Guiding youth through cyberspace
Project Amplify helping Kids manoeuvre metaverse safely
Locally owned company,Youth Can Do IT (YCDI) Limited, through its recently launched Project Amplify, is opening young people’s eyes to the ethical choices to consider when immersed in the metaverse.
This is in line with the company’s ongoing mission to empower Jamaican youth and to assist with the development of their technological talents.
It also aims to help high school students to design and navigate digital spaces such as blogs, websites and the metaverse, which is an emerging digital environment.
Christopher Derrell, chief technological officer at YCDI, told The Gleaner that Project Amplify is a partnership between YCDI and Jesus College at the University of Oxford in England, which is funding the project.
The metaverse is a three-dimensional (3D) immersive experience of social interaction with people who are not physically in the same space. It can be accessed through different means, including via a smartphone, a computer or virtual reality (VR) devices.
There have been longstanding concerns raised in the industry about data privacy and security of the metaverse. Also among the issues are matters of cyberbullying, potential harassment, and content moderation.
“Just like any social network, you are meeting with persons that you don’t know in real life, but the added danger with metaverse is that instead of just having your camera off, you’re dealing with persons who can put an avatar of a giraffe ... [or] a woman when they’re a man. So, you have to be extra careful with how you handle yourself in that space,” Derrell said, in relation to protection.
From a moral perspective, he continued, YCDI wants young people to be aware of the kind of environment they are in and how to respect others in that space.
“Because one of the things that we touched on [in a Jamaican context] is cyberbullying, and we know that just as it’s easy to become prey to a predator online, you can also have the operative effect where you become the cyberbully because [you think] they can’t trace you or find you,” Derrell said.
The organisation, which was founded in 2016 by Lianne McNaughton, aims to become the Caribbean’s digital and technological talent pipeline as well as a pioneering location for the metaverse.
The fourth of the project’s five phases – a free summer camp at which 12 young content creators between the ages of 10 and 16 engaged in the responsible design and use of emerging digital spaces – recently came to an end. The camp participants engaged in thoughtful discussions, led by experts from Jesus College, on the ethical considerations surrounding this innovative digital realm.
Cherika Wilson, head of people operations at YCDI, expressed that there was a level of appreciation for the initiative by parents and guardians during YCDI’s orientation, which was hosted to explain what the summer camp entailed and that they, too, could experience the metaverse for themselves.
The overall project is expected to end in October.
Wilson said that as more research is done to lessen the risks associated with using the developing technology, initiatives like Project Amplify can help to educate the public, especially the future generation, who are the likely targeted audiences for such technologies.
“It is important that they don’t sit back and are mindlessly absorbing the different technologies but that they understand how it works [so] that they can be a part of creating that process as well,” she said.
Amplify youth voices
Wilson added that YCDI, which is focused on content creation, wanted to ensure the project also amplified the voices of the youth and ensured to listen to their concerns about being online and in the metaverse. Their appreciation and objections to the metaverse were discussed in relation to designing the space responsibly.
“We’re saying to Jamaica as a whole, let’s not leave the young people out of that conversation. They’re often the targets in a lot of these products that are out there,” Wilson said.
A larger research project is being sought as Wilson explained that the end goal is to develop an ethical guideline document that they will be able to present to the Jamaican Government.
“The focus is on students coming in at different ages ... leaving the [organisation] as leaders and better than they came and that they’ll go on to introduce this to others – to their friends – but also [provide exposure] for the facilitators that will get involved in teaching the next generation,” Derrell said.
“We have a lot of brilliant persons here in this country who can code, who are highly qualified but maybe don’t have the exposure to the US market and so we want those persons to also get involved with YCDI,” he added.