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What is digital citizenship?

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Heard about digital citizenship but not really sure what it means? Check out our guide to find out exactly what it entails and why it’s becoming more and more important

What is digital citizenship?

Digital citizenship might not be a term you’re that familiar with but it’s quickly becoming an essential part of 21st Century life. What does it mean? In short, digital citizenship is a term that’s used to describe an acceptable, appropriate and empowered use of technology.

Technology and the digital world are changing all the time and what it means to be a good digital citizen is constantly changing too. Today, the term covers everything from understanding security concerns and practicing good email etiquette to contributing knowledge to online forums and conversations. Together, good digital citizens populate the digital world and create positive online communities. 

Why is digital citizenship important?

As we continue to live more and more of our lives online, it becomes increasingly important to learn about digital citizenship. This is especially true for students and young people who can still be influenced to form good digital habits and are potentially most at risk from the actions of bad digital citizens. As schools continue to bring BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and 1:1 initiatives into their classrooms, teaching digital citizenship is shifting from being a nice to have to become a necessity. And it’s not just young people; people of all ages can benefit from greater guidance on how to act and stay safe online.

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Privacy, security and digital footprints

One of the most important aspects of digital citizenship is ensuring people understand how privacy and security works online. Young people need to know that everything they post online leaves behind a digital footprint that might never go away. It can be all too easy to forget that tweets, Instagram photos, and messages sent to friends could end up floating around cyberspace forever. Being aware of your digital footprint is an important part of being a good digital citizenship. When determining whether to share anything online, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. 

This is also true when it comes to online security. With everything from phishing scams to catfishes lurking online, the digital world has almost as many potential threats as the physical world does. Digital citizenship courses should teach students about the potential pitfalls of being active online and how they can protect themselves. Whether it’s learning how to spot a scam in an email, knowing to be wary of unexpected attachments, and understanding what a strong password really means, the more knowledge you have, the less likely you are to fall victim to cyber criminals. 

Communication and cyberbullying

Effective online communication isn’t only about emojis and acronyms; digital citizens should learn what is expected on different platforms and what language is appropriate. The difference between a formal email correspondence, for example, and an instant message is vast and the tone that should be struck depends on the person, the situation, and the task at hand.

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Learning key terms from the digital dictionary can make navigating life online a lot easier. Do you know your cloud from your cache or your firmware from your phishing scam? The more digital lingo you know and understand, the better equipped you’ll be to communicate effectively online and stay safe.

Of course, it’s not just financial fraud that is a threat online. Unfortunately, ever since smartphones became everyday essentials, the battle against cyberbullying also began. And it’s not just a phenomenon restricted to young people; politicians, pop stars, people with differing political views – anyone can become an unwitting target of online trolls. Digital citizens need to learn how they can best deal with cyberbullying, from blocking and reporting trolls to restricting public access to their profiles, as well as learning to appreciate the impact their own words can have on the people behind the screens.

Positive online engagement

Good digital citizenship isn’t just about being cautious online, it’s also about being a positive contributor to the online world. Whether you add information to a Wikipedia page, take part in a Twitter chat, or create a Wakelet collection on your favorite topic, adding valuable content to the Internet is an important part of being a good digital citizen. Without people engaging in discussions, creating new content, and actively building communities, the Internet would be lifeless and static.

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Students should be encouraged to participate in the online world. They should, of course, take precautions, but if they don’t actively participate in digital society, they won’t enjoy its full benefits. Just as someone who never leaves their comfort zone will limit their experiences, someone who never participates online will limit their digital experience and miss out on the many positive things that the Internet has to offer!