Digital Citizenship and Life Online

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The idea of digital citizenship emerged partly as a way of helping children and teenagers learn about internet use and safety, but it’s a concept that’s broadly applicable to anyone who uses the web on a regular basis. In the UK, the US, Canada, and Europe, as well as many Asian and African countries, a large proportion of people—children and teens in particular—spend a great deal of their time online. In fact, it’s accurate to say that many people now live their lives partially online. And naturally, there are some benefits and concerns associated with this remarkable change in the way we live.

Digital Citizenship, Netiquette, Internet Safety

Digital citizenship as a concept centres in part around helping to ensure that children and teens can use the internet safely, and that they understand how to use the web responsibly and appropriately. In this regard, and in general, digital citizenship centres around nine main themes, as developed by tech expert and educator Mike Ribble.


Digital Citizenship theme #1 Access

This is about the awareness that not everyone has the same level of access to digital technology. As a society, it’s important to ensure that as many people as possible have some form of access and can participate in digital society if they choose to.


Digital Citizenship theme #2 Commerce

Most electronic commerce is legitimate, but users must be aware that there are potential safety and legal issues associated with this form of commerce, and that caveat emptor applies online too. There are too many examples to count of unwary buyers who are the unwitting victims of scams of one kind or another, even now, when the average user is much more savvy than they were a decade ago.

As well as this, the internet has made possible activities such as illegal downloading of digital entertainment such as TV, films, and games, as well as online gambling, and viewing of pornography—all of which is readily available to children and teenagers.


Digital Citizenship theme #3 Communication

The ability to communicate with people all over the world—in real time—is one of the most significant advantages of the digital revolution. However, the ease with which information can be given and received can make it difficult for people to retain their privacy online, even though, ironically, many users consider anonymity is one of the major benefits of the online world.


Digital Citizenship theme #4 Literacy

Ensuring that new generations of children develop digital literacy skills is a vital part of the entire concept of digital citizenship, particularly as businesses of all sizes, in all industries, are increasingly reliant on digital technology. The concept of digital literacy is also of prime importance in the world at large, because existing workers must learn these skills too, with increasingly sophisticated skill sets required for jobs at all levels of business organisation.


Digital Citizenship theme #5 Etiquette

Also dubbed “netiquette”, this is emerging as one of the most urgent problems of digital citizenship, in part due to the easy anonymity that pervades the online world. In a virtual world where real names and real-world information can be easily hidden and dispensed with altogether, many people succumb to the temptation of using that world to relieve stress at the expense of others, meaning that the internet is sometimes a very hostile place. This is a world where incidents of online bullying—cyberbullying—have been so severe as to drive teens to suicide. The difficulty of policing online behaviour means it’s incumbent on every digital citizen to behave appropriately and respectfully, and if possible, to help protect victims of bullying if it becomes necessary.

Digital Citizenship theme #6 Law

The perception of many types of digital crime as being “victimless” crimes continues to persist, but the law is clear in that the theft of digital property constitutes a criminal offence.

One increasingly problematic issue is that of the use by hackers of ransomware, a kind of software that is used to steal private information from individuals and organisations. A recent example—the “WannaCry” malware that caused a massive amount of havoc within the NHS as well as around the world—highlights the fact that this is certain to be an ongoing problem, just as security and theft are ongoing issues in the physical world.


Digital Citizenship theme #7 Rights and responsibilities

Those rights that we have in the real world—such as to privacy and free speech—extend to the digital world too, as do responsibilities, such as that of using the technology we have safely and appropriately.


Digital Citizenship theme #8 Health and wellness

Not only are there physical issues to consider—including problems such as eye strain and repetitive strain injury—there are also potential psychological consequences such as internet overuse and addiction.


Digital Citizenship theme #9 Self-protection

In the digital community as in the real world, there are citizens who use their freedoms to harass others, commit crimes, or otherwise cause disruption. This means it’s important for all citizens to understand how to protect themselves, for instance through the use of virus protection software, firewalls, data backups, and other protective devices.