ENTER At Your Own Risk: Elements of Digital Citizenship

I chose ENTER at your own risk as my mantra. When we press ENTER, there’s no turning back. We need to be conscientious about what we share in order to protect ourselves and others. following is my essay about the Elements of Digital Citizenship.

Digital technology is all around us. Our use of social media, online games, mobile devices, cloud computing and software applications make us digital citizens in a world filled with others like us. Technology allows us to communicate with people around the globe, collaborate with great minds we’ll never meet, and contribute to the vast collection of resources available to the rest of the world on the Internet. It empowers us.  And with great power comes great responsibility.

Our responsibilities as digital citizens are many. The tools we use and the way we use them can say a lot about who we are, and can do a lot to help or hurt others. We owe it to ourselves and the rest of the world to understand the affect our use of digital technology has on everyone. We need to be conscientious users of digital tools in order to make a better digital world.

Most of us became digital citizens without understanding the power of the Internet and the dangers that exist with improper use. Many of us take advantage of the tools and resources provided online, without considering the consequences of doing so. If we were to compare the online world with the physical world in which we live, we would understand that in order to be good citizens, many of the same rules should apply. But with no set standards or rules regarding how we use the Internet or digital tools, and with net neutrality providing us the freedom to do what we want when we want to online, it’s up to us as individuals to do the right thing. That’s why schools across the U.S. are doing what they can to prepare today’s students for the digital world, so that they can be the best digital citizens they can be.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has created National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) which include standards for guiding the educational use of digital tools in American schools, as they apply to students, teachers and administrators in schools. In 1998, ISTE standards were focused on teaching students how to use technology. (ISTE, 2017).  Today, they focus on an ever-changing digital technology as it relates to learning, and address what Mike Ribble has established to be three basic social, ethical and human issues: (1) Students understand the ethical, cultural, and societal issues related to technology. (2) Students practice responsible use of technology systems, information, and software. (3) Students develop positive attitudes toward technology applications that support lifelong learning, collaboration, personal pursuits, and productivity (Ribble, 2015).

Ribble has established nine general areas of behavior which make up good digital citizenship, including etiquette, communication, education, access, commerce, responsibility, rights, safety and security (Ribble & Bailey, 2014). Depending on our use of the Internet (personal or professional), some areas may be more applicable to us. But it’s important to recognize that all of these areas contribute to our effectiveness as good digital citizens.

Etiquette is a basic expectation in any community. Saying please and thank you are typical for any citizen with good etiquette, and the interruption of a conversation is generally seen as impolite and even rude by many of us in the physical world. We learned as children that we need to be polite and treat others with respect. In the digital world, those same rules apply. Our use of digital devices should not change the way we have been taught to treat others. Answering our phones in the middle of a face-to-face conversation does not follow the rules of etiquette; nor does allowing our devices to distract us from spending time with our family and friends.

Communication takes place in a variety of forms in a digital world. Phone conversations are considered traditional forms of communication, even if they are conducted wirelessly and via satellite. But email and instant messaging have greatly changed not only how we communicate, but what we communicate. According to a 2016 statistic, U.S. cell phone users were spending 5 hours a day on their devices, a third of which (33%) was spent on social media and messaging apps (Perez, 2017). The language that is used in email and IM is often shorthand and abbreviated, almost like a code to many parents. Text messages are also at risk for miscommunication, since what is sent in text can often be misinterpreted. (The use of all caps in any texted message is perceived as aggressive and compared to yelling). Recognizing when a form of communication is most appropriate, and communicating respectfully is the role of a good digital citizen.

Education of today’s youth often includes the use of digital tools, which are used not only to store, retrieve and create information, but to provide authentic global learning experiences for students. In a digital world, using the cloud-based storage allows us to share and collaborate with one another. Recognizing credible resources and participating in online forums in a responsible and scholarly way are characteristics of a good digital citizen.

Access to the Internet is not available to everyone. According to 2016 statistics, 12% of U.S. adults are smartphone users, but do not subscribe to broadband services (Rainie & Perrin, 2017). Research indicates that this group is more likely to be younger, lower-income, less educated, or black or Hispanic (Horrigan, 2015). As digital citizens, we need to explore ways in which to provide Internet access to all members of our communities so that we are not excluding potential users based on their financial, demographic or physical situations. The opportunities provided by digital technology should be available to all of us.

Commerce is gaining power in the digital world. In December, 2016, 79% of Americans reported making purchases online, spending a combined $350 million, about 10% of all retail purchases. (Smith & Anderson, 2016).  Social media has grown to become a marketing tool for many companies, influencing online and offline purchases made by consumers. In a 2016 U.S. study by UPS, 34% of online shoppers reported that their purchases were influenced by social media (UPS, 2016).  That same study reported that 23% of online shoppers made their purchases on social media sites. It’s important for consumers to recognize appropriate use of online purchasing in order to limit the risks of identity or financial theft. We should search for reviews of an unfamiliar site before submitting personal information or making purchases. And it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure that the web address is preceded by the letters “https” which indicates that the site is secure.

Responsibility to the owners of resources available on the Internet is something every digital citizen needs to consider. Music, videos, documents and images shared on the Internet are not free for the taking. Despite this, a 2017 survey found that 53% of Internet users between the ages of 16 and 24, downloaded music illegally within the six months previous to taking the survey. 45% of users between the ages of 25 and 34 were guilty of doing the same (“Global copyright infringing music access by age 2017 | Statistic”, 2017). While Copyright laws protect the creators of posted media, the Internet makes it easy for users to share and download those materials illegally. As digital citizens, we need to educate ourselves and others about our responsibility to one another, and respect the owners of posted materials.

Rights to the resources we share need to be observed by others. As digital citizens on the Internet, we have the right to post what we want. But it’s important to protect ourselves and our rights by posting things appropriately. When our creative works are made available to others, we should make it clear how they are intended to be used. Creating a license on a site like creativecommons.org, can help others to understand how we want to be credited, while allowing them to use, modify or share our work in ways that we’ve authorized.

Safety risks exist in many forms online. In 2016, it was reported that 33.8% of students between 12 and 17 had been victimized by cyber bullying at some time (Cyber bullying Research Center, 2016). Cyber bullying is a form of online harassment that takes place through social media, email, private message, chat, or through sites and forums designed to target an individual. It can hurt people mentally, emotionally, and physically. Interestingly, people of any age can become targets of cyber bullying, which can take place at any time of any day from anywhere.

As if the potential for online harassment isn’t concern enough, the Internet provides pornographers and pedophiles with easy access to what they’re looking for. According to the Supreme Court, sex offenders can’t be banned from social media, where they can easily conceal their identity and go wherever they want online. Parent controls and blocking websites aren’t enough to protect children from these types of online users. Children need clear rules and parental supervision when using the Internet. At the same time, parents should be very conscientious about the photos and information they share about their children.

Security is perhaps one of the most important topics for any digital citizen to understand. In an educational setting, students are typically protected by firewalls, monitored online activity, and district approved websites. But using devices in our personal and professional lives exposes us to risks that can greatly affect us and our futures. By educating ourselves about the risks involved, we can protect ourselves from potentially harm.

As digital citizens, we play a critical role in our own security. Our first line of defense is the passwords with which we sign into our devices. Passwords can greatly influence how well our private information and files on our devices are protected. Our devices should be accessible only through a private password and/or screen-lock code. While many of us create simple passwords or codes that we can easily remember, we should realize that they don’t offer much protection because they are often just as easy to figure out. In 2016, Verizon reported that 63% of confirmed data breaches are a result of weak or shared passwords (Verizon, 2016). 25% of us create passwords that are easy for us to remember, and 39% of us use the same password for multiple accounts (Omstead & Smith, 2017). This means that anyone who knows us well enough to figure out our passwords will have access to every account with which they are associated.

Even if we’re following recommendations to create complex passwords, we face the danger of someone accessing the data on our devices in other ways. The loss or theft of a cell phone that is not locked can give the wrong person all the access they need to steal what they want, including our banking information, our contact information, or even access to our online shopping apps, where they could easily take advantage of any credit cards stored in our accounts. Phishing messages are another way that our data can get into the wrong hands. Close to 30% of phishing messages were opened in 2015, which was an increase of 7% from 2014 (Verizon, 2016). These messages often look like they come from accounts we trust, like PayPal, or our banks, and they can include instructions like “Click here to reset your password”. Verizon reported that 12% of the targets of these emails actually click on the links, which can introduce malicious software to a system, and provide access to private information to the senders (Verizon, 2016). Password should be taken seriously, and never shared. Login information should be managed by the user, and no one else.

Much of our private and personal information may be given away unintentionally through our online activity. Public Wi-Fi can be found in airports, coffee shops, restaurants and many establishments where we rarely hesitate to get connected. They are convenient, but the can also be unsecure, exposing our private information to cybercriminals. To protect our information, it’s best to use our own personal network connections, and to avoid conducting personal business, like banking or shopping on a public network. When we do connect to public Wi-Fi, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s a legitimate connection by talking to an employee or staff member of the establishment. It’s easy for cybercriminals to create networks that we think are legitimate, for the purpose of stealing our information.


is estimated that about 70% of all Americans use social media to connect with one another (“Social Media Fact Sheet, 2017). We post images, share status updates, promote events, engage in news, and entertain ourselves through tools offered through social media accounts. Facebook is America’s most popular social media platform, with an estimated 68% of American adults being users of the online application (“Social Media Fact Sheet, 2017). According to Facebook, 2.01 billion Facebook accounts are used each month (Facebook, 2017). In 2012, CNN reported that 83 million of the profile pages Facebook were fake (Kelly, 2012). This should be enough to convince us that what we share with friends may also be seen by users with bad intentions. We need to be cautious when connecting with others, and especially with what we share online. Status updates that inform others of our locations, and when we’re out of traveling can be perceived as invitation for intruders and burglars who can access our contact information. Events that we create, or share our interest in can serve as a warning that we won’t be home. News sources, which are often not reliable, can invite trouble. We feel a sense of security when our friends share links, but when we click on some of them, they can infect us with spyware apps that auto-post the source on our behalf. Friends who see the auto-post will often fall victim to the same trick.  One popular form of entertainment on Facebook involves questionnaires that tell us about our personalities. Our friends participate, and share their results, and we want to, too. But when we take these quizzes, how many of us realize that we’re giving the quiz developers access to our profiles? The information these strangers learn about us can be used to target us in future emails and potential scams.

Gaming is another area that we need to think of as a potential security risk. While adults may not think of gaming as a big concern, 72% of teens play video games on their phones, or online at home (Lenhart, 2017). 16% of Internet users who have been harassed online say that the harassment occurred while playing an online game (Duggan, 2014). As gamers share information with other players (often strangers) online, what they share may be used against them. It is also a possibility that the other participants in these games are not children, and can expose players to bad things.

Most of us don’t think about how much of our information is available to the public. A visit to a people searching site such as Spokeo.com can be an eye-opening experience. By typing in someone’s name, anyone can get access to his or her age, aliases, family members, and places they’ve lived, all for free. The fact that the current location of the individual is shown on a satellite map means that anyone can zoom in to view the home and surrounding property of the individual. Consider the fact that sex offenders can’t legally be banned from social media.  It’s a scary thought if you realize that they can find who they’re looking for so easily. Sites such as Spokeo pull information from other online sites, gathering it from phone books, marketing surveys, real estate listings, social networking, and other public sources, offering a majority of the information for free. Any user who is concerned enough with these sites to check the privacy information will be happy to see that they can opt out of being searchable on the site. But the information is out there, and other sites can access it just as easily.  What we share about ourselves can’t be unshared.

In today’s world, technology cannot be avoided. Everything we do – banking, shopping, communicating with our friends, or even visiting a doctor’s office – involves the sharing of our information online in some way. We can’t control everything. But we can educate ourselves on privacy policies of the people with whom we do business. We can limit the information we make available by avoiding unnecessary surveys and applications. And most importantly we can think before we submit anything online. Once we hit ENTER, we can’t get that information back.

We are all digital citizens, whether we like it or not. We have a responsibility to ourselves and those around us to be respectful, responsible and safe in our use of the Internet.



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