Understanding Digital Citizenship

In the current digital landscape, it is easy to embrace technology without examining the consequences of bad online behavior. The internet is not a free place, and it is not always a safe place.  In fact, there are several ways you can get yourself into trouble online. In the past we have written blogs about digital transformation, analyzing its impact on service providers, its current trends, and its future.  This blog will examine a different aspect of digital transformation, the digital citizen.

Jobs can be lost, and lives can be ruined by one inappropriate tweet, mismanagement of data or failing to cite a source correctly. The digital spectrum is wide, and how you conduct yourself online matters.  Growing up with technology does not make you immune to making online mistakes. A digital citizen is a person who develops the skills and knowledge to effectively use the internet and other digital technology to participate responsibly in social and civic activities [1].  A digital citizen uses information technology skills and principles to engage in society, politics, and the economy.

Why Does it Matter?

There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of young students learning the aspects of digital citizenship.  There have even been pushes to implement school courses specifically structured on digital citizenship. It is important for students to understand the opportunities being online brings, however it is just as crucial for students to understand the potential dangers of being online. Establishing courses in digital citizenship ensures a generational basic understanding of the topic and ensures a generational user base that is digitally civil.

While teaching online etiquette provides a future of civil digital users, what about users that have already gone through school without classes in digital citizenship?  The responsibility falls to them to conduct themselves online with respect for other users and the skills they need to protect themselves online.


9 Elements of Digital Citizenship 

Digital Accessintroduces the concept of full electronic participation in society.  Digital access allows for equal accessibility to technology for everyone, regardless of social or economic status. Ensuring that all citizens have the equal opportunity to access technology and fully participate.  This does not mean everyone needs a smartphone or laptop, but access to these devices and access to the network they run on. Ever wonder why online voting and government registrations are not available, even though the premise of them makes sense? This is because not every citizen can rely on a network or have equal technology opportunities. In fact, only 89% of US adults use the internet, that leaves 11% of the adult population that does not [2].  Perhaps this 11% of US adults cannot access the internet for socioeconomic issues, or they have never been educated to use the internet. 

Digital Commerce– the concept of electronic buying and selling of goods using mobile networks, the internet and or commerce infrastructure.  The efforts that go into digital commerce include the marketing of goods, the technological buying process, analytics, promotional content, customer retention and pricing.  The biggest factor being the digital experience the customer had throughout the buyer’s journey. Digital commerce contributes to the economy and the latest trends point to it staying around for a while. In fact, 4 in 10 purchases are made using only the internet for research and purchasing [3]. With this increase, it is crucial that individuals are aware of all risks associated with digital commerce.  This includes education on protecting your financial information and the structure of digital commerce.

Digital Communicationthe electronic exchange of information.   The 21st century has completely digitally transformed the way humans interact with each other.  There are countless ways to send information now, including mobile devices, emails and direct messaging.  Sending information has never been faster, and more readily available. Entuity’s Marketing team is split, with individuals from our UK office and US office collaborating constantly on a professional messaging application called Slack.  The success of our team and countless others is made possible by the availability and practicality of digital communication. However, with these opportunities come the personal responsibility to communicate through a digital platform effectively and respectfully.  Cyberbullying is an unfortunate effect of the miseducation of effective and responsible digital communication. Cyberbullying is commonly addressed in schools; however youth are not always to blame. Adults are just as guilty as children, with almost 40% of adults saying they have been bullied online, and 75% saying they have witnessed it online [4].  A digital citizen makes appropriate decisions when faced with a plethora of digital communication options.

Digital Literacy– teaching and learning about technology and its use. If the goal is to educate all on the elements of digital citizenship, then it needs to start being a part of the core curriculum in schools.  Students should be familiar with these concepts, given the digital world they are inheriting is demanding skills like this. Partnership for 21st Century Learning suggest for younger learners, the lessons should be kept simple.  Elementary school students should be taught that the digital world and the real world are connected and how they can stay safe online [5]. Classes available to students in digital citizenship would ensure a basic understanding across the next generation digital users. If the subject of digital citizenship being taught in schools interests you, you may want to check out our blog “Mandatory Computer Science Classes: Preparation for Digital Careers” on the subject.

Digital Etiquette The electronic standards of conduct or procedure.  This introduces the concept of integrity, and overall responsibility for an individual’s actions online. Digital etiquette encourages respectful behavior when interacting with others online.  This is a vital concept because it shows what an individual’s character and judgement are online. While this may seem a bit proper, the importance actually runs deeper. Netiquette refers to internet communication that is both respectful and professional for all users.  This refers to how a digital user’s acts are interpreted by others, and how to use it to effectively communicate. For example, understanding online grammar trends. How a “…” could be interpreted for sarcasm, and how capital letters can be interpreted as shouting. These are little behaviors that need to adapt to who you’re communicating with.  Capital letters may be effective in a group text with some friends, but not on a cover letter or in an email to your coworker. Recognizing these work and life behavior boundaries is not new, however the digital landscape we have immersed ourselves in calls for a better understanding of what behavior is appropriate in which digital setting. According to a survey conducted by CarreerBuilder, 70% of companies use social networks to research potential job candidates [6].  27% of individuals that were not hired in the study were found to have poor communication skills online [6]. The type of person an individual is online cannot be as easily kept secret in this day in age. As stated earlier, inappropriate and or disrespectful behavior can be noticed, and it can affect an individual’s job.  Regardless of the communication, the digital citizen understands how information is interpreted and how effectively communicate with other digital users.  

Digital LawElectronic legal responsibility for actions and deeds.  While technology is a resource that can be used in a positive manner, it can also be used illegally.  In fact, cybercrime will generate $1.5 trillion in 2018 [7]. Actions such as plagiarizing, hacking, and identity theft are all cybercrimes that carry hefty consequences.  Digital citizens have to be responsible with their personal information online, know how to properly cite sources and know how to avoid viruses. It is crucial for digital users to understand what behaviors fall into the legal and illegal umbrella.

Digital Rights & ResponsibilitiesThose freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.  All digital users have a personal accountability for how they apply technology to digital relationships, activities and personal goals.  This element of digital citizenship is broken down into 4 themes, cyberbullying, internet safety, digital law and reporting offenders [8].  As discussed before, cyberbullying is a digital crime involving the online harassment of others. The most common place for this to occur is on social media platforms. When a user assumes an online presence, they have the responsibility to how they interact with other users.  Internet safety should be practiced by digital citizens at all times. Understanding where digital predators may attempt to access personal information is crucial to keeping yourself safe. Digital citizens should have an understanding of what cyber laws are, which pertain to certain areas and how to follow them.  It is also the digital citizen’s responsibility to protect their private information that can be vulnerable to cyber crimes. This means setting different passwords for different platforms that carry user information. It’s knowing that the internet is an easy place to upload information, but not taking it down.  The digital world is extensive, and it is crucial that users know how to protect themselves and others and follow laws. The last theme in digital rights and responsibilities is reporting offenders. While a safe a responsible digital experience is always desired and encouraged, it doesn’t always happen. There are individuals out there in cyberspace that want to exploit your personal information or cause harm to others.  It is crucial that when these crimes take place that the users responsible are reported to the appropriate authorities. Removing these abusive users from digital platforms is the only way to ensure a safe environment for all.

Digital Health & WellnessPhysical & psychological well-being in a digital world.  The topic of digital health and wellness focuses heavily on how technology can impact the patient’s health journey.   How automation can help crowded hospitals, and how to view medical records online are common discussions when digital health is the topic of conversation.  However, digital health must be viewed more broadly to include a psychological well-being of individuals participating in the digital age’ [9].  Understanding of physical and mental health effects of a digital existence. While studies are being conducted to identify the side effects of the physical and mental effects of digital use, the overall prolonged effects are unknown.  Understanding the basic effects of digital use are important, such as eye issues with screen brightness, and neck and back issues with prolonged sitting. While these physical effects do not seem major, there are mental effects that are equally if not more important. Understanding the mental effects of prolonged digital use can have are crucial for setting personal boundaries to protect yourself. Prolonged effects of being cyberbullied or digital stress can have incredibly negative side effects that should not be taken lightly.  It is crucial that any symptoms both mental and physical are addressed by a healthcare professional.


Digital SecurityElectronic precautions to guarantee online safety.  These are the steps an individual takes to protect their personal information.  For example, setting up strong passwords and changing them when suggested, backing up important data, and installing virus protection software.  Digital users need to understand that the internet is not a safe place, and that personal information must be kept under security. Cybersecurity Ventures reports that since 2013, there are almost 4 million records stolen from breaches every day [10]. Digital security does not only apply to the personal information of the user, but also applies to the network in which the user is using. For instance, an employee must ensure that not only their personal information is secure, but also their employer’s network that they are using.


What’s Next?

Does the responsibility of educating youth on digital citizenship lie with the parents, or educators?  This is a highly debated topic; the biggest reason why is the enormity of the subject. Digital citizenship touches on so much, from writing effective emails, to protecting your passwords from hackers to having civil conversations on discussion platforms.  It’s about teaching a child what to do, and how to act, that has people conflicted. The new enormous digital age has some scratching their heads on how to proceed, and others scrambling to implement courses so that students are prepared for their digital world ahead. 

A Glimpse into the Future: Impact on IT Professionals

The long lasting effects of digital transformation has greatly impacted the IT professional.  However the concept of digital citizenship has lasting effects on them as well. For instance, in the coming years there may be a push to develop company-wide mandated courses for employees to take on digital citizenship, and IT professionals might be at the front of that effort. Another possibility is digital citizen background checks. If digital citizenship is more widely understood and encouraged, checks can be developed to ensure that the new hire is a responsible digital citizen. The digital citizen movement may have positive effects on the network engineer.  For example, a more digitally educated employee base may mean the IT professional spends less time hunting lost passwords and data and focusing on projects that matter.


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