Be Your Best Self Online

FOSI Staff
April 1, 2015

What is it about technology that makes some people behave badly? We tell our kids that their digital reputation and presence online is part of their overall character. Unfortunately, kids are getting mixed messages when they see examples of bad behavior all around them online, and not just from their peers but also from a large cross-section of the online community.

Consider the Following:

  1. Would you walk in to Target and steal DVDs, CDs and Xbox games? What prevents you from doing it? Is it the sensors and video cameras or your belief that stealing is wrong?
  2. Do you ever share someone else’s idea as your own? What prevents you from co-opting someone else’s work? Is it fear of getting caught or that you value creating your own product?
  3. Would you scream violent obscenities at a celebrity you don’t particularly care for if you saw her on the street? What stops you from doing so? Is it self-consciousness or common decency?
  4. Would you share with strangers on the street an intimate photo of an acquaintance? What keeps you from doing this? Is it potential disgust by your peers or empathy for the dignity of the person in the photo?

These examples are obviously wrong when presented as real world scenarios. But all of the above are common occurrences online.


People go online and find and download pirated movies, music and games in large numbers. Internet Service Providers are finding ways to identify and contact offenders but otherwise law-abiding people are still taking part.


It is so easy nowadays to capture an image and share it as one’s own or copy and paste from an article that people either forget, or simply choose not to provide proper credit. Educators and testing companies are struggling with this problem. As parents, it is important for us to teach our kids how to properly cite all forms of content they find online and to respect intellectual property.


Jimmy Kimmel Live highlights the horrible things people spew at celebrities in his Celebrities Read Mean Tweets segments. How do we encourage our kids not to cyberbully when the behavior is so prevalent in our popular culture? Celebrities like Ashley Judd and Curt Schilling are fighting back but wouldn’t it be great if people online remained civilized by default? Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter along with anti-cyberbullying app developers are looking in to solutions and improving reporting mechanisms. Hopefully some relief is on the horizon, but it is sad that technical solutions are necessary to maintain decorum online.

Penn State University recently discovered that one of their fraternities was secretly posting photos on a shared Facebook page of young girls partially or fully undressed without their knowledge. This is not an isolated incident. Even less severe examples where someone posts an unflattering photo or anecdote of someone without their consent can be upsetting or humiliating. There seems to be a lack of common courtesy online that would be unheard of offline.

How did we let the Internet get coopted with bad players, offensive behavior and a Wild West mentality? What can be done to encourage people online to behave as they would in any real world social setting?


Don’t hide behind the screen; behave online as you would offline in a crowd, a shopping mall, among peers, among family or friends. Be polite and transparent in all your interactions and hopefully, this will bring out the best in you and others you encounter online.

At FOSI, we encourage everyone to take ownership and responsibility for their actions online. We’ve created a Cyberethics tool for you to download and use to encourage family and friends to be their authentic selves online.

The Internet is a powerful tool. Let’s express our best selves online and be good digital citizens. Let’s use our connected world to collaborate, create, share and celebrate. Let’s use it for good.

Cover image from Shutterstock.

Written by

FOSI Staff

The Family Online Safety Institute is an international, non-profit organization which works to make the online world safer for kids and their families. We work together as a team to create quality content that can be useful for families, helping them understand online safety.