Groves student aims to improve internet civility

By: Brendan Losinski | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 9, 2018

 Groves High School student Erin Roberts was one of 15 students from across the country named to serve on Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good, a group formed to improve and promote internet civility.

Groves High School student Erin Roberts was one of 15 students from across the country named to serve on Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good, a group formed to improve and promote internet civility.

Photo provided by Erin Roberts

BEVERLY HILLS — One student at Groves High School in Beverly Hills is going above and beyond to find new ways to increase civility on the internet.

Sophomore Erin Roberts, 15, of Sterling Heights, was selected by Microsoft as one of 15 students from across the country to serve on the company’s first-ever Council for Digital Good.

The group’s goal is to encourage empathy and kindness in online interactions and to promote treating others with respect and dignity.

“We started the council to connect with youth in a meaningful way about some important online safety issues, including online bullying, the proliferation of hate speech on the web and sextortion,” explained Jacqueline Beauchere, chief online safety officer for Microsoft. “We wanted to hear and learn from the teens, and leverage them as a sounding board for our youth-focused policy efforts. It’s important to consider the youth voice when crafting policies and guidelines that will affect them.”

Roberts said joining the council has been a life-changing experience, and she believes they are making a positive difference in the world.

“It’s actually really amazing,” said Roberts. “I’ve made some really good friends through the council. I Skyped into the United Nations Internet Governance Forum and met with the public safety director for the Canadian government. I really enjoy working with adults who like hearing what we have to say and having an effect on the world.”

The Council for Digital Good members’ first order of business was creating a manifesto for the council and turning that concept into a project, such as a song or an art piece.

Beauchere said it was Roberts’ enthusiasm and knowledge of youth culture and technology that impressed her the most.

“Erin was chosen for her passion for technology, her leadership skills and her ability to connect with others,” said Beauchere. “In her application essays, Erin said things like technology plays a ‘significant role’ in her life, and that her phone is her ‘most treasured possession.’ Yet it was also evident from her responses that Erin aims to connect with people on a real level. She shared that when one of her social media accounts was hacked, that situation helped her to realize the value and importance of face-to-face communications and connections. That authenticity has shined through in all assignments and interactions with Erin to date, and it’s a constant thread running through her contributions to the council.”  

The council holds a minimum of one conference call per month, with Beauchere running the calls and directing the students through a specific agenda. Topics range from upcoming projects and assignments to logistics for a scheduled call with a guest speaker.

Council members are given the opportunity to engage with leaders of nonprofits, authors and even representatives from United Nations agencies. In turn, the council members provide their thoughts and perspectives to these other groups.

“In January of last year, there was an announcement that they wanted teenagers from across the country to apply,” said Roberts. “I received a letter telling me I was selected. In the initial email we got, they sent us a Skype conference room number and some other information about what they wanted us to work on,” said Roberts. “Once a month, we have a Skype meeting as a whole group. In August, we had a summit, and we were flown to Seattle and we had a three-day stay, and we met with the CPO (chief privacy officer) of LinkedIn and the CEO of NoBully. As a team of teenagers, no adults, we were charged with creating a manifesto.”

So far, council members have engaged in discussions on safety issues, such as the risks of sexting, preventing and combating cyberbullying and harassment, and the importance of online reputation management. They also have begun to write advice and tips to guide behavior and life online. The council is now aiming to move beyond this to loftier goals.

“When we conceived of the council, we anticipated the summit in August would be the culmination of our efforts. We quickly realized that bringing the teens together was really just the start of this journey,” said Beauchere. “We’ll bring the council together again in the summer of 2018 for a more public dialogue on some of these important issues. We’ll meet in Washington, D.C., and invite law- and policy-makers and other influentials to hear and consider the thoughts and perspectives of these impressive young people.”

Roberts stressed the importance of improving online civility because of how it helps shape people — especially young people — in how they treat and view others.

“We are taught in the real world to be good people and act respectfully in the real world, but people are not taught to act that way online, and we are trying to change that,” said Roberts.