Dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship has been
defined
as help­ing youth “prac­tice respect­ful and tol­er­ant behav­iors toward
oth­ers” online. With the ubiq­ui­tous growth in per­son­al device and social media
use among youth – cou­pled with the adop­tion of more web-based tech­nolo­gies for
edu­ca­tion – many schools in the US and abroad have sought to teach dig­i­tal
cit­i­zen­ship prac­tices to youth of all ages. This is con­veyed by teach­ers,
coun­selors, librar­i­ans, IT staff, and pro­fes­sion­als at school, and hope­ful­ly is
sup­port­ed by sim­i­lar instruc­tion at home giv­en the amount of time that kids
out­side of school are on their devices and con­nect­ing with oth­ers.

Recent­ly, the con­cept has gar­nered an increased amount of
atten­tion as edu­ca­tors and oth­er youth-serv­ing pro­fes­sion­als are remind­ed about
the impor­tance of appro­pri­ate atti­tudes, actions, and inter­ac­tions online with
so many stu­dents doing dis­tance learn­ing dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. As such,
Justin and I dove into our sam­ple of 2,500 US mid­dle and high school stu­dents
(12 to 17 years old) from last year to assess these behav­iors based on 12 items
we came up with. Still, it can help us under­stand the preva­lence of some dig­i­tal
cit­i­zen­ship-relat­ed behav­iors among youth in recent times and can serve as a
ref­er­ence point for any stud­ies that come out in the near future with COVID-19
data.

Our orig­i­nal response set for each item allowed respon­dents
to choose Nev­er, Once, A few times, or Many Times, but we’ve col­lapsed the last
three to por­tray those who have – and those who haven’t – engaged in each
behav­ior in the pre­vi­ous year. Please see below for a break­down of the raw
per­cent­ages:

Let’s talk through the main take­aways.

Most youth are mak­ing eth­i­cal choic­es online, as less than a quar­ter admit to pirat­ing con­tent ille­gal­ly, only 13% admit­ted to copy­ing and sub­mit­ting essays or test answers (a form of pla­gia­rism), 30.6% have lost their tem­per, 16% have trolled some­one else, and less than 1 out of 10 (9.1%) have imper­son­at­ed some­one online. When we focus on teach­ing dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship, some­times well-mean­ing adults con­vey that the vast major­i­ty of kids are doing the wrong things on social media and the Inter­net, but our data sug­gests that is absolute­ly not true. We need con­tin­u­al­ly (and emphat­i­cal­ly) to high­light that most, in fact, are doing the right thing – and we want the rest of stu­dents to come on board and do the same!

When we focus on teach­ing dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship, some­times well-mean­ing adults con­vey that the vast major­i­ty of kids are doing the wrong things on social media and the Inter­net, but our data sug­gests that is absolute­ly not true.

It also seems that our kids do think mean­ing­ful­ly about
their (and their peers’) online actions and are not unaware of the
impli­ca­tions. Almost 3/4ths (71.1% of youth) do their best to make sure they
don’t acci­den­tal­ly hurt someone’s feel­ings by what they post online, and almost
2/3rds (64.1%) think about their dig­i­tal rep­u­ta­tion and try to make sure that
every deci­sion they make reflects pos­i­tive­ly on them. Relat­ed­ly, the major­i­ty
have stood up for not only their friends who were harassed or picked on online
(60.4%) but also for indi­vid­u­als who were not their friends (51%). That’s
awe­some. I love to see that. I wish I had some com­par­i­son num­bers from past
years to see if these per­cent­ages are trend­ing up, but this is the first year
we asked these ques­tions.

I would like to believe that reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dents over recent years about being upstanders instead of bystanders are actu­al­ly mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

I would like to believe that reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dents
over recent years about being upstanders instead of bystanders are actu­al­ly mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. I also hope that this con­veys a stu­dent
pop­u­la­tion that cares about injus­tice and wants to put a stop to it when they
see it, regard­less of who is being tar­get­ed. To be sure, it would be amaz­ing if
the num­bers indi­cat­ed more stu­dents were doing the right thing online, but they
do give me a lot of hope. Some stu­dents are mak­ing wise deci­sions,
demon­strat­ing empa­thy, and being respect­ful instead of rude. Some are speak­ing
up and inter­ven­ing, instead of just stay­ing silent and mind­ing their own
busi­ness.

These num­bers are encour­ag­ing. But recent­ly I real­ized that they are also incom­plete.

About a week ago, some of my col­leagues from Har­vard – San­dra Corte­si, Alexa Haase, Andres Lom­bana-Bermudez, Sonia Kim, and Urs Gasser – released a new 93-page thought piece on what they have termed “Dig­i­tal Cit­i­zen­ship+” (plus) – which they define as “the skills need­ed for youth to ful­ly par­tic­i­pate aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, social­ly, eth­i­cal­ly, polit­i­cal­ly, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly in our rapid­ly evolv­ing dig­i­tal world.” In their deep dive, they mapped a set of 35 frame­works that have pre­vi­ous­ly tack­led dig­i­tal cit­i­zen­ship or relat­ed con­cepts (like Inter­net safe­ty or media lit­er­a­cy) and then dis­cuss how these can be grouped into 17 areas to make up their new con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion: arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, civic and polit­i­cal engage­ment, com­pu­ta­tion­al think­ing, con­tent pro­duc­tion, con­text, data, dig­i­tal access, dig­i­tal econ­o­my, dig­i­tal lit­er­a­cy, iden­ti­fy explo­ration and for­ma­tion, infor­ma­tion qual­i­ty, laws, media lit­er­a­cy, pos­i­tive and respect­ful behav­ior, pri­va­cy and rep­u­ta­tion, safe­ty and well-being, and secu­ri­ty.

Dig­i­tal Cit­i­zen­ship+ is defined as “the skills need­ed for youth to ful­ly par­tic­i­pate aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly, social­ly, eth­i­cal­ly, polit­i­cal­ly, and eco­nom­i­cal­ly in our rapid­ly evolv­ing dig­i­tal world.”

From my expe­ri­ence, most pro­fes­sion­als dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly
focus on only a few. The ones that stick out to me – and seem to com­prise the
basis of what I see in schools around the nation – involve Positive/Respectful
Behav­ior
(being kind, empa­thet­ic and respon­si­ble), Safe­ty and Well-being (keep­ing at bay var­i­ous forms of vic­tim­iza­tion), Pri­va­cy and Rep­u­ta­tion (dig­i­tal foot­prints, etc.) and Secu­ri­ty (pass­words, per­son­al
infor­ma­tion, etc.).

Since Justin and I work to pre­vent cyber­bul­ly­ing, sex­ting,
dig­i­tal dat­ing abuse, sex­tor­tion, and relat­ed forms of wrong­do­ing online, we
also focused nar­row­ly on cer­tain ele­ments when attempt­ing to mea­sure dig­i­tal
cit­i­zen­ship behav­iors (or, in many cas­es, exam­ples of a lack of dig­i­tal
cit­i­zen­ship). In the Chart above, you can see that: the area of Law is
par­tial­ly mea­sured by our items 8, 10, and 12; the area of Pri­va­cy and
Rep­u­ta­tion
is par­tial­ly mea­sured by our item 2, Civic and Polit­i­cal
Engage­ment
are par­tial­ly mea­sured by our items 3 and 4; and the lion’s
share of our items (1, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 11) par­tial­ly mea­sure Positive/Respectful
Behav­ior
.

It is arguable that focus­ing only on the devel­op­ment of
these skills will not do enough to pre­pare our stu­dents to suc­ceed in a much
broad­er dig­i­tal land­scape. They will help, but they are not enough. We used to
say that “con­tent is king” but now it’s accu­rate to also say that “data” and
“infor­ma­tion” are equal­ly as impor­tant. As such, we do a dis­ser­vice to our
stu­dents if we focus only on the afore­men­tioned, lim­it­ed com­po­nents of dig­i­tal
cit­i­zen­ship and neglect the fol­low­ing oth­ers:

Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: hav­ing a gen­er­al
under­stand­ing of how this works, and the issues of bias and ethics sur­round­ing
the cre­ation of algo­rithms. It can’t just be a buzz­word we throw around.
Shouldn’t all of our stu­dents be able to talk in gen­er­al terms about this?

Civic and Polit­i­cal Engage­ment: being able to
par­tic­i­pate in social jus­tice caus­es and oth­er mat­ters that affect com­mu­ni­ties,
par­tic­u­lar­ly ones that do not receive as much atten­tion. We tell our stu­dents
to “be the change” – but are we equip­ping them to actu­al­ly do so using the most
pow­er­ful tool ever cre­at­ed (the Inter­net)?

Com­pu­ta­tion­al Think­ing: obtain­ing a basic
under­stand­ing of how terms involved in com­pu­ta­tion can pos­i­tive­ly affect all of
the work we do (“iter­at­ing,” “loop­ing,” etc.).

Con­tent Pro­duc­tion: it seems like many of our
stu­dents are learn­ing skills like video-edit­ing, dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy,
live-stream­ing, pod­cast­ing, and blog­ging on their own. That’s won­der­ful, but
they could use some more guid­ance on how to do this as well as pos­si­ble,
there­by sav­ing them time and frus­tra­tion in mak­ing mis­takes that could have
been pre­vent­ed with some edu­ca­tion from those who have gone before.

Con­text: Being inten­tion­al­ly aware of con­tex­tu­al
fac­tors that mat­ter – per­haps race, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, reli­gion, loca­tion,
polit­i­cal lean­ing, etc. Are our youth grow­ing in the abil­i­ty to iden­ti­fy
sen­si­tive issues or oth­er rel­e­vant aspects in their online inter­ac­tions, or are
they gen­er­al­ly just focused on them­selves?

Data: Our stu­dents should have some kind of skillset
in work­ing with data – cre­at­ing it, col­lect­ing it, ana­lyz­ing it, and eval­u­at­ing
it. Data is every­thing these days and devel­op­ing an exper­tise in data sci­ence
and ana­lyt­ics will like­ly increase one’s employ­ment poten­tial in the future. At
the very least, some famil­iar­i­ty is nec­es­sary.

Dig­i­tal Access: Being able to access the Inter­net and
all relat­ed tools. This
is a human right
, in my opin­ion.

Dig­i­tal Econ­o­my: Under­stand­ing how eco­nom­ic, social,
and cul­tur­al cap­i­tal can be extract­ed and earned from online/offline
inter­ac­tions. We know about the gig
econ­o­my
, but I am a per­son who believes that the Inter­net will be so much
more inex­tri­ca­bly inter­twined with our lives and abil­i­ty to make a liv­ing not
just in the next twen­ty years, but in the next five.

Dig­i­tal Lit­er­a­cy: Being able to use all that the Inter­net
has to offer to cre­ate, share, and connect/interact. We can­not assume that kids
are nat­u­ral­ly going to devel­op this skill sim­ply by spend­ing time online. To
become ful­ly lit­er­ate, they need to be specif­i­cal­ly edu­cat­ed on so many tools,
resources, repos­i­to­ries, and apps that they’d nev­er nat­u­ral­ly stum­ble across.

Iden­ti­ty Explo­ration and For­ma­tion: Rather than
sim­ply hap­pen­ing organ­i­cal­ly and with­out guid­ance, we want our youth to
under­stand how they can use dig­i­tal tools to explore their own iden­ti­ty.

Infor­ma­tion Qual­i­ty: Using the Inter­net to access and
ben­e­fit from the infor­ma­tion it has to offer. Do you know where to go for the
most reli­able infor­ma­tion relat­ed to health and exer­cise? What about the
upcom­ing elec­tion? What about reli­gious beliefs? What about invest­ing? We need
to help our stu­dents under­stand what is qual­i­ty infor­ma­tion, and what is not.

Law: Under­stand­ing var­i­ous impor­tant laws asso­ci­at­ed
with the Inter­net (e.g., copy­right infringe­ment, pri­va­cy inva­sions, defama­tion,
unau­tho­rized record­ings, harass­ment, etc.) and apply­ing them to guide and
con­strain one’s own behav­ior. Igno­rance is no excuse for not com­ply­ing with the
laws we have in place, and we want stu­dents to respect the rights of oth­ers,
and in turn have their own rights respect­ed.

Media Lit­er­a­cy: Being able to cre­ate, cir­cu­late,
eval­u­ate, and ana­lyze con­tent in any media type, form, com­mu­ni­ty, or net­work.
This is obvi­ous­ly a key skill which we’d hope that every stu­dent devel­ops
dur­ing their school­ing because they’ll like­ly be doing this in some fash­ion
through­out their life, regard­less of their work.

That’s 17 areas in total. You can learn more about each here – and also access a com­pendi­um of over 100 edu­ca­tion­al
tools
to help you pro­vide instruc­tion and guid­ance in each of these areas
in class­rooms, house­holds, and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions. Edu­ca­tors, check them
out and put them into prac­tice when the new school year begins! Do this not
because of any pos­si­ble man­date or direc­tive from your super­vi­sor, but because
it mat­ters so much for our increas­ing­ly con­nect­ed stu­dents!

To be sure, this list may not be com­plete. My friend Anne
Col­lier has recent­ly sug­gest­ed that
three oth­er areas are miss­ing
– explic­it ref­er­ence to social and emo­tion­al
learn­ing (SEL), the his­tor­i­cal con­text (the his­to­ry of the Inter­net!), and rights (what par­tic­i­pa­to­ry rights do Inter­net users have?). I agree that each of these
mer­it fur­ther exam­i­na­tion and inclu­sion. We need our youth to devel­op their SEL
skills to become the best ver­sions of them­selves regard­less of where they
inter­act. And if we neglect teach­ing (and learn­ing from) the his­to­ry of the Inter­net,
we may be doomed to make avoid­able mis­takes. Final­ly, youth espe­cial­ly have had
some of their dig­i­tal
rights
cur­tailed because of fear and moral pan­ics, and this must be
addressed to best empow­er them to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence in their spheres
of influ­ence.

If we neglect teach­ing (and learn­ing from) the his­to­ry of the Inter­net, we may be doomed to make avoid­able mis­takes.

Future research endeav­ors would do well to cre­ate spe­cif­ic
mea­sures and scales to approx­i­mate com­pe­ten­cy in each of these areas. To be
sure, this is the hard part – and schol­ars will like­ly stum­ble a bit as they
fig­ure out the best ways to mea­sure these skills and behav­iors. How­ev­er, just
like we (the entire field) have made sol­id progress when it comes to mea­sur­ing
cyber­bul­ly­ing, sex­ting, and dig­i­tal dat­ing abuse, we’ll even­tu­al­ly get there
when it comes to mea­sur­ing, study­ing, and eval­u­at­ing the val­ue of Dig­i­tal
Cit­i­zen­ship+ indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly. That will great­ly help inform our
edu­ca­tion­al efforts in the trench­es to best meet the needs of cur­rent-day youth
on their way to becom­ing adults who can pos­i­tive­ly con­tribute to our
dig­i­tal-based econ­o­my, soci­ety, and com­mu­ni­ty.

Face­book Research pro­vid­ed sup­port to col­lect the data pre­sent­ed in this post.

Image sources: @ballalatmar (https://bit.ly/2M4G6T2), Gene Walsh, Dig­i­tal First Media (https://bit.ly/2X9Ztk3)

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