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iPhone Work by Tinkerbrad from Flickr Creative Commons

by david ryan Polgar

Nearly everyone is using the Internet today, but are we using it correctly?

A digital citizen is someone who not only regularly uses the net but does so in an effective and responsible manner. Similar to how a responsible citizen is adequately informed, conscious of those around them, and actively participates in their community; a digital citizen is equally as engaged.

The times they are a changin’.

We are not only citizens of the town, state, and country we live in, but also digital citizens in the online world. As such, how we interact with the community at large is an increasingly-important part of our lives. And just like a Civics class you may have taken in high school, every student in the near future will be taking a Cyber Civics class.

What makes you a good citizen of your town, state, and country? Think about your active participation (i.e. voting), your knowledge base (i.e. following the news), and your behavior (i.e. following the agreed-upon laws). The increasing richness of our online world is making it essential that those entering the world are armed with skills, guiding principles, and support. This should be baptism by fire.

It takes an iVillage to raise an online child.

Diana Graber, a pioneer in digital citizenship and co-founder of CyberWise.org, has stated that “the most important new media skills are social and behavioral skills.”

Here are three quick tips to be a better digital citizen:

1. App wizardry is not digital literary

We often wrongly assume that someone who is a heavy tech user is a savvy tech user. Someone who is cyber savvy has a deep and diverse amount of understanding about the tech they are using. This includes:

a. Having a diverse range of tech skills: You should be able to send a tweet and an email, and know the difference in those mediums.

b. Understanding the concept of credibility: There is a difference between Joe’s blog and the New York Times. While the content may seemingly derive from the same place (i.e. a Google search), they do not carry the same level of trustworthiness and weight.

2. Communication is a two-way street

Social networks and comment sections can easily be overwhelmed by a bunch of people talking but nobody listening. A digital citizen is one who actively listens, welcomes a diverse range of opinions, and is respectful in how they respond.

Communication is a two-way street where the speaker is tuned in and aware of their audience, and mindful about how their words will be construed.

3. Accessibility does not equal permission

The online world often seems like a bazaar filled with free pictures, music, and movies. Your accessibility to download the picture, song, or latest Hollywood blockbuster is not the same as having permission to download it. For example, if we saw an unattended necklace lying on the table, we wouldn’t assume that we could freely take it.

The same concept of ethical behavior should take place online; just because you can take something doesn’t mean that it is ethical to do so.

Want more content on Digital Citizenship? Check out the resources at CyberWise on this topic.

*The photo is under a Creative Commons license; “iPhone work” by Tinkerbrad; Flickr.

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