Participation & Governance

The Fellowship of the Hashtag: Social Media and Youth Reporting at the World Conference on Youth

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The 2014 World Conference on Youth (WCY), held on 6-10 May 2014 in Colombo, Sri Lanka, brought together more than a thousand young people from 120 countries, as well as 53 governmental delegations, 28 of which included ministers or deputy ministers responsible for youth.[1] The conference also had participants and observers from various UN agencies and intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations dealing with youth.

2014 World Conference on Youth

Focused on ‘mainstreaming youth in the post-2015 development agenda’, the conference led to the Colombo Declaration on Youth - a joint text agreed upon by the youth and governmental delegations, outlining recommendations for action in 14 areas, including achieving good governance & accountability, youth-led development, gender equality, and education.

The 2014 World Conference on Youth followed previous world youth conferences, which brought together Ministers responsible for youth and young people, in Portugal (1998) and Mexico (2010).

The role of the Social Media Fellows

In addition to national and international youth delegates, the conference organisers opened a public call for 20 young people as Social Media Fellows. Those that were chosen represented six different regions around the world, with an additional 10 from Sri Lanka completing the team of in total 20 Fellows. Our team provided a 3-hour training session the day before the start of the conference, reviewing the array of social media tools at their disposal, the types of stories that can be covered at conferences, and what role they can play at the event.

Such social reporters and journalists, while critical to providing up-to-date and independent coverage, are a relatively new feature at worldwide youth events. During WCY, they reported on the organisation and logistics of the event, covered the politics of the negotiations and outcome documents, summarised the events of the day and produced human-interest stories of those involved in the conference.

Media faced considerable obstacles accrediting for and trying to enter the World Conference on Youth
Media faced considerable obstacles accrediting for and trying to enter the World Conference on Youth

Given that no accreditation for international media was provided, and local media faced considerable obstacles to entering the event, the role of the Social Media Fellows was particularly important at WCY 2014, positioning the 20 young reporters and journalists at the centre of the independent coverage of the event.

The support of the Social Media Fellows

Despite the pivotal role the Social Media Fellows should play in theory, and have played in reality, their presence seemed like an after-thought. Prior to their arrival, they were given no clear expectations for their role beyond what the call had specified, nor information on the extent to which they would operate together as a network of fellows rather than independent reporters. They were also not told which technological and virtual tools would be at their disposal. The only additional direction given was one line on the WCY website:

“To make sure that the outreach of the conference is high and all young people communicating in different languages can follow the conference.” Source.

A social media pack (pdf) was developed, but not circulated to the Fellows.

Once the Social Media fellows arrived at the conference venue, an impressive array of organisational problems prevented them from even entering the building. They were not given special badges or any other distinguishing mark that would specify their role as members of the press, and because of this, did at first not have access to the conference media centre. In the evenings at their hotel, Fellows were confronted with dysfunctional internet access - a necessity for any social media reportage.

The work of the Social Media Fellows

Proud of the social media fellows
Proud of the social media fellows, and for good reasons

Despite all the obstacles, the Social Media Fellows provided critical, insightful and honest reporting of the event. Beyond constantly and consequently live-tweeting the quick pace of the events and negotiations, they generated thoughtful, longer-form blog posts that asked key questions relating to youth participation, the post-2015 agenda, and the role of young people in governance and development.

We have documented their work in a storify at, and were impressed with and proud of their reporting throughout.

This quote from one of their summary articles (this one by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne) is a good example for the critical yet nuanced reporting of the Social Media Fellows:

“WCY, in short, was 70% a platform for giving the youth of the world a crack at changing the world from the top-down rather than the bottom-up. The other 30%, of course, was a bit of marketing for Sri Lanka and the Powers That Be. […] Was it a failure? No. Put that many passionate minds and you end up with something usable. Unfortunately, coming from a third-world country, I cannot help but feel that some of the problems discussed were cracks in the windows of castles in the sky.”

Source. Original emphasis.

We encourage you to explore some more of their work on Storify!

The future of reporting in the youth sector

Young reporters should be a feature at any youth event that claims and seeks to improve the policy framework for and the situation of young people.

Concerning young journalists

Independent media coverage contributes to and enforces transparency and digs underneath and beyond the often-times generic and non-committal rhetoric of youth participation. Reporters keep a check on those who purport to work on behalf of youth as well as those who are selected or elected to represent the interests of young people.

In order to conduct this critical work, young reporters need to be fully independent: they need to be independently selected, they need to be given full organisational and intellectual independence, and they need to stand clearly and completely apart from the communications machinery of conferences.

Young reporters need to be fully accredited -and fully independent.

In other words, young reporters should be treated just as older journalists would be, and as all media representatives ought to be treated. They need to be recognised through proper press accreditation (something the United Nations is not exactly famous for[2], and which the World Conference on Youth did not even foresee), and they need to have full access to all media resources.

We will reach out to the Youth Envoy of the United Nations in the coming weeks to work on guidelines for youth media accreditation, for example through a youth press card. Such recognition will allow young reporters to continue holding those at the negotiation table to account, and to share their coverage not only with the entire youth sector, but also with interested readers more widely.


[1] - Number of #Youth Ministers attending World Conferences on Youth: Lisbon (1998), 100; Leon, Mexico (2010), 36; Colombo (2014), 28. [Source] []

[2] - You would not believe how ridiculous and arbitrary the press accreditation process of the United Nations is. It would be hard to disprove anyone arguing it’s a completely intransparent system designed to be able to bar critical journalists quite quickly from having access to the UN. []

Team credits:

Written and edited byCristina Bacalso,Alex Farrow andAndreas Karsten.

Image credits:

The featured image uses a photo by one of the social media fellows, Suhardha Prabash, with most of the social media fellows (and a few other volunteers) on it. All other images courtesy of the WCY team.