Digital Citizenship : Etiquette, Awareness, and Integrity
Jul 19, 2021
The advent of science and technology, like the emergence of the internet and digital space, has made people’s lives convenient and helped a majority of the population in their day-to-day lives. But, if not utilized properly and responsibly, the same technology can cause irreparable hazards. To prevent any form of risks invited by technology, consumers (population with access to the internet and technology) must possess appropriate knowledge and awareness while exploring technical resources. This responsible use of technology by people who use computers, the internet, and digital devices to engage with society is termed digital citizenship. Like citizens of a particular nation, the users in digital spaces vary. Some may follow proper etiquette and rules while utilizing digital spaces, while others may misuse their privileges. That’s why it is crucial to understand the underlying concepts behind proper digital citizenship.
A Fine Digital Citizenship Checklist
First off, a good digital citizen must understand the concept of the digital divide and show respect to those who don’t have any access to digital resources. Simply put, the ‘haves’ must be aware of the ‘have-nots’ and try to decrease the ever-widening gap of the digital divide.
Second, it’s equally important to understand the appropriate ways to communicate in the digital world. Despite the prominence of audiovisual media, communicating through the internet heavily conceals people’s facial expressions, emotions, and feelings compared to face-to-face interaction. This may nurture irrational judgments, lack of empathy, and, in some worst cases, harassment and cyberbullying. So, instead of using digital sources to promote inappropriate communication and online harassment like extortion and sharing explicit pornographic materials, people must acknowledge its shortcomings. People must follow proper etiquette while communicating regardless of age and geography.
Proper etiquette includes fact-checking before posting/sharing content online and being respectful to people’s privacy. Similarly, understanding one’s rights and responsibilities while using digital technologies must be an utmost priority. Sometimes people may utilize technologies without abiding by their duties associated with being a user. For instance, an internet user must maintain intellectual property, cite the original content creator, and follow the terms and conditions of websites. Only caring about rights merely creates disparity, and therefore people may, willingly or unwillingly, neglect their duties as digital citizens.
Content Integrity versus Disinformation
Moreover, another element of Digital Citizenship concerns digital wellness and the circulation of disinformation. Digital resources are extra-addictive, which especially targets Gen Z according to different statistics. According to an article by Medical News Today, massive indulgence in the internet and digital media for unreasonable amounts of time causes isolation, depression and anxiety, sleep problems, reduced physical activity, higher Body Mass Index (BMI), delay in social and emotional development, etc.
To prevent these adverse effects, we, as responsible digital citizens, must limit our screen time, prioritize in-person communication, and tell others to do the same. Besides, circulation of disinformation (referring to any media outlet, entertainment source, gossip website, rumor mill, or social media post publishing biased or intentionally falsified information to spread propaganda or for their vested interests) is one of the serious problems associated with digital resources misuse.
Disinformation is a subset of misinformation that includes propaganda, hoaxes, and spear phishing (an email or electronic communication scam targeted toward a specific individual, organization, or business). Disinformation alters people’s opinions with blatant lies and changes their perspective on a particular issue. Disinformation not only heavily targets individuals who don’t possess adequate or updated knowledge about world issues, politics, and prominent individuals but also people with extremist ideologies. In this case, a well-informed digital citizen has to identify disinformation, rectify them, share the rectified information in digital spaces, and inform other people.
Security, Passwords, and Private Networks
Furthermore, the next element of digital citizenship relates to the security of digital devices like computers, laptops, and smartphones. Threats prominent on digital devices include hacking, data theft, viruses, to name a few. Changing passwords, maintaining possession and control of your mobile devices, using secure websites for internet browsing, and using safe Wi-Fi connections are some examples of digital security.
We can also maintain digital security by not saving passwords on public computers and locking and changing smartphone codes or identification patterns. Similarly, for security and privacy of data and prevention of identity theft even from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), a good digital citizen uses Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPN establishes a secure connection between users and the internet, helping users hide their real IP addresses and maintain online privacy. If users don’t secure their internet connection via VPN, government, hackers, and internet providers may easily access their personal data. Also, there are plenty of antivirus software that detect potential malware and provide security to your devices. Those software detect viruses that may potentially slow down your devices, safeguard information, and prevent your devices from damage.
Knowledge and Digital Literacy
Last but not least, digital literacy, despite its significance, is one of the least talked about subjects concerning digital citizenship. The World Literacy Foundation defines digital literacy as the “ability not only to find but also to analyze and evaluate information”. The information specifically applies to information gained from the internet, smartphones, and other nontraditional sources. As mentioned previously, there’s an ever-increasing circulation of disinformation all over the internet, struggles among people to adequately follow etiquette during online communication, and cases like online harassment and cyberbullying. The common roots of these problems navigate around insufficient knowledge or lack of digital literacy among internet users. If checked on time, these hazards and their repercussions never sustain. So, individuals, organizations, and concerned authorities must collectively promote digital literacy and reduce problems related to improper, inappropriate digital citizenship.
Contributions and Aspirations
One of the prime organizations working toward promoting digital citizenship and digital literacy in Nepal is Karkhana. Karkhana’s digital literacy toolkit enhances students’ ability to find, evaluate, create, and communicate digital content which helps them navigate the digital world better. Available in English and Nepali, this toolkit provides parents and educators with a collection of lessons, videos, posters, and reading resources to help them start teaching about digital literacy in class or at home. Furthermore, the lessons from the digital citizenship textbook by Karkhana teach students how to use search engines and present in-depth knowledge about crowdsourcing platforms like Wikipedia. Moreover, in 2019, Karkhana, along with the Ministry of Education and Technology and Veda, co-organized a project called “Bhawishya” to showcase skills in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) for children and enhance digital education. Karkhana is tirelessly working to promote the culture of digital citizenship in Nepal and foster digital literacy among a wide range of people.