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Be a Good Digital Citizen

Thomas C Park on Unsplash

Every one of us belongs to a family, a school, and the neighborhood where we live, as well as towns, cities, counties, states, national governments, and the whole planet. We mostly live within our families,schools and places we go around town and we follow certain rules that help us live and work in harmony with each other.

That’s the basic definition of citizenship: belonging to a group of people within a defined area and following rules we agree on to get along.

The internet is another place where we belong to groups of people. Just like real life, there are rules for the internet to help us define how we should interact online.

When you buy something online, use social media, or comment on a web page, you become a citizen of the online world, a digital citizen. Therefore, it’s important to act in ways that are respectful and competent.

There are many different aspects to being a good online citizen. Here are a few to consider.


As a citizen, in the real world and online, it is important to realize there are all kinds of people: those who agree or disagree with us, share or don’t share our interests and needs, and those who have led different lives than ours. Unfortunately, there also are people who hurt each other.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. Good digital citizens may express disagreement with something online but they don’t respond in a negative way. They don’t bully or harass people with different views and they avoid people who behave badly.

Your Personal Data

If you click a Like button or fill out an online survey asking if you like cats or dogs, your actions create personal data. Websites also track information about your visit such as when you arrived, what pages you looked at, and possibly your geographic location. Most websites use visitor tracking to make their own site more useful. Other sites, however, collect this information along with other data to track and profile you.

As a digital citizen, it’s important to understand how your personal data might be used and to control what you do online. For example, it’s a great idea to read the privacy policies for any website you visit and use. You can typically find a link for this at the bottom of web pages.

The Digital Divide

Access to computers and the internet is not universal. In the United States, for example, almost a quarter of Americans lack both sometimes because they can’t afford it or they live in rural areas with poor internet connections. Lack of internet access also might be cultural; a family or group might choose to not interact online.

If you meet someone who does not use technology, as a digital citizen it is important to accept and understand their point of view. In fact, some of their reasons might be ones you want to consider. Maybe they would rather be outdoors hiking or playing a musical instrument in their free time.

Digital Literacy

Years ago, there was a funny cartoon with a dog seated at a computer saying, “Online no one knows you’re a dog.” What is on your computer screen might appear real, or sound real, but that doesn’t make it real. There are satire sites, for example, that publish news stories that sound very realistic but, as you read along, it becomes clear they’re joking. There also are sites that deliver malware to infect computers.

To be a good digital citizen requires you to acknowledge what content might be real or fake, safe or dangerous. It’s also important to know that clickbait articles exist solely to get you to click and be exposed to advertising. When you read the article, the promise in the link that made you click isn’t paid off, or is at the bottom of the article. Digital literacy puts you in control of what you click and interact with online.

Digital Wellness

Have you ever gotten lost in your favorite book and you don’t realize how much time has passed, until maybe you realize you’re tired or hungry?. Well, it’s much easier to get lost online for hours. There’s so much to find and read and watch.

Digital citizens realize adding online activities limits time available for school, family, friends, and our personal interests. Software that tracks time and computer resources is one way to control time spent online. Setting a timer is another. You also can set a goal like researching a paper you have to write. Once you’re done online, definitely push away from the computer and go off to another part of your life.

Online Safety

Any computer you use for online access should have a PIN or password to access it. Changing these on a regular basis is very important. If you visit sites that require an account, definitely find and use a password keeper like LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane to keep track of your access details. Using a VPN like, which is free, is another way to mask your online activity.

However, good digital citizens know all of these tools are not equal. While is provided by a legitimate service called Cloudflare, there are free VPNs that collect personal data in return for providing their service. Digital citizens also know to check the email address of any email that comes from a bank or other important service. For example, if a bank sends an email asking you to check your account, it’s best to delete the email and use a web browser instead to login through their website.

To learn more, the online version of this article has links to many resources.

Learn More

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