February 11, 2016

Digital Etiquette for Being a Good Digital Citizen

Cammie Allen
An image of two young students pressing a technology icon button

Being a good online citizen is more than being a safe Internet user—it’s about being responsible, smart, and having respect for yourself and others. As a user of the Web, various apps, social networking sites, and other online collaboration forums, you are a “citizen” of different communities. And just like real-life communities, there are rules to follow that will make sure you have the best possible experience.

See our lists below for digital do’s and don’ts.

Four Digital Do's

Be careful of what you share. Comments, social media posts, photos, and anything else you share online is not guaranteed to be protected from online predators or hackers, even if you’re sharing only to specific people on password-protected sites. Post only things you’d be ok with everyone you know seeing.

  1. Treat others the way you want to be treated. This sounds pretty basic, but it’s probably the one piece of digital etiquette advice that is broken the most. Keep your comments positive; be truthful, and polite. If you want to go the extra mile, acknowledge when someone has been helpful; thank them, and pay it forward!
  2. Be safe. Being safe online is a whole topic in itself, much different from being a good digital citizen—and with much different ramifications. It’s crucial not divulge any personal information, passwords, addresses, etc. with someone you don’t know.
  3. Know the rules. Whether you’re using classroom forums, Twitter, Facebook, or other sites, know the site’s rules and guidelines—and follow them. Each community creates their own rules that they expect users to follow, which can usually be found in the “Site Rules” or “About Us” section.
  4. Be vigilant. If you saw something happen in real life where someone could be harmed, you’d call for help, right? If you see something online that may be harmful to someone else, report it to the site’s authorities or an adult you trust. With cyberbullying and online predators, we cannot be too careful these days, and we all need to look out for each other.

Five Digital Don’ts

  1. Don’t say anything online you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. An online comment can be even more hurtful than a face-to-face insult, because once something is written the person can read it over and over again.Sometimes we find it easier to reply with negative comments when the person is not right in front of you and you can hide behind your computer or smartphone. Don’t be tempted; think twice about what you are saying before you post or send, and ask yourself, “Would I say this to someone if they were standing in front of me?”
  2. Don’t share anything you don’t own, without permission. All content was created by someone, and that person owns their content. This includes articles (and ANY portion of articles), photos, memes, reports, blogs, and anything else online that wasn’t created by you. Be aware of copyright laws, ask permission before you share, and be sure to give credit if you reuse or repost an article or picture you didn’t create.
  3. Don’t believe everything you read. Not everything online is true. In fact, there’s a lot online that’s not true. Before believing (or sharing!), dig deeper. Search for facts. Just because it’s written online doesn’t mean it’s true.
  4. Don’t post anything that you don’t want to last forever. Before you say or post anything online, ask yourself, “Am I ok if this is never deleted?”. Once something is out there online, it is likely it’s out there for good. There is no delete button or eraser for the Internet.
  5. Don’t spend all of your free time online. The Internet is an amazing place with lots to offer. As with all things that provide an “outlet”, moderation is important. Don’t forget that the real world, real people, and real human interaction provide a lot of lessons and experiences, too!

Managing Your Digital Footprint

Following the general rules of the information superhighway is just as important as following the rules of the road. Think of your digital footprint just as a driving record—all your infringements are traceable. But in this case, not just for the DMV to see, but for everyone online! These days, accessing information about people is a simple Google search. Employers doing internet searches on potential job candidates has become the norm. Proper grammar, tasteful photos, and putting your best foot(print) forward will get you a lot farther in the long run. Your future is in your own digital hands.

We found these two great documents to share for Internet use at home: a pledge for kids and a pledge for parents. It’s a good idea to read, sign, and post them where they can be reviewed often.

Do you have any additional tips for good online citizenship? Please share them in the comments section below.