Digital Youth Peacebuilders Network

Digital Youth Peacebuilders Network (Digital YPN) is an emerging network of youth mobilized as leaders in the effort to create a global culture of peace in all social spaces, online and offline. 


Peace building as a digital literacy?

Digital information technology allows all conflicts, regardless of where they originate, to be easily exposed, captured, and documented in digital format. It raises the reputational toll of conflict by making it more socially visible and subjects those involved in the conflict to a greater prospect of being judged negatively and by more people. The ability to make peace, to resolve and prevent conflicts—both online and offline—has become an indispensable literacy in order to effectively function and participate as a citizen in the digital age.



  • To empower youth with the knowledge, worldviews, attitudes, and skills conducive to preventing conflict and violence, and bringing about the emergence of peace;
  • To create a substantive dialogue about conflict prevention and peace amongst youth around the world;
  • To position youth at the forefront of teaching other youth about conflict transformation, violence prevention, and peace; and
  • To create a global network of youth peacebuilders.


Core themes

Digital YPN trains youth in the understanding that in order to create peace they must:

  • have a vision of what peace is and its requirements in the digital information age;
  • be able to make decisions that are conducive to the emergence of peace in a peaceful manner; and
  • undertake actions that are conducive to peace.



In 2004, a group of motivated, socially conscientious and committed young people from diverse backgrounds and communities formed the Youth Peacebuilders Network (YPN) to engage their peers in exploring the fundamental ideas, worldviews and actions that characterize a culture of peace. Since that beginning, some of the activities YPN groups have undertaken include the following:

  • Five students from two different YPN groups conducted workshops at five schools (high schools and middle schools) in Vancouver, British Columbia.  The workshops were approximately 80 minutes long, and about 300 students attended them. The YPN groups also spoke at a community forum of 200 parents, students, and administrators about proactive approaches to conflict resolution within schools.
  • Two students designed a 70 minute workshop challenging their peers to think about the causes of and responses to bullying. They traveled to the Canadian Arctic to perform the workshop for 8 classes (250 students);
  • Three students designed a 45 minute drama-based workshop on worldviews and their relationship to conflict and traveled to British Columbia, Canada and performed four workshops for student groups; and
  • Twelve students designed a 60-minute workshop to perform in their school, and other neighbourhood settings.

Digital YPN extends the focus of YPN activities to include peacebuilding in online settings. This is especially important to youth, who spend a significant amount of time online and are sometimes referred to as “digital natives.”


Building peace, whether online or offline, begins with ‘envisioning’ the nature of peace. Building peace begins in our minds, with how we think about the world, our value and purpose, our relationships with others and ourselves. When we envision peace, we are laying the essential foundation for building peace.

The following four observations are made in the unit on “envisioning” peace:

  • Peace is hard to define: Peace is both a necessary condition for and one of the highest aspirations of an open and free Internet. Yet, digital peace is hardly ever mentioned or explored with respect to the online environment. We do, however, talk a lot about different types of online conflict: cyber-bullying, online hate speech, trolling, online harassment or shaming, to name just a few.
  • Defining peace in a continuum: One way to organize our thinking on the meaning of peace is to place our definitions on a continuum: at one end is cold peace—characterized by a cessation of violence or separation of conflicting parties, while at the other end is hot peace—characterized by patterns of cooperation and integration. This continuum provides a way of analyzing different conflict resolution strategies and the kind of peace that they will create.
  • Peace is an indivisible and holistic concept: In a sense, this is another continuum. Online peace cannot be dissociated from other forms of peace such as intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup or international peace. All these forms cannot be separated from each other in our thinking, choices, or actions. One story that illustrates the interconnection between the different forms of peace is the story about the creation of the World Wide Web, as told in the video “”
  • Understanding the dimensions of conflict: conflicts—whether large or small, online or offline—always involve a set of particulars, the contexts in which they arise, and the worldviews of those involved. One example of how these three dimensions play out in a conflict situation is a recent viral controversy surrounding Halloween costumes at Yale University.


Research carried out by Carrie James at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has found that many young people make troubling decisions—ranging from bullying and privacy invasion to plagiarism and hateful speech—that reflect a disconnect with norms of decency and civility. Take bullying as an example. While the tragic stories of Amanda Todd, Tyler Clementi and many others reflect the personal toll such behaviour causes, they also prompt questions. Why do bullies decide to torment others? What factors lead them to make these terrible decisions?

How individuals see the world impacts how they make choices in the world.  As such, if an individual has a worldview that is prone to conflict, they are likely to make decisions in a manner that is prone to conflict. Similarly, if you have a worldview that is conducive to peace, you are likely to make decisions that foster peace.

Here are three observations about decision-making: 

  • Decision-making is developmental: We make decisions in different ways at different stages in our lives. This is because ‘growth’, ‘change’, or ‘development’ is a universal law of life.
  • We develop at the level of consciousness: Our consciousness and worldview changes as we grow and develop. A worldview is like a pair of glasses—a lens through which we see the world. Like glasses, our worldview affects what we see, and as a result the choices we make. Glasses might make us see the world as blurry or clear, or tinted to a particular color. The ways we make decisions reflect our worldviews. Some worldviews lead to conflict-oriented decision-making while others result in peace-oriented decision-making. 
  • Humanity collectively develops: Another facet of growth and development is collective growth and collective change—this is a framework for thinking about the change and development that humanity goes through as a whole.

Based on these three points we can describe a developmental model of decision-making: What is your worldview? What worldview is reflected in Facebook’s famous “move fast and break things” motto? Or Wikipedia’s “assumed good faith” principle that it requires its community of contributors to abide by? What does decision-making look like when is it based on a peace-oriented or unity-oriented worldview?


The Web We Want

What are the characteristics of an ideal online space? What would online peace entail? The inventor of the World Wide Web asked all of us to think about: what kind of Internet do we want? What would a Magna Carta for the Web include? And how can we act to bring about the Web we want? 


Spectrum of Actions

We can act in many different ways to achieve our goals. Our actions can be reactive or proactive. Or they could focus on cultivating new social meanings, norms, or forms of behaviour. There is a wide range of models and spectrums that can be used to characterize our different actions.


Three Areas of Action

In general, there are three areas in which we may act to build peace: 

  • Intervention—Responding to an occurrence or event so that it will de-escalate, end, or cease to be violent;
  • Systemic/Structural Change—designing processes, policies and structures which make it more difficult to resort to violence and decrease the likelihood that violent/serious conflict will occur.
  • Cultural Change—Creating a culture of peace, as well as a culture intolerant of violence.

These three areas are interrelated, with progress in one area contributing to progress in the other two. Peace building in the digital age requires us to engage with our technological context and data environment when acting in each of these areas.


The Wikipedia Example

We can see these different expressions of peace building actions in the range of strategies that Wikipedia employs to deal with editorial conflicts in its global online community: Wikipedia’s vandalism detection bot is an example of an intervening technology; the five pillars of its founding principles are examples of action at the structural level; and the good faith assumption that Wikipedia asks all of its members to adopt fosters the collaborative culture that makes Wikipedia possible.


State of the Internet

One of the most ambitious promises of the Internet is to create an open, free, anyone-can-participate network of information and knowledge sharing that transcends geographic and cultural boundaries. The advancement of this potential is now severely under threat. Some have even warned that the Internet is “dying.” 


Two concerns are particularly urgent if we want the Internet to fulfill its potential as a tool that could serve all of humanity:

  • Control of our personal data and privacy;
  • Curtailing widespread misinformation online.

Both of these concerns are fuelling social conflicts at the interpersonal level, as well as perpetuating and escalating systemic conflicts and divisions at the societal level.


All of us who use the Internet share the responsibility of tackling these concerns. The success of the Internet so far has been largely due to the grassroots contributions of people like you and me. It is again up to us to build the Internet we want. What can we do at the individual, structural and cultural levels to address these concerns?


What is Privacy?

Privacy is the ability for people to choose the extent to which they want to share their ideas, thoughts, attitudes, experiences or behaviors with others. It is a fundamental human right recognized in Article 12 of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and receives legal protection in countries around the world, including Canada, the European Union and the United States. There are many expressions of privacy, such as information privacy, bodily privacy, territorial privacy, and communication privacy. Protecting privacy may have different requirements depending on the situation. Information privacy, for instance, may be compromised at the stage of collecting, processing or disseminating the information. What is required to protect information privacy would be different in each of these different stages.


Why Privacy?

Privacy protection is rooted in a perspective that sees people as dignified, capable of making choices, setting goals for themselves, self-reflection and change. While safeguarding individual autonomy, dignity and growth, privacy protection also helps to bring about a social environment that fosters the full development of human potential. As such, respect for privacy is a distinguishing feature of a free and democratic society. 

The concept of privacy dates back to some of the oldest cultures and traditions. For instance, the principle of not talking badly of others behind their back is widely embraced across different cultures, and is an idea about privacy relating to dissemination of information. But privacy is also an important aspect of innovation. For example, the process of creating new technologies often requires much tinkering and experimenting that is done in private. This allows an inventor to explore, make mistakes and learn from the mistakes away from the prying eyes of others.


Privacy and Technology

Digital information technologies are generating an unprecedented amount of personal data, which in turn substantially increases the risk of surveillance by government and corporate actors. For instance, in the interactive documentary series Do Not Track, we learn how our digital activity is recorded, tracked and used for commercial purposes by corporate actors. These actions are making it increasingly difficult for people to have a say in how their personal data is processed and disseminated.


Actions to Protect Privacy

There are three areas in which individuals can act to protect their privacy:

  • As individual user of technology: e.g. better understand the privacy features and policies of apps or devices; decide whether or how to continue to use them; research and find more privacy protective technology, etc.
  • Actions that focus on systemic and structural privacy protection: e.g. inventing, or demanding from businesses or governments, technology that protects privacy by design.
  • Actions that focus on creating a culture of privacy protection: e.g. support activities that promote a better understanding about the importance of privacy and how to protect it, such as watching or sharing the Do Not Track documentaries series.


Example: Redesigning Instagram’s Terms & Conditions?

Most people never read their apps’ terms and conditions (T&C) because they are usually long and hard to understand. So in 2017, the Children’s Commissioner of UK asked a law firm to draft a simplified version of Instagram’s T&C to see whether teen users would continue using the app if they actually understand the T&C. Many said no because they don’t want to waive their privacy. How might Instagram’s T&C be redesigned to reflect the Privacy By Design principles established by the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario?