What is Digital Citizenship? Etiquette & Examples

  • By Steven
  • Published: May 19, 2024
  • Last Updated: May 23, 2024


When someone is born on US soil, they are a national citizen; with this distinction, they obtain a list of entitlements and benefits, as well as societal obligations and predetermined consequences for bad behavior. Digital citizenship works like this, with unique freedoms, consequences, and obligations. Consequently, like those young people stepping into society for the first time, adults must teach them about the digital environment; parents, guardians, and educators have significant roles in fostering responsible online behavior among the youth.

Digital Citizenship

Digital citizenship has many nuances, with ideals that overlap differing aspects of the Internet’s (primarily) unwritten rules. For example, part of digital citizenship includes digital etiquette, which ranges from one community or platform to another. In academia, etiquettes include greetings and salutations for online communications (and other traditional essentials). In contrast, other online platforms include community-led etiquettes, like specialized emojis, icons, or other community-signaling aspects.

Digital etiquette is a significant part of an online community, as those who ignore or go against it may discover themselves to be disrespectful to the broader group. Digital citizenship is much like community-based etiquette but encompasses many aspects of a user’s interactions and online behaviors.

What is Digital Citizenship

Understanding digital citizenship is vital for today’s tech-savvy youth. Despite the implications of these children being “digitally native,” citizenship means more than having the means to get online from a young age. Digital citizenship has components of internet security, privacy, respect, and, as demonstrated above, community-specific etiquette. Moreover, digital citizenship includes a combination of safe behaviors and positive engagement, helping to limit the threats users face daily and promote a safer online community overall.

Examples of digital citizenship include:

  • Understanding what is legal and avoiding users who commit illegal activities. Digital environments surround us daily, and this constant attachment means threat actors are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting users. Authentic users can better protect themselves and each other by understanding what is legal on the Internet and avoiding those who participate in illegal behaviors.
  • Understanding what online threats use to steal from and manipulate others. While protecting personal information is a concept drilled into most users from the older generations, it can be difficult for younger people in the digital world. They may see a public post as harmless or fun, but if their post includes too much information, they can put themselves and their families at risk.
  • Understanding how our behavior may impact other users online. By using forethought (“Maybe I shouldn’t do this?”) and critical thinking skills (“Are others doing this?”), users can better anticipate how their actions may influence others online. Cyberbullying is one of the most significant mental and emotional risks young users can run into online, and so there are many ways to deal with such issues.

The Risks of Digital Exposure

There are many types of identity theft online, from online predators to phishing or data breaches to network exposures. All the threats that children face online are the same that adults face—the most significant difference is that children are inexperienced in identifying and responding to these threats. However, these schemes have as severe consequences as those scams targeting adults, which makes them particularly dangerous for naive and inexperienced users.

There are grave consequences for those with data exposures; most often, these consequences result in identity theft, financial fraud, impersonation, and various abuse and information misuse. These issues are challenging for adults to overcome and return to normalcy, let alone children who fall victim to these schemes. Even worse, some minors may be manipulated into sharing their family’s data, which puts themselves and their parents at risk for data exposure and its consequences.

The risks of data exposure can appear in many forms:

  • Phishing scams: named after fishing, these potential threats lure unsuspecting users into clicking or interacting with malicious links. They are often unsolicited and may entice children with promises (i.e., “Click here and get 500 free gems right now!”).
  • Predators: some bad actors pose as other children online, searching for a way to wiggle into a minor’s trusted circle of friends. Even the most child-centered communities struggle with these characters, reinforcing the need for younger people to adopt the “stranger danger rule” even when playing online.
  • Data Breaches: it’s worth noting that sometimes, a user can do nothing to protect their information—especially when a data breach happens. However, we can restrict the chance of exposure by limiting what we share with websites and organizations.

Critical Ways That Your Child Can Be a Good Digital Citizen 

Parents, guardians, and educators are now obligated to teach their minors about the threats they may face online. How these adults teach and instill these lessons about online safety significantly influences their children’s online activities—from safely navigating the world’s giant search engines to reinforcing an open dialogue about online dangers.

Deciphering Fact from Fiction 

An estimated 56% of adults in the US cannot reliably discern between fact and fiction when browsing online. A portion of this high percentage comes from the threat actor’s skill and ability to deceive others using tools like artificial intelligence. However, despite these advanced tools, there are many ways to verify something online—if you know where and when to look for the signs.

  • Check for authenticity: much misinformation online comes from scammers looking to lure potential victims. They might spoof the names and websites of authentic organizations to aid their schemes.
  • Use skepticism in every interaction: never trust what someone says, even if they are a close friend or relative. It’s always possible that their account was taken over by malicious people phishing for a big payday. Family and friend code words are essential for identifying and avoiding these threats.

Being Wary of Scammers and Predators 

Threat actors themselves are one of the most significant threats online. Apart from their skills at breaching secure systems, some agents are highly skilled at impersonating others and crafting believable narratives. Scammers often target adults. However, predators can be as knowledgeable as big-time data thieves. There are many ways a potential victim might discover they’ve been talking with a malicious character, including:

  • Using social media to verify a user’s identity: social media platforms are wonderful for communication between long-distance family and friends, but they can also be valuable tools for verifying someone’s identity.
  • Checking the other user’s profile for personal information: most scammers don’t complete their account profiles because they intend on hitting their target and disappearing. For this reason, incomplete profiles are often a red flag that something strange is happening. Additionally, use extreme caution when checking another child’s profile on a platform; predators are known for their adoption of a minor’s behaviors and images to disguise themselves.

Protecting Private Information 

Threat actors can have various goals in targeting a user for their scheme; they might be looking for specific financial or personal information about a person—to use for identity or financial theft later. They might be looking for particulars about a minor’s home life, for example, searching for a family vulnerability that they could exploit and use to influence their victim’s behaviors or desires. By learning how to protect and conceal the sensitive information they own, users can help protect themselves and their families from online abuse and its consequences.

  • Adopt aliases whenever possible: our names are the most recognizable aspect of us, making them highly valuable for threat actors looking to impersonate others and predators looking to build rapport with their potential victims. By concealing our names, we limit a threat actor’s access to our lives and help protect those associated with us from malicious threats.
  • Do not confirm or deny details: quizzes and games may ask a child (or an adult user) to confirm information about themselves. Threat actors may mimic these verification requests, taking on the disguise of support or a customer service representative. They might use SMS phishing (smishing) attacks to obtain their target data, or they can use the direct message option of a platform.

The Impact of Technology on the Growing Child 

Although technology is still relatively new in the grand scheme of our species, its impact on children’s development remains unclear. Handing a child a tablet certainly has its positives and negatives, but by instilling some common-sense ideals, children can learn and discover much about the world we all share.

Balancing Screen Time

Screen time has become an ever-growing battle for many guardians. Children can consume online media at a rate that is often considered unhealthy, especially when interacting with it at school, then go home and continue to interact with it. However, technology is not the only way to learn about the world; instilling a balance of online screen time and offline activities is critical to achieving this balance.

  • Allow children to play online after or during certain activities: Do you have a lot of errands to run? Are you planning on going to a quiet restaurant? Consider using technology at times when kids complain about boredom or waiting—but not as a babysitter.
  • Use online time as a family event or new-age “game night”: our children are best protected when we can monitor their activities. Using online-at-home time as a family event, children can be safe while spending valuable time with the family. 

Fostering Digital Literacy

In a world of SMS and emoji speech, younger online users may not realize the necessity of literacy in the online world. They can get their point across in ten or so mini-images. However, digital literacy is crucial to avoiding possible scams and threats online. Threat actors are often non-native speakers of English. Consequently, adults can easily recognize the signs of these scammers, whereas younger people may assume they are another child or a poorly taught adult, depending on the narrative they create.

  • Use critical thinking when interacting online: if someone promises something and cannot realistically obtain the promised result, quickly distance yourself from them and block their account.
  • Teach minors about literacy and the tech they use: the children of today’s world were born decades after the tech boom, and as a result, they often don’t understand what they are looking at on screens—for example, the infamous floppy disk or “save icon.” However, in helping them learn about what technology can do, adults can help prepare them for the future, which will undoubtedly contain even more technology.

Encouraging Healthy Online Interactions

As mentioned in the introduction of this content, there are many unique forms of etiquette to consider when interacting online. Users must factor in who they are speaking with, if what they say will be seen or shared with others, and the community guidelines. Children must be taught to communicate with others online in respectful and safe manners, which sometimes includes reporting others for violations of services, like cyberbullying.

Encouraging Healthy Online Interactions

  • Encourage an open, judgment-free dialogue with the minor: if a child is being bullied online, having a safe, open conversation with them can help to change the situation. Additionally, adults should avoid erasing their child’s profile unless necessary—having an online presence and learning to maneuver within the digital environment is vital in our society.
  • Show them how to deal with disrespect and unsafe situations online: although most societies play well together, many individuals do not. The child will run into these singular actors at one point or another. Teach them how to escape the situation and who to speak with about the issue. Including speaking with a trusted adult, emailing support reps, or learning how to file a report with the platform. (Teach them how to block another user, too.)

Parents, guardians, and educators play significant roles in safeguarding children from online threats like emotional manipulation and identity theft. The more often they spend time teaching their minors about the digital environment, its nuances, and its threats, the better prepared they are to react when threat actors inevitably interact with them. Safe behaviors and communities online require young minds to be educated on the complexities of the digital world, and the more they learn, the better informed and responsible they become as digital citizens.

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