If you use the internet, then you are a digital citizen. This means you have a responsibility for the things you do online – it’s called digital citizenship. As with citizenship offline, digital citizenship is an ongoing, unspoken agreement between you and the online world, that requires you to be conscious of your actions and their effects. Digital citizenship is multifaceted, let’s explore some of the basics.
Digital Citizenship Includes Digital Safety
Just like you look both ways before crossing a street, or lock your front door, your online activity demands a bit of a caution too. While this can seem a bit daunting, once you adopt it as habit it becomes second nature – much like buckling up before driving somewhere. And in many ways, digital safety practices are a lot like physical world precautions.
- Protect your identity. While you can replace documents like passports or driver’s licenses, you probably take care not to lose them, right? Your online identity is similar – but it’s also more extensive than a couple of cards. Everything you do online aggregates data about you – who and where you are, what you like, how you think, and what you do. Being aware and alert about how your information is collected and used is extremely important, and you must take measures to mitigate this. Set your internet browser to incognito, disable cookies, and regularly check the privacy settings on social networks, turning off location sharing and public posts – these are some of the things that can help.
- Lock the door. You probably lock your car doors (unless you want it to be stolen), right? Your digital world needs to be protected too. And arguably, you have more to lose in having your digital accounts compromised (your bank account, embarrassing photos, private communications, even your identity). Start with your key – strategic password management. Learn to love the challenge of creating complex passphrases and the joys of changing things up every 90 days – it has a dual benefit in exercising your memory! Never use the same password for more than one account. And lock your devices too.
- Maintain that house. Chances are you keep a working smoke detector in your house in case of a fire, maybe you even unplug appliances to prevent fire? A little bit of preventative action, in the form of good security practices, can keep your data safe too. Making sure your devices are up to date, staying aware of emerging digital threats, connecting safely (using VPNs and reliable internet connections), and ensuring your data is backed up and secure can all help.
- Don’t open the door for strangers. If someone showed up at your house, wanted to look around and maybe leave a strange device, you’d be suspicious, right? (At least we hope you would be!) Every time you receive an email asking you to change a password, log into your bank account – or even click a link or open an attachment you weren’t expecting, you are opening up your digital world to a creepy stranger. Don’t be a phish – learn about social engineering and the tactics used to trick you into handing over the keys to your online accounts – and be vigilant. Heck, pretend you are spy!
Digital Citizenship is Responsible Online Engagement
The digital space is an environment and a lot like your physical surroundings it can be polluted. How you behave, what you post and share, all affect the digital environment. It comes down to each digital citizen to be responsible for this online world, here are a few tips to make it better:
- Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and applies just as much to the physical as the digital world. Be kind and considerate online. Treat others with respect.
Avoid oversharing. Just because you can post something, doesn’t mean you should. Be conscious of what you post about yourself and others – can it come back to haunt you later? Why are you posting it? What does it add to the world? If it’s more clutter, you’re polluting the digital space.
- Verify or don’t share. Think about what you share – just because someone posted it online, doesn’t make it true. Spreading misinformation also pollutes the online world. To that end, use online search wisely and be careful what sources you trust.
- Respect the intellectual property of others. If you saw a beautiful painting or picture hanging in someone else’s house, you wouldn’t just grab it and take it home to put up there, right? Apply the same principle to online intellectual property too. Just because people shared their work, doesn’t mean it’s free for you to use. Ask the owner for permission, and if given, cite them for their work. This isn’t just a matter of principle, you could be breaking the law for not respective intellectual property.
Digital Citizenship uses the Internet for Good
Sure you can get a lot out of the internet, but what about giving back a little? The internet has a strong history and culture of collaboration and crowd-sourced development. What are you contributing? If the answer is your witty posts or Instagram photos, it might be time to try a little harder. Digital citizenship means being part of an online community. Here are a few ways you can give back:
- Balance fun with positive development. For every game you play, or instant message you send, learn something new. Learn how to code, or take a free course – on just about anything. It will improve your skills, increasing what you have to offer the digital world!
- Connect with those in need. Websites like VolunteerMatch connect those with some time to spare to those who need a bit of a help. Donate your time – help someone learn your language, or share in a passion or hobby of yours.
- Support causes. Tons of websites help connect causes with those that care. CrowdRise, GlobalGiving, and JustGiving all provide those doing good a platform to reach out to people like you. Explore who needs help – and beyond making a donation, help spread the word about that cause. Every bit helps.
- Contribute knowledge. Sure that last selfie of you was hawt, but surely you have more to give the world – like knowledge! Why don’t you share that wisdom with the world through Wikipedia – the encyclopedia made by and for the people! Contributing to its database will also help you hone your online research skills, increasing your ability to discern good information from bad, aided by the other editors over at Wikipedia – it’s a win-win!
Maintain an Online-Offline Balance
While you strive to be a better digital citizen, it’s important to remember what happens online isn’t everything life has to offer. That can be a challenge to remember when social networks are all designed to keep us coming back for more (and more and more). In fact, much that happens in the digital world is pretty addictive. Setting an online-offline balance is part of a healthy lifestyle. Achieving digital-IRL zen is pretty simple, it takes one simple rule:
For everything you do online, have an offline equivalent. For every minute spent on social media, have a conversation with someone in person. Match each photo you take with a drawing on paper. Every time you reach for your phone, stretch first (stretching is healthy). Match online games with board games played with friends and family. Focus on exercise or relationship building – heck, just look someone in the eyes for a minute! It doesn’t matter what you do, just be present in that physical environment as much as you are in the digital world.
Over the coming months, we at the SecDev Foundation will be rolling out more posts and tips to help us all become better digital citizens. You can contribute too – let us know what’s important to you and how you make the online world better!