Home The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

The Importance of Teaching Digital Citizenship

Cyberbullying is back in the spotlight with the recent suicide of a Rutgers University freshman following his roommate’s posting online of a video of him engaged in sex with another man. And many pundits and legislators are now calling for more stringent laws around cyberbullying and online harassment.

Bullying is, of course, nothing new although undoubtedly, the Internet has changed the speed and the breadth with which cruel behaviors, comments, photos, and videos can be spread. And it has extended the persistence of this information as well.

Most Bullying Still Occurs Offline

According to recent research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, about 13% of students report being victims of online bullying. But it’s important to note that more students – 31% – report being victims of bullying at school. Clearly addressing the role of the Internet in enabling bullying and harassment will not solve a problem that is not so much technological as cultural. (In other words, we won’t be able to end online harassment of gay youth until we end homophobia.)

Digital Citizenship: More Than Teaching Just “Safety”

That being said, it seems imperative that we teach students digital citizenship. And clearly this needs to happen prior to freshman orientation at college. When we think about what are the core competencies for students to master, their digital literacy shouldn’t simply consist of how to use a computer for research and for communication, but how to use a computer to be a fully functioning, competent, and, well, good member of society.

While we often talk about teaching students how to be “safe” online, teaching digital citizenship should go beyond simply talking about privacy and security. It also means more than just an etiquette lesson on how to behave “appropriately” online.

Our Responsibilities to Our Community, On and Offline

Often we invoke the word “citizenship” in terms of our rights – our rights to privacy and to free speech, for example. But citizenship is also about responsibilities – responsibilities to maintain, to protect, and to enhance the community in which we live.

With the advent of Internet technologies, that community can be global. But the communities in which students participate are still very much governed by their physical locations. And as such, it is no surprise that most who report online harassment know their perpetrator. That means too that as we focus on teaching digital citizenship and providing online resources, that we cannot ignore what is happening offline as well.

Photo credits: Flickr user Winning Information

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