Digital Citizenship: Being a Responsible User in a Digital Society
When I learned of the concept of digital citizenship, my mind quickly shot to the movie Tron: Legacy. This movie takes place years after the first movie and the digital world is far more advanced than the original concept. There are more people and everyone has their own responsibilities and personalities. It is a great representation of how we as users interact with others in our digital world.
In a nutshell, digital citizenship, or digital wellness or ethics, is how technology is used responsibly, ethically, and safely by users (i.e. students, teachers, adults, etc.). For example, when you get onto a website that allows user interaction in the form of comments. Leaving a comment to voice your opinion should be done respectfully, the way one would expect someone to speak a comment in person.
Let’s face it: there are far too many people using the internet today lacking basic manners, which is a part of being a good digital citizen. Additionally, far too many people are incapable of checking multiple sources of information before making an informed decision on a topic.
Because many schools across the country are moving to a STEM or STEAM based curriculum, it’s more important now than ever to make sure kids, teens, and even some young adults are being good digital citizens. With so many people spending hours of their day on the internet either working, browsing social media, or consuming digital entertainment, it’s important that every user is versed on the nine elements of digital citizenship. As a society, we have access to a massive amount of data at our fingertips. But in order to use that information responsibly and safely, kids and teens need to know how the nine elements relate to them specifically and not just in generalized terms.
The Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship
The pandemic brought to light just how large the technological and digital divide is in the US. In 2020, many schools found themselves rushing to provide laptops and tablets to students who did not have the proper technology to perform the work teachers would ultimately be assigning online. Furthermore, many families didn’t have access to the internet because they either simply could not afford it or had no point in having it since they couldn’t afford the technology needed to take advantage of it.
As schools progress towards a more STEM and STEAM based curriculum, it is important for educators to remember this digital divide. Many families simply do not have the means to supply their children with the necessary resources they need to learn in a digital environment. Therefore, schools need to make sure they’re providing the required technology to those students who need it and make sure they have access to the internet at home or provide them opportunities to get access so they can learn with the rest of their classmates.
At the adult level, community and city leaders need to work harder at making communities and cities more digitally inclusive. This means having more areas where people can go to access technology such as at libraries and more areas where people can take advantage of Wi-Fi in order to do things like apply for work, apply for resources, find information, and educate themselves.
Before the days of Amazon, eBay, and the hundreds of other shopping websites, millennials and their parents would do most of their shopping malls. This may be shocking and horrifying to people born in the 2000s, but this is how we old people shopped.
Now, people prefer to do their shopping online from the comfort of their own home or while on the go. There is probably nothing that cannot be bought online these days. From ordering your breakfast in the morning at a fast food restaurant, to buying a brand new car and having it shipped to your front door, people literally do not have to leave their homes anymore to get what they want or need.
But part of being a good digital citizen is knowing how to shop responsibly and safely. In the physical world, we have the ability to look at a shop and decide if we think it’s a reputable place to spend money. Online, it may be hard to spot a good website from a bad one. The products we think we are buying may not be so when they get delivered, if they get delivered at all. The website may also be a fake and only appears real to steal your personal or financial information.
Because shopping online is so easy, it’s also easy to become addicted to the simplicity. This is where becoming a responsible shopper comes in. Take for example, free mobile video games. While the game itself is free, developers will gladly sell you things to help make the game easier or help you stand out from other players with costumes or special gear. It’s easy to be lured into buying these really cheap upgrades. But without self control, one upgrade becomes 10, and suddenly the free game is now full price.
Most likely, you have a smartphone in your pocket, backpack, or you’re reading this blog on your phone at this moment. Gone are the days when a phone was technology that was stuck at home or in a booth. And anyone who wanted to talk on the go, the only option was to carry around a phone shaped like a brick.
Now, people have a variety of options when it comes to communicating with people. While people can still make regular phone calls, many young people opt to communicate by text messages or even video chat.
With the convenience of being able to talk to anyone at any time came the dangers of always being available to talk. Distracted driving kills hundreds of people every year. And online predators now have an easy way to find vulnerable kids, teens, and even adults. Digital citizens should practice the same safety rules when dealing with strangers in person when talking to people online.
Beyond smartphones, there are many websites that thrive on participation from users. This means millions of people everyday are commenting on some form of content online. And because of the anonymity the internet provides, there are many people who leave hurtful and rude remarks that don’t help the conversation or do so simply because they enjoy causing trouble.
Good digital citizens not only report these kinds of comments and posts, they also make sure to practice good etiquette when taking part in online conversations. Just because the medium of conversation has changed, it does not mean manners are optional. There are people behind the words and words can hurt.
Sometimes, recognizing what is real and fake on the internet can be a real challenge for people who aren’t skilled enough to know the difference. This is why digital literacy is important for anyone who spends any length of time on the internet.
Digital literacy is the ability to know what information on the internet is useful and which may not be credible. It’s also the ability to know where to find credible information and how to spot sites that are not as reputable or show clear bias in the information they report.
For example, if you were doing a report on George Washington, the most reputable sites would be those that have a web address ending in .org or .gov. The first signifies that the website is run by an organization. The second is a government website. These two types of websites are often credible sources of information that have been researched and verified to be as accurate as possible.
Remember that not everything you read on a source like Wikipedia is true. This is because anyone can edit a Wikipedia article or page. While it might be a great place to start your research, part of digital literacy is knowing to always check multiple sources to make sure the information you’re getting is accurate.
Etiquette in the digital world is the same as it is in the real world. The type of behavior and speech that isn’t acceptable in person isn’t acceptable when said online either.
Probably the most important aspect of the internet that many kids and teens forget is that once you’ve posted or said something on the internet, it is there forever. It will forever be a part of the digital persona you’ve created for yourself online.
Online bullying is an example of a lack of digital etiquette. This is when people harass other users either because they disagree with something they’ve said or because they enjoy saying spiteful things. Because the internet allows many people to remain anonymous, people often take advantage of it and say things they would not likely say to someone in real life.
Quite simply, practice good manners both on the internet and in real life to prevent a bad digital persona.
Just as in the real world, there are laws that keep people safe while on the internet. One of the best examples is in the early days of the internet when people used to share music and movies in order to avoid paying for them. Laws were created to prevent people from sharing copyrighted material.
Whenever you use a website or an app, it is important you understand the rules and regulations so you don’t accidentally participate in something that may be illegal. Oftentimes, if something has to be done in secret on the internet, it is likely illegal or inappropriate. If you’re ever in a situation like this, you should report it to your parents, the authorities, and then the company or website where it happened.
Digital Rights and Responsibilities
Where there is digital law, there are also digital rights. Digital rights give people the ability to create media, publish media, and have access to technologies.
Essentially, being able to do everything that we do every day on the internet is having digital rights. In certain parts of the world, those rights are not guaranteed. There are many countries that prohibit people from accessing certain information, participating on social media, visiting websites from other countries, and even monitor internet traffic every second of the day.
When you browse the internet everyday and talk to people online, remember you’re exercising your right to be able to participate in a digital society and not everyone can simply access the internet or access technology the way you can.
While we’re spending so much time online and living through our digital personas, it can be easy to forget that our digital health is as important. Digital health essentially relates to how much technology and digital content we absorb in our daily lives.
If you’re the type of person who spends hours and hours on social media or watches hours of content on places like YouTube, you’re not living a healthy digital life. It’s okay to enjoy an occasional video and check up on friends and family through things like Facebook, but it’s important to remember to live a life outside of the digital world.
Additionally, your mental health can suffer from spending so much time isolating yourself and watching people live their lives on social media. Many teens suffer from depression while seeing people go on amazing vacations, going to parties, and basically living a fun filled life. But many of these pictures are illusions and created just for the views. Nonetheless, absorbing too much content like this can make you wish you had that person’s life and make you feel as though you’re missing out.
Just like remembering to lock doors at night or protecting your possessions, digital security is just as important. Protecting your passwords, making sure your devices are safe, and not revealing too much about yourself is all part of digital security.
Every time we get online, our digital security is tested by people trying to get access to our financial information, personal information, contact lists, private pictures, and all other types of information. This is why you should never carelessly give information like your birthday, favorite foods, birthplace, or any other information that might give thieves clues as to how to break your passwords or even pretend to be you online.
All of these segments are important in their own right and help us to create a digital community that is safe and useful for everyone. Learning how to be a good digital citizen is critical now that so many people spend hours upon hours on the internet. Whether we’re using it for education, business, or shopping, understanding all of these concepts will make sure we’re being great people offline and online.