Digital citizenship comes with responsibility – have fun, be creative and be safe


EVERY person who uses the internet is a digital citizen. This status brings onerous responsibilities which we cannot shirk if we are to continue to enjoy the internet. The virtual world, you could say, is now as important as the real one.

But the enormous benefits of digital technology are matched by shadowy criminals who steal, bully and harass using sophisticated programs to conceal their identities. By far the most dangerous acts are directed against children. Sexual predators prey on their innocence, grooming them into traps they should have been warned about.

The latest report by the International Telecommunications Unions and the United Nations Children’s Fund and partners of the Child Online Protection Initiative, is a timely reminder of the inappropriate and dangerous environment that criminals have created within the internet.

This report, released on September 5, 2014, attracted hardly a whiff of media interest in the country. It’s a pity, because the media has done an excellent job in exposing online bullying among children and of disclosing the dangers of sexually deviant criminals monitoring chat rooms.

This is an extensive report that gives practical advice and formulates rules which will invariably contribute to the safety of children online. To suggest that the report is only about children would be incorrect. Adults would do well to read this simple written advice. Many adults would be surprised at the information that could help them and their children. While the report is for children, it remains the obligation of adults, parents and caregivers — all digital citizens — to absorb the contents of the report and to explain the safety rules to their children.

Digital citizenship is a lively and vibrant concept and we need to know more about it in order to take our place in the digital world. It is part of the safety theme calling for accountability from you, me, children and service providers, including developers. I would also add from caregivers and the government.

We all have an important role to play. We have to inspire, nurture and protect, as well as educate children and young people as they enthusiastically claim their space in the digital online space. Everyone must hold our digital citizenship consciously and carefully.

Digital citizenship is a state of mind to which all internet users must aspire if we are to hold the virtual space for effectively disseminating education, information and entertainment.

Explaining the concept of digital citizens the report says:

“The introduction of new technologies always carries the need to understand how to use it appropriately. We, including children and young people, can demand that the producers and providers build in as many safety features as possible, enabling us to make informed choices on matters, like for instance, revealing private information.”

“However, it is up to children and young people to carry the main responsibility of acting appropriately and respectfully online. Increasingly the term of digital citizenship is being used. Digital citizenship isn’t just about recognising and dealing with online hazards. It’s about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being internet savvy — using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way and inspiring others to do the same.”

It is about calling for safety features that require affirmative assent from parents before important personal and geolocation information are clicked through. It is about recognising online risks. It is about creating safe spaces as you claim your place in the digital world.

How to use the online social networks respectfully is also important. The mantra should be: Have fun, be creative and be safe!


Published in Business Day Live, 14 September 2014