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Half the world is without the internet. Emerging economies and marginalized communities are often the last to gain access (UNESCO). The digital landscape has evolved in the last few years to involve major industries that affect our everyday lives such as business, education, banking, transport, politics, and healthcare. Despite this, internet shutdowns and censorship have become one of the defining tools of government repression in the 21st century. My country Benin is not an exception to this phenomenon that is seeking to suppress dissent in the guise of preserving national security. The wave of disinformation in the age of fake news is making access to correct information much more challenging. This critically affects internet health at a time when more people are relying on the internet.

 

Benin is one of the African countries experiencing the digital divide and lagging in the digital revolution. Young people in Benin are digital natives and are more connected to the digital world. Digital inclusion is more than just access. Young people in my community are using social media and internet services without a clear awareness about their digital footprints, their online reputation, or the critical media literacy necessary to be safe online. The COVID pandemic has spiked the spread of fake news in Benin and across the globe; official channels are the most reliable channels to get information online.

 

Digital4Growth is a program of African Youth Empowerment for Future Initiative (AYEFI), my youth-led organization. With the ambition to be recognized as one of the top innovative youth- led organizations promoting digital inclusion in Africa, AYEFI through its program Digital4growth is tackling the digital divide and addressing internet issues by promoting digital inclusion. The program involves designing capacity-building workshops that empower youth with the required digital skills, critical media, and web literacy that they need to excel as global accountable leaders in this digital age. This allows young people to benefit from economic and educational opportunities on the internet and adapt themselves to the labor market’s realities by using internet resources.

 

Critical media literacy is crucial because, despite the benefits of being connected, the internet also has its pitfalls. The online nature of anonymity, immediacy, and trust online can also favor radicalization; extremist groups manipulate information to spread hate speech or to recruit new followers (Teicher). Therefore, it is  fundamental for young people in Benin, Africa, and across the globe to understand the risks of their behavior online. Some risks involved include making important choices based on false information, believing the wrong sources, legal proceedings as a result of poor online behaviors, and our data being used against us. These actions (or inactions) can lead to further marginalization due to an incapacity to efficiently use the internet and digital tools.

 

One of the core aspects of Digital4Growth is to prepare young internet users in the region with behavioral skills to fully realize themselves and act responsibly on the internet, including social media. To be specific, the project will organize capacity building workshops on themes such as education on best practices to have on the internet (to be secure and secure others), critical media literacy, creation of quality content, and how to use the internet for the economic growth.

 

Furthermore, the program will advocate for suitable and inclusive laws regarding the internet to engage with different stakeholders to limit internet shutdowns and censorship in Benin and other regions affected by the same.

 

Building a digitally inclusive community requires participation and support from all sectors and that is why we are choosing to work open. Community-based organizations, business, government, policymakers, and individuals can contribute by engaging with our team, helping design the different programs, becoming technical and financial partners as well as communicating the critical media literacy we create for young people.

 

Our digital life is becoming as important as real life. Having internet enthusiasts working together toward the same goal without discrimination of race, gender, or social classes is what ensures a healthy internet. Critical media literacy allows marginalized communities to participate in the digital transformation while ensuring that the internet stays open, accessible, and safe for all.

 

Interested contributors can reach us on our different social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter,

LinkedIn) by searching @ayefinitiative

REFERENCES

Becoming a global citizen course on

http://www.gcedonlinecampus.org/_HTML/closed_course_view.php?id=36

https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/publication/un-desa-policy-brief-61-covid-19-

embracing-digital-government-during-the-pandemic-and-beyond/

https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/publication/un-desa-policy-brief-61-covid-19-

embracing-digital-government-during-the-pandemic-and-beyond/

https://www.internethealthreport.org/2019

https://www.webjunction.org/explore-topics/digital-inclusion.html

https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/internet-health/digital-inclusion/

https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf000214485

https://www.itproportal.com/2015/11/14/digital-inclusion-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/