Anyone who uses the internet on a regular basis is considered a digital citizen. It’s an interesting concept because a digital citizen has no physical boundaries on a map; it is a global community. The concepts of being a good digital citizen parallel the same ideals of a traditional citizen. The main difference is that the responsibilities of a digital citizen are associated with technology use.
According to the Josephson Institute (2016), citizenship is one of the six pillars of character, along with trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness and caring. It is an essential component of having a good moral character; it is something that should be cultivated and constantly developed.
Being a good citizen requires a balance of duties and rights. Ohler (2010) referred to eight basic tenets of citizenship:
- Citizenship requires individual “virtuous” behavior.
- Citizenship requires balancing personal empowerment and community well-being.
- Citizenship requires education.
- Citizenship requires our participation.
- Citizenship is constantly evolving, and thus requires our ongoing debate.
- Citizenship must be inclusive.
- Citizenship is a result of media evolution.
- Citizenship is tied to community.
In the past few decades, the traditional idea of citizenship has expanded. It used to involve a physical community such as a town, city, or nation. Now that the internet has connected people from all over the globe, we have a new type of community that has no physical boundaries: it is a digital community. In a digital community, it is important to remember that others in that community are still human beings and are worthy of respect. Citizenship in the digital world is very similar to traditional citizenship. It should mirror Ohler’s tenets of citizenship, but reflect the differences that need to be addressed in a digital world.
Ribble (2015) categorized digital citizenship into nine areas:
- Digital access – Citizens have different levels of access. Full access should be a goal of citizenship.
- Digital commerce – Buying and selling online is increasing exponentially, and consumers need to be aware of what to purchase and the legality of their purchases.
- Digital communication – There are numerous ways to communicate online, and citizens need to make wise decisions in what and how they communicate.
- Digital literacy – Technological literacy requires citizens keep up with digital changes.
- Digital etiquette – Citizenship comes with a responsibility to follow etiquette when communicating with others.
- Digital law – Citizens have a responsibility to behave ethically and be aware of laws governing them.
- Digital rights and responsibilities – The rights of users are shared equally. These rights come with responsibilities.
- Digital health and wellness – Physical and psychological issues can occur when ergonomics and other problems are not addressed.
- Digital security – Citizens must take action to protect their information online.
Traditional citizenship and digital citizenship uphold the same ideals, tailored for slightly different settings. Digital citizenship defines the moral behavior of a responsible, caring individual who is part of a digital community. It is important to understand that ethical behavior is just as important online as it is when another citizen of your community is standing right in front of you.
Josephson Institute. (2016). The Six Pillars of Character. Retrieved from https://charactercounts.org/program-overview/six-pillars/
Ohler, J. (2010). Digital community: Digital Citizen. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know (3rd ed.). Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education