There’s no doubt about it: Digital technology and communication are now a central part of our everyday lives. The pandemic has accelerated global digital transformation by years, it’s become more important than ever to foster a strong societal knowledge and understanding of how to act responsibly online—in other words, how to practice good digital citizenship.
Digital citizenship encompasses the many facets of our online behavior: The way we communicate with others online, how we create and interact with digital media, how we share information (our own as well as others’), and the overall way in which we represent ourselves in digital spaces.
In many ways, it’s a natural extension of learning digital literacy. Once a person has a basic understanding of how to use digital tools and technologies, they must also understand how the ways they use them can impact their own life and potentially the lives of others as well.
In this guide, we’ll examine the full scope of digital citizenship and explore what it means to be a good digital citizen in 2023 and beyond.
- Digital citizenship encompasses standards, expectations, and laws about how people should and, in many cases, are required to behave online.
- There are legal and rules-based components to digital citizenship (ex: privacy laws) as well as common-sense ones (ex: respect for others).
- Digital literacy, online safety awareness, and knowledge of the digital footprint are foundational building blocks for digital citizenship.
- Specific practices you can adopt to be a good digital citizen include: digital etiquette, empathy, respect for privacy and intellectual property, critical thinking, and civic engagement.
What is digital citizenship and why does it matter?
Digital citizenship means bringing the practices of good citizenship we use in the real world to the digital world in which we now engage so heavily. According to Pew Research Center, 85% of American adults are online several times per day. More than a third say they are on the internet “almost constantly.”
In a world where so much of our human interaction happens digitally, it’s critical to prioritize responsible behavior online. Just as we aim to be respectful, responsible, and engaged members of our communities, the same principles apply when navigating the online landscape.
Further, it’s important for people—especially young people growing up online—to understand that the choices we make in digital spaces have real-world impacts and consequences.
Digital citizenship and the ability to practice it influences the overall health of individual online users and online communities. It contributes to positive online environments where people can express themselves freely and engage meaningfully with others.
It also empowers people to protect themselves from inevitable risks and pitfalls that exist online, such as poor treatment from others or cyber crimes.
All in all, digital citizenship encompasses standards set by society and, in many cases, governments and law enforcement agencies for how people should act in digital settings. These standards serve as a guide for successfully participating in online discourse and leveraging digital tools in our everyday lives.
3 Building blocks for digital citizenship
Before we dive into specific practices of digital citizenship, it’s important to understand the key building blocks that set the foundation for any person to be a good digital citizen. They are:
Digital and media literacy
Digital literacy is the ability to use and understand digital tools and technologies successfully. It includes knowing how to operate hardware like computers, tablets, and smartphones, as well as how to navigate online spaces like social media platforms, email, search engines, chat, and more.
Under the umbrella of digital literacy is media literacy, or the ability to critically analyze, evaluate, and understand various forms of media that exist online. This includes any form of online content, like social media posts, news, emails, images, and downloadable assets (among others).
Digital and media literacy are the foundational skills needed to practice digital citizenship. They allow a person to assess their environment accurately and fully to make informed decisions about how to act, just as we do in real-world situations.
Online safety awareness
Online safety awareness in the context of digital citizenship entails understanding potential online risks and taking proactive measures to avoid them. It involves safeguarding personal information, managing strong passwords, recognizing phishing, and using secure websites.
It also means not engaging in behavior that could potentially put others at risk, like sharing a person’s likeness without their knowledge or unintentionally sending compromised content.
Online safety awareness empowers individuals to navigate the digital landscape securely, protect privacy, and contribute positively to the online community.
Knowledge of the digital footprint
Having knowledge of the digital footprint means understanding that online actions leave a trace. Every post, search, and interaction contributes to this footprint, shaping a person’s online identity.
It’s crucial for individuals to be mindful of what they share as it impacts how they’re perceived as well as their online safety. Awareness of the digital footprint helps people maintain oversight and control of their online presence, protect their personal information, and make responsible choices in the digital world.
How to be a good digital citizen
With the building blocks of digital citizenship in place, individuals are able to implement behaviors and practices online that make them good digital citizens and positive contributors to online spaces. Here are some of the most impactful ways you can practice digital citizenship every day:
Show digital etiquette
Display courteous and respectful behavior online. This involves using proper language, tone, and manners in digital communication. Whether in emails, comments, or social media posts, maintaining a considerate and professional demeanor contributes to a positive online atmosphere.
Respect individual privacy
Protect others’ personal information as you would your own. Avoid sharing sensitive details without permission, and be cautious about tagging or mentioning others in posts. Respecting privacy builds trust and fosters a safe online environment.
Recognize the diverse perspectives and feelings of those you interact with online. Empathy promotes understanding and prevents misunderstandings or conflicts. Thoughtfully considering others’ viewpoints enriches digital conversations and interactions.
Respect intellectual property
Honor the work of content creators by crediting them appropriately and seeking permission for use when needed. Plagiarism and copyright infringement can damage reputations and undermine the online creative community. Uphold ethical standards by respecting intellectual property rights of others.
Use critical thinking
Evaluate the information you encounter online. Assess the credibility of sources, question the accuracy of claims, and distinguish between reliable information and misinformation. Critical thinking empowers you to make informed decisions and contribute meaningfully to discussions.
Participate in civic engagement
Engage actively and responsibly in online communities, discussions, and causes. Share your knowledge, opinions, and ideas constructively. Positive civic engagement contributes to a more vibrant digital society where diverse voices can contribute to positive change.
Report harmful behavior
Don’t just be a bystander when others fail to practice digital citizenship. Take action against harmful or inappropriate content. If you encounter cyberbullying, harassment, hate speech, or any form of harmful behavior online, report it to appropriate platforms or authorities. Reporting helps to maintain a safe online environment for everyone.
The final word on digital citizenship
There’s no stopping our trajectory toward an ever-increasingly digital world. Digital citizenship is what allows us to enjoy the many benefits that digital technology offers—worldwide connectivity, information democratization, access to education and employment opportunities, and more—while also feeling safe and secure in the digital spaces where we interact.
At Viasat, digital citizenship is an important part of our digital inclusion and digital literacy initiatives, which aim to ensure people in every community around the globe have the online tools, knowledge, and resources they need to actively participate in our modern, digitally-driven society.
Visit our website to learn more about our current projects