‘Putting the Internet on Trial’: UK youth juries deliberate their digital rights

UK youth juries ‘put the Internet on Trial’, using storytelling and drama to think about their rights.

Storytelling in deliberation can foster engagement, unpack policy concepts and illustrate young people’s concerns, finds a recent study finds. Authors Stephen Coleman, Kruakae Pothong and Sarah Weston used dramatized scenarios in a deliberative exercise on youth digital rights.  

In response to a commission by a UK-based youth digital rights initiative, 5rights, nine juries comprised of 12-17 year-olds were set up across London, Leeds, and Nottingham to explore concerns around digital rights policy. Coleman et al used dramatized sketches to activate conversations and prompt experiential storytelling, exchange and reflection.

In dramatic scenarios, actors brought to life abstract digital rights concepts as symbolic characters. For instance, in one scenario an actor goes shopping with ‘the Internet’ and learns, to her surprise, that the shops know about her previous purchases and interests, leading the audience to a discussion around data privacy and third party access.

The sessions followed a five-part structure set out in the stages defined by the authors:

  • storytelling 
  • problem definition 
  • policy brainstorm  
  • policy sifting
  • resolution

The dramatized scenarios were performed live, initiating the storytelling stage in the deliberative process. Participants were then invited to bring their own experiences into conversations around the issues addressed in the sketch. The sharing of experiences, in turn, led to further stories, counter-narratives, and debates on the wider issues at stake. Specific themes and concerns emerged from these shared experiences, taking the process into the problem definition stage.

Participants tackled the identified problems in the policy brainstorm stage, where they were encouraged to look for and compare a range of ideas rather than identify a ‘right answer’. In the following policy sifting stage, juries were divided into smaller groups and tasked with providing recommendations on problems. In the final resolution stage, a broad array of recommendations were presented, keeping with the juries’ range of perspectives and experiences.  

Reflecting on the design of the exercise, the authors reveal that the dramatized scenarios aimed to strike a balance between educating participants on pertinent issues and enabling interaction for an open exchange of ideas. For this purpose, the scenarios function as ‘distancing’ tools. Distancing allows audiences to safely approach issues or their own experiences by discussing fictional characters and narratives, the authors point out.

 Dramatizing Deliberation: A Method for Encouraging Young People to Think About Their Rights’ appeared in Journal of Public DeliberationStephen Coleman is Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds. Kruakae Pothong is a Research Associate at University College London. Sarah Weston is a PhD student in the School of Media & Communication, University of Leeds.

Photo: University of Salford Press Office/Flickr

More Content You Might Like