William, “I didn’t even realize I had these opinions until someone asked to hear them.”
While I have been online—whether gaming or on social media—for practically 10 of the 17 years of my life, I never felt like I could really do anything about the often cruel online culture and environment. Of course, I wondered why people could act completely differently online, and I was frustrated by the abundance of ugly issues that originated in the digital world. Like most other kids, though, I didn’t feel I was in a position to ameliorate the situation…
Fast-forward to my sophomore year of high school, the school counselor shared a unique opportunity with students: Microsoft Corporation’s inaugural “Council for Digital Good”—a program that aimed to be a youth sounding board for Microsoft’s digital civility agenda. The idea of the Council immediately intrigued me, and I fretted over my application for hours because I knew that I wanted to be a part of that group with the resources to take action and leave a lasting mark.
Somehow, a few months later, I found myself meeting William and thirteen other hardworking, insightful teenagers from across the United States. We talked about why we applied for the Council, and from the start, I knew we were going to have compelling, reflective discussions that really analyzed the issues that reside in the online world. And that’s exactly what we did— together as a cohort—for eighteen months.
We worked and spoke with a variety of technology companies, as well as NGOs like the International Bullying Prevention Association, to discuss the state of online interactions and what we want to see them look like in the future. We dug into our own experiences and those of our peers to try to understand what makes people “tick” online, and by the end of our Council term this past July, we created two key, joint products that embodied all our efforts: a cohort written manifesto and an open letter to United States policymakers.
For me, all of this was an incredible experience because it was the first time that I felt like my input on current issues was taken seriously by adults. We had a platform to share our thoughts with the world, and we were able to both make and see a tangible impact. It’s so important for teenagers to feel empowered enough to share their perspectives, and I encourage other companies and organizations to take the time to reach out to teens. I’m sure there are plenty more kids like William and myself who felt like the current online environment could be greatly improved, but we didn’t realize how much we had to say until a company like Microsoft gave us the means to tackle the issues that we see every day but often just accept or push aside as just “the way things are.”
But in any context, we never have to settle for “the way things are.” We are capable of being articulate and sharing our ideas; teenagers just sometimes need a friendly reminder that they and their voices are wanted. For me, that was the beauty of the Microsoft Council for Digital Good experience. I grew as an individual, communicating organic thoughts with other kids, as well as adults and professionals, who were just as passionate as I was about positively impacting our communities. We were given a platform to make a difference, and as many of us continue our digital civility efforts beyond the Council program, I think we did exactly that.
Christina Woodrow is a senior at Kennesaw Mountain High School’s Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology in Kennesaw, Georgia. She was one of fifteen teens in the United States selected to be a part of Microsoft Corporation’s inaugural Council for Digital Good, a youth-based pilot program that worked to advance digital civility. While the 18-month Council experience has come to a close, she is excited—and very much energized—to continue her efforts to spread awareness about online safety and online cultural issues. Christina is currently in the midst of the college application process and is looking forward to hopefully further exploring her many interests (research, law & policy, cybersecurity, Spanish, and more) at an institution next fall.