5 ways to be a responsible online citizen

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“We are all now connected by the internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”
– Stephen Hawking

The age of digital communication and technology has opened so many channels for seeking information, knowledge and entertainment, as well as for socializing and connecting with people. Digital technology has made it possible for us to interact with each other, share content, schedule events, and even establish business networks using various platforms. From children to septuagenarians, over half of the global population is increasingly using the internet and for a variety of social, economic, personal and professional reasons. From ordering food to clothes; searching for houses to jobs; online banking to education – the internet has now become an integral part of our everyday existence. This growing over-dependence on the internet has made it essential for us to be conscious of our online presence and digital footprint and to take digital citizenship seriously.

But what is digital citizenship?

Digital citizenship

Sherri Culver, a faculty member of the Centre for Media and Information Literacy (CMIL), said that “A good digital citizen is someone who is mindful of their interactions and all that they post and say online.” Just like a citizen of any nation, a good digital citizen is expected to act responsibly, participate actively and positively, and follow rules whenever they are online.

Here are some of the ways you can be a responsible online citizen:

  1. Be respectful

    A good online citizen practices good netiquette. This involves being polite and kind when posting comments and messages online. Avoid writing mean things about someone online as it may hurt their feelings. Make sure that the information you’re sharing is truthful and credible. Always review your language and make sure that it’s neither hurtful towards any member of the society nor reeking of stereotypes.

    Cyberbullying is serious and is considered harassment. Trolling or sending intimidating, spiteful or threatening messages; posting inappropriate pictures or sharing pictures of others without their permission; or stealing someone’s identity are just some examples of cyberbullying that may be considered criminal offences. When found guilty, cyberbullies can face jail time, pay fines and have their devices confiscated.

    If you are a victim of cyberbullying, inform your family and friends and report the matter immediately. You may also check the following resources:
    Cyberbullying Canada
    Cyberbullying can be against the law (Public Safety Canada)
    Bullying (Information for parents)

  2. Do not copy or plagiarize

    It is unethical and unlawful to use other people’s pictures and work without seeking their permission. This includes all intellectual property such as texts, pictures and music. A responsible digital citizen respects and values the efforts and originality of other members sharing the cyberspace. Give the required credit (or payment) to people when using their published or unpublished works.

    Piracy is another activity commonly done on the web. Downloading digital content, such as movies and music, without seeking permission is illegal. This is equivalent to stealing someone’s work. Treat other people’s work the same way you would like others to treat your work.

  3. Keep a cap on what you share

    Since the advent of social media, chronicling day-to-day activities and sharing personal information, such as our feelings, pictures, and location has become commonplace. However, oversharing can lead to dangerous consequences. Sharing your location and other details can compromise your security. You’re making it easy for scammers to steal your identity and create a fake profile using your pictures and information. It’s essential to share your information wisely and cautiously in order to protect yourself.

    Updating your privacy settings regularly is a brilliant way to protect your information and data from hackers and scammers.

  4. Develop an informed opinion

    It can be easy to post comments and information that are biased and prejudiced when you’re anonymous. Rather than accepting harmful and one-sided viewpoints, it is pivotal that you do your own research. Make sure that you are receiving information from reliable and credible sources. In online discussion forums, assess both sides of the issue carefully before forming your own opinion.

    You could use different search engines to ensure the development of a balanced and wholesome viewpoint.

  5. Beware of strangers and risky content

    The internet can contain content that are harmful, dangerous and inappropriate. Stay away from sites that promote violence, pornography or spams. These don’t only harm your brain, these sites or content can also be teeming with ads or links to scams. In general, it is best to be wary of suspicious links and pop-ups. Likewise, it is essential to be cautious of people that you don’t know; they may be using a fake identity.

    Updating privacy settings and changing passwords regularly are some other suitable methods by which you could make your device, banking, and social media accounts safe.

The internet is a great resource to get knowledge, socialize and develop important connections. Yet, it is a double-edged sword that needs to be used with caution. It is essential to take steps to protect yourself and the privacy, rights and freedom of others.

Did you know there are some good digital Samaritans who have initiated apps and campaigns to prevent abusive messages, hate speeches and cyberbullying? Netizens, such as Trisha Prabhu, Gitanjali Rao, Ash Ball and Paula Côrte Real have played a crucial role in increasing online safety for its users.

Want to learn more about digital citizenship? Or, teach aspects of digital citizenship to your kids or students? Here are a few resources:

By Tanveen Tatke

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