We hear about good citizenship all the time – from our teachers, parents, friends, politicians and our government. But, what does being a good citizen mean? To me, it means acting with integrity, respecting the rights of others., following the law, giving back to our communities, and caring for each other and our environment.
We live in an increasingly digital society – just as we’re citizens of our towns, cities, and our country in the physical world, we’re also citizens of the digital world. And just as citizenship in the physical world comes with rights and responsibilities, so too does digital citizenship. So, what does it take to be a good digital citizen? For the most part, good digital citizenship means taking the same standards of behavior we follow in the real world and applying them to the digital world. For me, digital citizenship requires the same integrity, respect and care for others as real world citizenship.
The Internet offers many new and exciting possibilities – seemingly infinite access to information, the convenience of e-commerce, and the ability to easily stay in touch with friends and family online. But digital citizens have an obligation to use these tools in a responsible way, following the law and respecting the rights of others.
Digital citizens must ensure they’re not unknowingly engaging in activity that they would never associate with in the physical world, such as property theft. For example, among the basic rights that we all respect in our everyday world are property rights. No one would argue that stealing someone’s iPod or their coat is an act of good citizenship – everyone knows stealing is wrong. But online, property usually in the form of intellectual property (IP) – can be stolen without a realization that it is theft.
Musicians, artists, and writers – people whose livelihoods depend on the proceeds of their work – see their material stolen. Companies lose their trade secrets to hackers who break into their networks. Other forms of IP theft, like counterfeit medicines or cosmetics sold online, can endanger the lives of everyday consumers. Even if it occurs online, IP theft hurts people in the real world.
So the next time you hear about good citizenship, remember that it means being a good digital citizen too. If we hold ourselves to the same standards in the digital world as we do in the physical, the Internet will be a much better, safer, and more positive place for all of us.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.