Digital Citizenship and Digital Communication


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Digital Citizenship and Digital Communication

Digital Citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use. (Ribble, 2011). Similarly, a digital citizen must have some characteristics such as understand human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behavior; advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology; exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity; demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning; and exhibit leadership for digital citizenship. There are nine areas of behavior that digital citizenship must have: access, commerce, communication, literacy, etiquette, law, rights and responsibilities, health and wellness, security(self-protection).  Digital citizenship goals for the 21st century are to educate, empower and protect. Ribble explained these three as respect (etiquette, access, law), educate (communication, literacy, commerce) and protect (rights and responsibility, safety/security, health. Being digital citizen is more important than ever as employers are looking online to see your true colors as the internet isn’t forgetting anything and one could be the next viral sensation. Therefore, in education there are some key factors for digital citizens. These key factors are student learning and academic performance, student environment and student behavior, student life outside the school environment. Ribble & Bailey (2007) sorted the nine areas of behavior for making up digital citizenship under these three areas.

Digital communication as defined by Ribble is the electronic exchange of information. In other words, how you represent yourself to others using digital formats. Digital communication includes using digital media in a considerate way. When done properly, students use is safe and appropriate and in a way that is beneficial to their learning, to themselves, and others.  An effective digital communicator shows courtesy, integrity, and respect in all forms of technology-based interactions and associations. Educators face difficult decisions concerning the use of these digital communication technologies in their schools (Ribble 2011).  Mastering digital communication is much more than just about being safe and courteous online. It’s also part of being a great Global Digital Citizen—the kind of citizen we must begin cultivating in our schools.

Digital communication has different mediums in today’s world. Some of the most notable are email, cell phones, video conferencing, instant messaging, text messaging, and social networks. One of the significant changes within the digital revolution is a person’s ability to communicate with others.

Inappropriate Digital Communication

Everyone has the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with anyone from anywhere anytime. Unfortunately, many users have not been taught how to make appropriate decisions when faced with so many digital communication innovations. Digital communication can be used in the classroom to enhance learning. However, students must be taught how to use digital communication tools properly. Ribble’s example of inappropriate digital communication references how students leave ringers on high volume and keep their phones on during class time, how students use instant messaging and e-mail shorthand for class assignments when asked to give complete answers and how students use text messaging to cheat on tests. Those learning to communicate digitally must keep in mind to write grammatically correct, abiding to the norms. Norms that lead to good online etiquette, empathy and trust between community members provide stepping-stones for social capital development. (Preece, 2004)

Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA)

In New Zealand, The Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA) became law on the 3rd of  July 2015 but different parts come into effect at different times. It aims to deter, prevent and lessen harmful digital communications. This includes cyber bullying, harassment and revenge porn posted online through emails, text, websites, applications or social media.

Harmful digital communication and cyber bullying includes:

  • sending or publishing threatening or offensive material
  • spreading damaging rumors
  • sending or publishing sensitive personal information such as embarrassing photos and videos.
  • Digital communication is defined widely in the Act to include any form of an electronic message such as texts, photos, pictures, recordings etc.

The test for determining what is a harmful digital communication is whether the communication was designed to cause serious emotional distress.

Appropriate Digital Communication

Ribble speaks about appropriate digital communications and how students and teachers use digital communication devices when they will not interrupt what is going on in the school or classroom; Digital communication technologies such as IM and blogs are used to support student activities in the classroom, such as sharing ideas or writings with others. Teachers use blogs to inform parents of classroom activities. In New Zealand, the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 provides a useful framework to help build definitions and other frameworks. The framework is a series of ten principles that define what acceptable digital communications should be.

Principle 1: A digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual.

Principle 2: A digital communication should not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing.

Principle 3: A digital communication should not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual.

Principle 4: A digital communication should not be indecent or obscene.

Principle 5: A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.

Principle 6: A digital communication should not make a false allegation.

Principle 7: A digital communication should not contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence

Principle 8: A digital communication should not incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual.

Principle 9: A digital communication should not incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide.

Principle 10: A digital communication should not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

(From the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, section 6, pp. 5–6)

Despite the commonly held conception that students are digital natives, focusing on digital communication plays a major role in digital citizenship. This type of communication is responsible for the workflows and pipelines for one’s capacity to communicate digitally, share resources online, connect and collaborate with others through virtual environments and with online tools, to interact in social networks, and to take part in online communities. Competence development in this area helps people use communication and collaboration tools to improve a learning experience.

Building capacity in students with honest and straightforward responses when things get awkward in their digital world will help them feel confident and empowered to set appropriate boundaries and stand up for themselves – and others.

In a changing social environment, we are required to communicate digitally to keep our engagement and sharing of ideas. Technology gives an opportunity and channel to actively engage. We also have to be mindful of the way we communicate and do it correctly. As a society, we need to strive for information exchange that is adequate with emphasis on ethics and proper use of the digital communication tools.

One of the significant changes in our digital revolution is the ability of one person to communicate with others. In the 19th century, the channels for communication were very limited. In this century the options to communicate have drastically increased offering a variety of options (email, cell phones, instant messaging, etc.). This growing number of options has changed our digital communication because we are in constant contact with others anytime, anywhere. We have to remember that the way we communicate plays a vital role in our digital citizenship. Being mindful of others’ local color and expressions empower us to be better communicators. We have the unique ability to communicate and we have to always consider that our communication gives others first impressions and generalizations about who we are, where we come from and what we really want. As humans, we reflect our personality our origins, our values, ethics and morals. At the end of the day, our communication might mean everything for us and we have to be able to keep its value online which if done correctly can go a long way.


Ribble, M. S., Bailey, G. D., & Ross, T. W. (2004). Digital citizenship: Addressing appropriate technology behavior. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(1), 6-9.

Essex, N. L. (2016). School law and the public school: A practical guide for educational leaders. (6th ed.) (pp.111-114). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015

Preece, Jennifer. (2004) Etiquette, Empathy and Trust in Communities of Practice:    Stepping-Stones to Social Capital. Journal of Universal Computer Science

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