Boyd: Final Draft Essay

Because teens grew up in a world in which the Internet has always existed, many adults assume that youth automatically understand new technologies.  In reality, the youth still has much that they could improve on when it comes to using technology. A chapter from Danah Boyd’s book titled, “Are Today’s Youth Digital Natives?” criticizes on the ideas of how the youth today are digital natives and their parents are digital immigrants.  She goes one to demonstrate how this divide in society that many think is actually a damaging way of understanding digital literacy. There are many instances where the older generation are actually digital literate and do not fit this stereotype of being digital immigrants, while on the other hand, there are many times where youth are not very digital literate and struggle with the use of technology.  These stereotypes do not apply to everyone, and therefore is a damaging way in understanding digital literacy. There is that common misconception that all youth are able to work technology easily and with no issues, while their parents struggle greatly with the use of technology. Boyd goes on to say how really the youth needs to work on developing better critical digital literacy. The youth need to learn how to use proper website analysis, that there are algorithms with search engines, and websites like Wikipedia are not as bad as said to be.  If they are able to learn these different techniques on the Internet, then they will develop better critical digital literacy. In this paper, I will present Boyd’s main claims and the ways that outside sources extend the main claims that Boyd makes.

One of Boyd’s main claims shows how the youth today are not taught proper website analysis.  They are not taught the proper ways to distinguish useful information and real information, from all the false things that could be presented to them over the Internet.  Boyd proposes questions like, “What biases are embedded in the artifact? How did the creator intend for an audience to interpret that artifact, and what are the consequences of that interpretation?” (Boyd).  These questions that she gives us are questions that the youth should be asking themselves while searching on different websites for information. They need to have the skills to ask questions and challenge these “media artifacts” in order to insure that they are getting all the correct and factual stuff from their research.  Boyd also goes on to state that, “they need to be able to understand the biases in advertising, whether the ads are disseminated online or through more traditional media,” (Boyd). There are many useful skills that the youth could still learn today about the Internet. Even though they are considered “digital natives,” this does not mean that they are automatically familiar with everything on the Internet.  Overall, the youth needs to still learn what is right and factual on the Internet, since there is a great amount of stuff out there that is bad. A chapter from a book by Mike Caulfield titled “Four Strategies” extends on this idea of critical digital literacy by offering ways for the youth to use proper website analysis. For example, he says to follow four moves which are to “check for previous work, go upstream to the source, read laterally, and circle back,” (Caulfield).  This is to help with web analysis and show the youth the proper way of analyzing a website to make sure it is what they want. These four strategies are a great thing for youth to look for every time they are on a website. They are a great way for someone to look for whether or not the website that they are using for a school assignment is reliable or not, and good enough for the topic presented. This directly extends on the idea of the youth needing to be equipped with the important skill of website analysis because Caulfield demonstrates how the youth should work the websites they are using and what they should look to do while on these websites.  Another outside source is by Caulfield which is titled “Using Google Reverse Image Search”, which maps out perfectly how to tell the background of a picture and the source for where it came from. This also extends on the idea of web analysis which helps for the youth to understand where the pictures they see are coming from and what they should do to tell if they are legit or not. This helps the youth to make sure the pictures are credible and not a version of fake news. These two articles presented by Mike Caulfield fit perfectly with the idea of website analysis for youth, since they both present multiple ways of how the youth could really work to become digital literate.  Of course these are just steps to start out with, but it is definitely a great start for them and a good way to further develop their own skills. Mike Caulfield extends on Boyd’s argument of critical digital literacy.

Another claim by Boyd is that algorithms effect search engines, and not everything that is viewed on the Internet through these search engines is correct.  Google is a major search engine used by many. Google is a for-profit company and is monetized through advertising. People who search on Google expect the top search results to be the best websites and answers, but this is not true.  For example, Boyd states that, “Google is not in the business of verifying content or assessing content’s quality,” (Boyd). This means that the websites that the youth are always relying on as their search engines are not always the best choice.  They need to be able to learn how to work around these algorithms and find actual sites that could be useful to them, rather than focusing on just the top results off of Google. Also, Boyd says that, “although the pages that Google offers are highly likely to be topically relevant with regard to the query, the company’s employees do not try to assess the quality of a given page,” (Boyd).  Sites like conspiracy theory and celebrity gossip sites are given high rankings, which shows how anything that is relevant to a search is provided. It is not always useful information and these website show how the quality of a given page is not taken into account. The youth are the ones who need to assess the quality of these websites and decide what contains the information that is necessary to them.  A source titled “Algorithmic Accountability: A Primer,” by Robyn Caplan, extends this idea of Boyd’s that algorithms effect search engines, which in turn affect people’s lives. She states that, “big decisions about people’s lives are increasingly made by software systems and algorithms,” (Caplan). Some things that people decide in their lives are based off of stuff that they find off the Internet. People want reassurance with things in their lives, and a way to do this is by using search engines like Google to see how they should perform certain tasks.  This extends the idea of how algorithms affect the thinking of the youth and the decisions that they make on a regular basis through what they search up on search engines. Besides just the idea of decision-making due to algorithms presented by Caplan, she also presents other problems and issues caused by these algorithms. For example, she states that, “algorithms can unfairly limit opportunities, restrict services, and produce ‘technological redlining.’” She goes on to say how, “algorithmic systems can make decisions on the basis of protected attributes like race, income, or gender, even when those attributes are not referenced explicitly,” (Caplan).  Technological redlining is a form of digital data discrimination that uses digital identities and activities to bolster inequality and oppression. These algorithms also have the capability to make decisions for people using them through their race, income, and gender, which is extremely unfair to many. Everyone who uses the Internet should have fair opportunity and treatment to find what they are looking for, and should not have to worry about something like their own race and how that could affect a little thing like a Google search. This just goes to show how the algorithms are not a positive aspect of the Internet. They could go as far as to cause discrimination to people based off of how or who people are on the Internet.  The algorithms, besides just affecting people’s lives as a whole, also have an overall impact on what certain people can and cannot search for. This idea of technological redlining and unfair algorithms extends Boyd’s argument by showing how algorithms could affect the Internet, which in turn affect the people who use the Internet and what they search for.

A claim by Boyd is also that Wikipedia is actually a site of knowledge production.  Wikipedia is not considered extremely reliable to many educators who claim that Wikipedia is in fact not trustworthy and not a good site to use for research.  She states that, “Wikipedia can be a phenomenal educational tool, but few educators I met knew how to use it constructively,” (Boyd). Wikipedia could help the youth rather than just hurt them educationally, like taught by their teachers.  The entire history of a page on Wikipedia is visible and the youth could see the sources of where people have gathered their information. This is useful and allows them to further their critical thinking. Also, Boyd states that, “no one taught them to think of Wikipedia as an evolving document that reveals how people produce knowledge,” (Boyd).  Youth could do their own research on whether a site like Wikipedia is trustworthy, but instead determine the good or bad based off of what their teachers thought could be trusted. It actually could provide an ideal context for engaging the youth to interrogate their sources and understand how information is produced. An article by Roy Rosenzweig titled, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future Past,” goes into depth about how Wikipedia could actually be a good resource for research, with Rosenzweig focusing specifically on the subject of history.  He states that, “Wikipedia is surprisingly accurate in reporting names, dates, and events in U.S. history. In the 25 biographies I read closely, I found clear-cut factual errors in only 4. Most were small and inconsequential,” (Rosenzweig). This extends Boyd’s argument of how Wikipedia is a site of knowledge production because this goes to show how there is a lot of reliable information through Wikipedia, and that you could still find information that is comparable to major research websites like Encarta and Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia showed to have very minor errors in its information, but this is not too important because many other websites that you find on the Internet and use for research has the possibility of not being 100% correct all the time.  Wikipedia is supposed to be considered bad in school, yet it is able to “compete” with these other websites that are considered to be good sources for research in school. This shows that Wikipedia should be considered as useful in school as these other websites are since it is proven to provide accurate information. The youth could benefit from the use of Wikipedia in school. The only thing is that the teachers are against it, even though Wikipedia could really be useful for students and used for knowledge production.

Boyd presents the argument that the youth today are not quite yet critical digital literate, but there are many things that they could do to improve this quality.  Outside sources are used to extend Boyd’s argument and further help the persuasion of her argument. I feel as if Boyd’s argument is valid and that there should really be something done to improve the digital literacy for our youth.  Website analysis, learning about the idea behind algorithms, and Wikipedia as a site of knowledge production are just examples as a start to creating a change for critical digital literacy amongst the youth. Me personally, I feel as if the Internet and technology in general is a big part of my life, and yet I feel as if there is many different techniques that I could learn to improve my experience with technology.  Becoming more digital literate for me could really help to improve my online work. Everyone could become more digital literate no matter what point you are at. Critical digital literacy is a very useful tool to have at any point in your life. The youth today have much to work on when it comes to technology, and a big portion of this is developing critical digital literacy.

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