I was invited to the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard to review and workshop their newest report on youth and digital media. I’m excited to release their findings here. I’m excited not because I like kids or think they are our future. No, I’m excited because we finally have some cold, hard stats on who’s creating content.
The good news is that girls produce and share self-authored creations online more than boys who typically have wider access to technology. The bad news is that this doesn’t follow through to video. Girls still fall short on uploading video, and remix works in particular, to YouTube. This is really ideal if we’re trying to re-create the existing power dynamic in the entertainment industry. But since we know now how well that worked, it behooves us to start leveling the playing field now.
Content creation is a fast growing area of Internet activity; 59% of all youth ages 12 -17 engage in content creation on the Web.
- 28% keep an online journal or blog
- 27% build webpages
- 33% share an original work (photos, stories, etc.)
- 26% remix content
Older teenage girls (ages 15-17) engage in content creation activities much more than boys their age and younger. 38% of girls age 15-17 share self-authored creations (compared to 29% of boys) and post photos 14% more than boys.
But one area where boys are leading the way in posting video on YouTube; 19% of boys report this behavior, compared to 10% of girls.
That is a huge gap, especially at a time when YouTube is increasingly becoming the search engine of choice among internet-users. When predominantly man-made content proliferates the search results, the quality and accuracy of certain types of information becomes compromised.
So how do we encourage more girls to upload video and, in particular, remix video? Over the past 5 years I’ve noticed tech skills to be only one part of the problem. The biggest barrier to participation is confidence.
At Harvard we workshopped the idea of YouTube as the video version of the manswer (definition #4). Young women see a lot of low quality video on YouTube and don’t want to participate unless they can make something of a higher quality. But they have no idea how to make a higher quality video because they haven’t yet been encouraged to make low quality video as a starting point. Apparently, young men have no problem putting crap up on YouTube. The same way men have very little trouble raising their hands in class to produce a half-assed answer. The goal for them isn’t to answer the question correctly, it’s to exert power and confidence in a public setting. We refer to this as manswer.
So over the past couple of years, I’ve been encouraging girls to fail quickly and often when it comes to making video. Most video on YouTube is crappy; if girls make a video that’s less than-stellar, they are in good company. It’s the encouragement to fail combined with the access to the tech tools that, I think, will level the posting-playing field.
My contribution to the Berkman workshop focused on my experiences boosting the number of women posting videos to YouTube with a focus on the video remix. The goal is to encourage girls to make something, regardless of it’s quality and post it, even if it’s less-than-perfect.
26% of youth remix content. It behooves networks & media outlets to make more pop-culture content available for youth remixers. And while they’re at it, they should eliminate the YouTube Content ID system which doesn’t differentiate between a Fair Use of copyright content (often found in remixes) and an illegal use of copyright content, resulting in unjust removals of remix works across the web. Finally, educating parents, teachers and schools that remix work is in fact legal, academically rigorous and a form of activism is a generally smart idea for supporting future content creators.