EVERFI and the Social Innovation Summit recently convened 50 business leaders and change agents for an off the record conversation in Palo Alto. The discussion included executives from leading tech companies, foundations, and trade organizations, as well as professors from nearby Stanford University. The night’s theme? Digital wellness, online citizenship, and social responsibility in a changing world.
Digital wellness refers to the healthy and safe use of the Internet and screen-based technologies. Digital wellness is a relatively new concept, but the challenges that affect digital wellness pervade society. As smartphones, social media and other digital tech expand in reach and scope, organizations and individuals grapple with new questions related to mental health, privacy, and well-being.
Well-being online is a particularly pressing one for the first generation of digital natives who populate high schools and universities. Among teens who own a cell phone, 40% report that they feel “addicted” to digital devices, and more than 40% said that they wished they could disconnect sometimes. Research has also found that social comparison — the perception of deficits when comparing one’s life to someone else’s — correlates with social media usage and depressive symptoms.
Awareness of digital wellness has coincided with new approaches to social responsibility. Across industries, corporate leaders are expanding their business goals to serve not only shareholders but also other stakeholders, including current and future employees and consumers.
Leaders exchanged their year-end goals via a roundtable introduction. Several guests highlighted the intentional ways that their organizations think about end-users’ well-being and mental health. Diversity, inclusion, and education were also top of mind for attendees.
The featured speaker was five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who joined EVERFI Chief Marketing Officer Brian Cooley for a Q&A. Ledecky, 22, shared her perspective as a digital native who has built a prominent social media presence heading into the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
“Understanding how to use the Internet was an important part of my education,” said Ledecky, a student at Stanford. “It’s great to see so many smart people thinking about how to help students be safe and well online.”
Ledecky discussed how the Internet helped her set goals as a young swimmer and how social media has allowed her to connect with fans and brands. She also recalled stories from the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
“I like to use social media to give my followers a behind-the-scenes perspective and include them in my journey,” Ledecky said. “When I can, I use social media to offer young swimmers and students advice and encouragement. It’s important to me to develop a positive and inclusive platform online.”
Following the Q&A, EVERFI co-founder Jon Chapman highlighted EVERFI’s new Digital Wellness Network, a public-private coalition of corporations, nonprofits, and educators committed to empowering students to make safe and healthy decisions about technology.
In 2008, EVERFI’s founders believed that the Internet would play an increasingly prominent role in the development of young people. Four years later, EVERFI released a digital course that taught students how to navigate the online world safely and responsibly. Since then, Ignition: Digital Citizenship has engaged over three million students.
“We want students to walk away equipped with more information about how to be a good peer, how to be a good friend, and how to effectively know when to intervene and be a good citizen and bystander to help make a situation better,” Chapman said.
The Digital Wellness Network includes leading tech, gaming, and communications companies that support an updated Ignition course. Ignition 2.0: Digital Wellness and Safety explores new digital trends and encourages students to consider how their online activity affects their offline communities and personal well-being.
Partners in the Digital Wellness Network
EVERFI highlighted three inaugural members of the Digital Wellness Network: Take-Two Interactive, a leading video game holding company; the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation, the non-profit arm of the video game trade association; and Altice USA, the American arm of the multinational telecommunications and mass media company.
“Altice hopes that the Digital Wellness Network brings together all the relevant players of the online world to create a uniform standard for the best practices of operating in the online world for students in safe and responsible ways,” said Lee Schroeder, Altice Executive Vice President of Government and Community Affairs.
Altice USA is bringing Ignition to schools across the company’s service area. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation and ESA member Take-Two have also committed to impacting schools in multiple states.
“Our hope is that his course helps empower students,” added Anastasia Staten, Executive Director of the ESA Foundation. “We want it to be a proactive activity so that they don’t face some of the inherent risks and challenges that one can face online.”
According to Take-Two Vice President Alan Lewis, the time is now for media and technology companies to align behind digital wellness education.
“One of the reasons we wanted to get involved with the network at its launch was that we felt this inflection point really marked a perfect time, especially in the lives of students when they’re just starting to interact on their own devices,” said Lewis, who leads public affairs and communications for Take-Two. “We felt that we could help make a difference, not only educating students on the best ways to use technology in a safe and respectable way but also offering them life skills that they can take with them forever.”
Simple connections can lead to big ideas. Attendees exchanged ideas about approaches to online privacy, disconnecting, cyberbullying, and other issues that affect digital wellness. Guests walked away with a better understanding of how they can help peers build communities and tackle difficult problems.