A little context first, if you don’t mind: I talked with some of you here about Online Safety 3.0 two years ago, about 11 yrs after I started working in this field as a journalist. It was based on what I’d learned from the growing bodies of youth-online-risk and social-media research in North America & the UK. I later co-chaired the Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group, sending our report to Congress, Youth Safety on a Living Internet in June 20101 – so these slides represent that thinking too, you’ll see. All of that’s a long way of saying that Internet safety is the context from which my thinking on digital citizenship has emerged, but – even though the research indicates civil, respectful behavior is protective – I feel strongly this subject is important in its own right, separate from Net safety, and has much deeper historic roots than any subject tied to tech. Scholars in social media, political science, sociology, and child development will be taking over this subject once Internet safety is seen as the public-health, public safety … and parenting … issue it really is – not a separate field. For example, two researchers at the University of Western Sydney who I met this year see the need for a clean break for digital citizenship from e-safety . They write in a soon-to-be-published paper, &quot;We argue that digital citizenship must be radically reconfigured in terms of democratic citizenship – as opposed to cybersafety. This requires a difference -centred and relational notion of citizenship that understands liberty , not in terms of … obligatory participation … but of presence and agency … and that young people ’ s equality of citizenship in a digital world refers to 'rights to belong as differently equal ' members of society, outside [a discussion] that results in marginalising [youth] interests and needs. ” … I agree and have written a lot about the need for youth agency online, based on research at MIT, Harvard & other u’s…. But this is , after all, the Safer Internet Forum, so here ’ s the case for digital citizenship from an e-safety perspective . [links on the last slide]
We’re only at the beginning of this profound media shift.... MIT sociology professor Sherry Turkle told the New York Times recently that... Just because we’ve had the Internet for a while now, “ we think the Internet is all grown up. It’s NOT all grown up. It’s in its toddler days ” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/fashion/30Studied.html . How is that? We’ re only just beginning to work out the social norms of social media, to bring 1,000s of years of social norm development into this new “space.” We’re only starting to see that this new media environment is ACTUALLY LESS AND LESS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY and MORE AND MORE about our humanity. Because it ’ s SOCIAL – media is behavioral now. [See: “We need to work out the social norms of social media: Why?” http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=30545 .]
What we know from the growing body of social-media research Is that the Net is increasingly very much like a living thing – mirroring and serving as a platform for a growing proportion of humanity’s self-expression, creativity, sociality, and learning…. In Facebook alone – now with more than 800m users in every country in the world, tens of billions of pieces of content are posted by its members every month (comments, photos, Web links, blog posts, videos, etc.) and more than 100 million photos a day . These are pieces of everybody’ s lives , shared as they live them. So in this space, “safety” too has a great deal to do with “ real life ” and is a shared, not an individual, proposition – very difficult for any single entity such as a government, school, or parent to ensure.
So the word “content” has a whole new meaning now. Content is SOCIAL . Users don’t just consume entertainment, research, videos, photos, etc. They produce them, edit them (individually and together), share and talk about them. They post their thoughts, emotions, reactions, then update, retract, remix, etc. And they do all this in real time, AS they think their thoughts and express who they are in relation to others, moment by moment. So content is behavioral , more like life itself...
All of this is very fluid, of course. The fixed AND mobile Internet is another “place” where our producing, socializing, etc. occurs. I t's constantly changing – the Internet, its content, and its users , of course.... The safety implication is that It’ s difficult to control or set policy governing human lives, constantly updated, with continuously changing social and relational dynamics. I was just recently in Kenya, where mobile phone use is about to explode, where a large no. of people living in slums on less than a euro a day have mobile phones, and where 43% of people’s disposable income goes to mobile phones and services. How do you ensure safety on anytime, anywhere mobile devices in a society whose adoption is just about to explode?
The Internet is literally in the air we breathe! This is in terms of both the growing number of access locations and the rapidly multiplying kinds of connected devices – all increasingly portable. The safety implication being that old top-down solutions tied to specific devices or locations – such as filtering software – are no longer particularly helpful.
What’ s happening online is not something new and separate , as so many people unfamiliar with social media view it. For young people, this means that a great deal of their online experiences are embedded in school life – because so much of their lives is taken up by school. The safety implication is that something done by the customer service group behind a social network site – such as taking down a profile or hate group – may help but can rarely resolve a problem arising from peer relations at school or work or in families. As has always been the fact in offline life, the resolution comes from people working things out – sometimes among themselves, sometimes with help from mediators such as counselors or school officials.
What this photo suggests is that the Internet not only mirrors what happens in offline life and relationships but, as in a mirror, can repeat them again and again instantly – to an amplifying effect – which can make negative expression more emotionally challenging. And on their mobile phones and computers that mirror goes with students wherever they go, which affects things at home, school, etc. So it becomes more imperative that we think as much about prevention and resilience as we do about intervention.
And we’ re seeing from the research that the risk spectrum online increasingly matches that of offline life too . All the negatives are expressed online – eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse, gang violence, etc. – which can be both a problem and a help to parents, school officials, and law enforcement seeking evidence or needing to understand in order to help better. Sometimes what we ’ re reacting to is as much the increased visibility of existing problems as new problems. US news reporters talk about a cyberbullying “ epidemic, ” but there is no research evidence of that, and we do know that bullying itself is down in the US (http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28752). Another thing the research shows is that what we see online is often the tip of the iceberg – or only a snapshot of what’s happening among peers. To understand what we see in FB, we need context. It’s problematic to take what we see in a text msg or FB post either literally or as the full story. And social norms research indicates that changing the perception by exposing the public to the facts – such as the fact that the great majority of young people (94% here in Europe) have never experienced cyberbullying. This understanding changes behavior, the social norms research shows. [[For example, in a study of five New Jersey middle schools , Profs. Wesley Perkins and David Craig at Hobart William Smith found that telling students the truth about bullying at their schools led to “significant reductions” in misperceptions of the prevalence of bullying and of peer support for bullying,” and that changed perception then brought “simultaneous reductions in bullying behaviors AND experiences of victimization.”]] SO I PROPOSE THAT CITIZENSHIP AND EMPOWERMENT START WITH BEING ARMED WITH THE FACTS.
I know, an oil rig is a strange metaphor for social media – a colleague of mine in Washington used this recently, referring to social networking sites, and it might be helpful. Think of Facebook as an oil rig and user content as the oil. Oil is less of a living thing than ppl’ s lives expressed online, of course, but Facebook is like an oil rig more than the kind of media co. we adults grew up with because it doesn’t produce the “product.” We – our lives – are the product, in essence. FB is just the infrastructure around it, which – unlike oil – is constantly changing. But this is a helpful metaphor, I think, because we see clearly what ’s meant by user-driven or user-produced media. It gives us a measure of realism when we see that new media cos. have much less control over their so-called product than traditional media cos. (or even oil cos.) – less power than we usually think they have. We see that they aren’t the best place to turn when a child is being bullied or harassed in their sites . I think we have a false sense of security about or expectation of what a new media co. can really do to protect young social media users. AND WE ALSO SEE HOW IMPORTANT SELF-CONTROL, AGENCY, AND EMPOWERMENT HAVE BECOME. THIS IS WHERE DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP COMES IN.
So there’s quite an argument for digital citizenship now, in this context, don’t you think? We see that it’s not a luxury, when we know – as was published in a medical journal in 2007 – that [bullet 1] youth who engage in aggressive behavior online are more than twice as likely to be victimized online. DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP IS NOT A LUXURY, NOT JUST A NICE ADDITION to online safety – in the same way that online activity is not just an extra layer added to life. Because we are all now functioning in a user-driven networked world. 2 nd – Agency & critical thinking are protective. Critical thinking about what one shares, produces and uploads as much as what one reads, consumes and downloads protects. This was shown in a 2010 Ofsted report, for example. [See 2010 Ofsted study linked to here <http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28736] 3 rd – Agency is the kernel & substance of social & civic engagement. [See: “Why digital citizenship is a hot topic” http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=29466 ] 4 th – Internet use becomes consequential when users become stakeholders in their own wellbeing and that of their peers and communities – not passive potential victims. 5 th – Citizens are invested in the community; anonymity goes away and accountability takes hold. Whether or not we broadly adopt the term digital citizenship, the Internet-safety discussion needs to move from a control model to an agency one, from a discussion mainly about victimization to one about empowerment – and from other -directed to self -directed safety, or at least a greater balance of these – because quite logically the agency model is the only one that works under these new environmental conditions.
Here are the five aspects I’ve seen discussed in a number of countries and forums: Rights and responsibilities – what immediately comes to mind for a lot of people when they hear the word “citizenship” Participation or civic engagement – including social or community activism online Norms of behavior, often called &quot;good citizenship&quot; or etiquette A sense of membership or belonging (not Net as whole but one’s comm.) [LITERACIES:] For two years, I’ve thought that “digital citizenship” is summed up in three literacies I heard a lot about here at the Safer Internet Forum in 2009 – digital or technical literacy, media literacy, and social literacy. I suggest these amount to much greater safety and lower risk for individuals of all ages, communities, personal property (intellectual, software, hardware), and networks. These literacies apply critical thinking about the use and impacts of technology, information, and behvaior. But I think many people don’t feel they would provide children with enough protection. I’ll leave that question with you.
But is mustn’t be rocket science – doesn’t necessarily take whole curricula or hours and hours of professional development. It can and should be just this simple, which is why digital citizenship is actually NOT hard to teach and practice (contrary to what the online-safety field tends to suggest). Parents and educators have always taught at least the social-norms part of citizenship –respect for self and others – from the earliest ages at home and at school. Two psychology professors at Williams College wrote recently: “ Our research on child development makes it clear that there is only one way to truly combat bullying.... As an essential part of the school curriculum, we have to teach children how to be good to one another, how to cooperate, how to defend someone who is being picked on and how to stand up for what is right.” <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/23/opinion/23engel.html> [See also: “Digital risk, digital citizenship” <http://www.netfamilynews.org/2009/05/digital-risk-digital-citizenship.html>.] Quote linked to here: artist, writer, SUNY Buffalo instructor) A.J. Patrick Liszkiewicz in a talk about a social game in Facebook (Farmville) <http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28792>.
BUT IF IT WOULD BE HELPFUL TO DEFINE IT A LITTLE MORE, here’s one possibility: Online citizenship might be considered the rights & responsibilities of full, successful engagement in an increasingly participatory media environment, culture, and world. OR: Full, healthy, meaningful participation in the digital discourses of a networked world The rights might include (see slide)… The responsibilities might include… The goal is to support self-actualization or agency by teaching and modeling the literacies or competencies of successful use of digital media SO YOUTH SEE FOR THEMSELVES THE POSSIBILITIES AND BENEFITS OF BEING ACTIVE AGENTS FOR THEIR OWN AND THE SOCIAL GOOD. Resources : For educator education: From Fear to Facebook: One School ’s Journey , by Matt Levinson http://www.amazon.com/Fear-Facebook-One-Schools-Journey/dp/1564842703 “ Moving Beyond One Size Fits All to Digital Citizenship,” by educators Matt Levinson and Deb Socia http://publius.cc/moving_beyond_one_size_fits_all_digital_citizenship ) For parent education : A Facebook Guide for Parents , by Anne Collier and Larry Magid of ConnectSafely.org http://www.fbparents.org [See also: “Why digital citizenship is a hot topic (globally)” http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=29466 and “Digital risk, digital citizenship” <http://www.netfamilynews.org/2009/05/digital-risk-digital-citizenship.html>.]
I think we have to ask ourselves this question – and ask young people, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries of digital citizenship! Here’s what I see they get out of it. The bottom line: self-actualization for digitally informed life (online and offline) [And what’ s in it for adults? Eases the excessive sense of responsibility we’ve taken upon ourselves, based on the outdated (in today’s media environment, increasingly unsupported) premise that youth safety is based on control.] To conclude: Because safety, privacy, reputation protection – everything – is a shared experience in social media (on any device), users are in the driver ’s seat. They – what they choose to say, do, post, share, produce – determine how good or bad the experience is (their own and that of their peers and communities online and offline). So they’re not actually just users or even producers, but stakeholders in how it all goes. They, like all of us, are helping to create the social norms of social media for the benefit of all.
When a youth panel of 15-to-22-year-olds from Egypt, the US, and UK was asked at the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi last month, they weren’t very enthusiastic. On a scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being “very relevant and meaningful” – they gave it a 1, two 3’s, a 5, a 6, and an 8. The British teen who gave it a 1 said it “sounds distant and abstract,” and people shouldn’t distinguish between citizenship and digital citizenship anyway. Another UK teen said, “ Maybe ‘ participant ’ is a better word than ‘ citizen ’ . ” An American university graduate newly living in Nairobi gave it a 6 saying she hopes it ’ ll catch on but “ it ’ s not relevant to our generation yet. ” The internationally connected Egyptian young people gave it a 3 and a 5, making the point that it can ’ t be relevant to youth unless there ’ s Internet access at school so it could be practiced. I’ll tell you why I have been using it – as a tool to change the conversation among adults who are uncomfortable with new media and fear its impact on youth. But I would like your advice: How do we ease adults fears? How do we change the conversation about youth Internet use?
We’ve got to remember that you can’t have citizenship without citizens – people who desire to be such. And in an environment driven by the users, a significant proportion of them youth, this notion has to be theirs too. So I agree with Drs. Amanda Third & Jess Strider that… [ draft report (as yet untitled) emailed as a Word doc 9/1/11 by Amanda Third, senior lecturer, School of Humanities and Languages, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney] Our colleague Janice Richardson of European Schoolnet said on a panel on which I participated at the IGF that students deserve more exposure to human rights and citizenship – and I would add Internet governance – in school so that they are prepared for the growing global discussion as adults (see http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.protecting-children-using-the-internet-presentations.7566 and http://www.vivendi.com/vivendi/Janice-Richardson,6283.
And I leave you with the question: Will digital citizenship be relevant to youth? Links: Tim Davies, PhD student in the UK, on youth participation http://www.timdavies.org.uk/categories/youthparticipation/ Work by Philippa Collin and Amanda Third in Australia <http://www.fya.org.au/research/research-publications/>
Making the Case for Digital Citizenship Anne Collier Executive Director, Editor NetFamilyNews.org Co-director ConnectSafely.org
“ If the notion of digital citizenship in policy discourse is to have traction with its constituents and prove effective, it is vital that our understanding and use of the term be directly informed by young people ’ s
values and insights. ” --Third & Strider, University of Western Sydney