Pat Chung Chi Pang (Hong Kong)
Arzu Geybullayeva (Azerbaijan)
Berdia Natsvlishvili (representing youth in Georgia)
Victor Neufeld (Denmark)
Olivia Bang Brinck (Denmark)
Luca Kyllesbeck (Denmark)
Anna Fogh Gransøe (Denmark)
Jack Passmore (UK)
Rebecca Cawthorne (UK)
Matthew Jackman (UK)
Digital citizenship is necessarily as global, multicultural, and multistakeholder in nature as Internet governance is – because the Internet and digital media are for citizen Net users of all ages in all countries and cultures, using all manner of devices and types of access. Digital citizenship is also dynamic and needs to be "crowd-sourced" because we are collectively learning about and developing it as our use of the Internet and digital media evolves.
Workshop No. 62 featured youth voices in the global conversation about digital citizenship because the organizers continue to feel that youth have not to date had as strong a voice in the discussion as their use of and interest in digital technology merit. So we brought together teens and young adults representing Azerbaijan, Denmark, Georgia, Hong Kong, and the UK to discuss what "digital citizenship" means to them in their work, lives, and Internet use. Co-organizers Anne Collier, Jim Prendergast, and Kim Sanchez (with Pamela Covington listening from the US) facilitated the discussion in this highly interactive workshop in which more than half of the 50+ people present actively participated.
We began the discussion by pointing to various elements of digital citizenship that have turned up in discussions, research, and conferences around the world:
Access and participation
Norms of behavior ("good citizenship")
The 3 literacies of the digital age: digital literacy, media literacy, social literacy
Rights and responsibilities
A sense of belonging or community, online as well as offline
But we suggested that these are merely talking points, not a definition, because there is still little consensus as to what digital citizenship is – or even whether it's the best term to use everywhere in the world.
Then, to get the conversation moving, we asked our youth participants about their experiences with digital media in their own lives. They reported that they use the Internet and social media, increasingly on their mobile phones as well as computers, for a great variety of activities, from research and homework for school to socializing to games, music, photo-sharing, and other forms of entertainment – "8-13 hours a day, depending on how much schoolwork I have," said one Danish secondary-school student.
Adult digital-literacy differences, East & West
In Denmark, Victor Neufeld said, school is gradually going "paperless," so the Internet and digital devices are increasingly in use, at least at his school. When asked if discussion about responsible Internet use, privacy, reputation management occur in school before all the devices go into use, he said, yes, those discussions happened in his schooling "mostly in social sciences…. Every fourth social science class would have the focus purely or primarily on the Internet and how you act and different questions. We work on that from an early age.… But it is [also discussed] more on the broader scale … [part of] how we are raised," suggesting the discussion happens in families and is part of general socialization, whether online or offline.
In Hong Kong, Pat Chung Chi Pang said, there is no such discussion in school. Tech instruction is focused on how to use specific computer applications not on socialization, and there is little if any such discussion in families, he said, suggesting that youth are left more on their own concerning online activities.
Olivia from Denmark said that there wasn't much discussion in her school, but that, where there is discussion about sociality in Net use, it should be less about schools imposing rules and more class discussion about what the best rules should be.
A 17-year-old UK student said that, where she and her peers are getting school-based Internet socialization discussions, the lessons coming "a bit late" in students' experiences – after they've long been using the Net and social media. "I have been accessing the Internet all my life, and [in the UK] it is when you get to an age that you become more independent that you get taught about what you should be saying and what is right and wrong – whereas you should be starting [that instruction] from the very beginning when you first access your Internet."
Who should teach digital citizenship?
Who should do the teaching? "Everyone," said 13-year-old Danish participant Olivia said – not just parents or teachers. "Everyone should have responsibility for who should make online behavior how it is."
In the UK: A UK student cited Childnet's survey of youth for the IGF saying that the respondents "don't want to be taught by their friends how to act online. They want to be taught by teachers [62%] or by their parents [51%]."
In Africa: But some youth participants said that not all teachers and parents know enough about the Net and social media to provide guidance, so what students get is unpredictable. Kate (Katarzyna Pawelczyk) of UNICEF, who said she recently moved to New York from South Africa, said that "in many African countries teachers probably have much lower digital literacy than what you [student participants] are describing in your situation. So there are far more teachers who don't feel that they are equipped to provide students with support on this topic or that they are just overburdened."
In the Caucasus: Who should and does train young people is very much a cultural question, said youth panelist Arzu Geybullayeva of Baku. In some cultures, parents are not online, generally. Also, gender is an issue – schools or institutions feel girls need special training in social media, and brothers and male cousins "want to assist in the training because they feel girls should not be left alone" in social media. And there are geographical and socioeconomic differences as well. "If you walk into an Internet cafe in a remote village, you won't see girls in there," Arzu said.
As for socialization or online behavior, in Azerbaijan, people "either learn on our own or you learn it from the trainings or learn it from your friends…. We don't really learn about how to behave in schools. It is really difficult to explain to people how to behave."
Another Azerbaijani participant said he will decide for his daughter what she can see online until she "is grown to an age when she is an independent adult person…. We are a more traditional society."
In East Asia: Does "digital citizenship" make sense to someone who grew up in Chinese culture? Pat, from Hong Kong, said that he feels the main focus this concept should be rights and responsibilities. "You find your rights and responsibilities in the real world and also you can find those in the cyber world –freedom of speech and the responsibility to respect others, to protect the Internet…. Also I think a very important concept of digital citizenship is self‑discipline." He also mentioned self-knowledge. "Know who you are. You've got to be aware of what you say and you've got to express your speech responsibly…. Instead of using policy, using the law, education is more important to the youth…. Digital citizenship should not be limited by the law, by parents, by the school – for the youth, they've got to understand. That's called self‑discipline, I think."
Beyond behavior or social norms
Perhaps the disagreement has more to do with definitions of "citizenship." The element of citizenship that seemed most central to, or at least referenced by, the UK youth was norms of behavior, whereas for youth in other parts of the world, other elements seem more key.
Berdia Natsvlishvili, who works with 30% of Georgian schools (740 schools), said that his NGO focuses more on "civic education as a subject … most importantly teaching students how to be engaged in solving local community problems…. We are very much integrating and bringing social media tools there. We were the first organization to print in Georgian books on SMS and social media at school … and we started to teach students [and peer mentors] how to use social media for civic engagement and spreading their knowledge of citizenship," for example, through being "good online journalists," writing blogs and commenting on others' blogs.
But the idea of citizenship has experienced a lot of change in Georgia, Berdia continued, "If you go to older generation, 'citizenship' it is a very unfamiliar term for them – they do not understand what good citizenship means because in the old times, you know, you were not responsible to solve any community problems or do any actions. It is kind of like a new time for practices in Georgia and, you know, we are integrating citizenship into education." Rather than teaching digital citizenship as a subject, per se, he said, "our organization is … teaching [students] how to be good citizens and how to use the online instruments to be good citizens."
But shouldn't we drop the "digital" part, asked an adult expert from the EU, since we al make less and less of a distinction between online and offline life?
UK student Matt Jackman said he understands the point but cited the Childnet survey, which found that half of respondents say they "do act differently online and the Internet is a completely different stage. The way I interact on the Internet … is completely different. The idea of digital citizenship with the word 'digital' I think is important…. You are belonging to a larger community, a different community online than you are in your day‑to‑day life, and you have to respect that and you have to realise that your audience is much bigger and that you must adapt your citizenship from your day‑to‑day life and your culture to the online world because of the vast kind of podium it is."
Anne Collier asked the student how he behaves differently online. He said, "Cautious. Definitely cautious. Respectful. I take [into consideration] other people's views. I understand people are from different countries. More respectful and conservative and cautious. Definitely."
Danish student Victor Neufeld said that the norms he uses online he learned from his offline friends and peers. "That's how the youth or how my generation learned to act on the Internet because my parents didn't tell me how to do it…. I wrote some stupid things when I was young and people reacted to it in a negative manner. And I wrote some positive things and people reacted to that in a positive manner and I got the reaction I wanted and I started writing like that. That's how I learned to act on the Internet and that's the implementation of norms on the Internet."
An adult who works with 25 European NGOs representing youth said that her organization decide "digital citizenship" is not a good term, the key reason being, "well, we are all citizens, and the norms go on and the work in the offline world also applies to the online world. Maybe you have to be more cautious or behave more respectfully online. But for us, 'digital citizenship' is not a good term. We actually started talking about 'citizenship in a digital era'."
Transitional term for a transitional moment?
Another UK student said that he agrees with Matt, that the term is needed, that "perhaps there may come a time in the future that we can use 'citizenship' to sum up everything, when the online community becomes more fused with the real world as such, but for now I think that 'digital citizenship' works pretty well."
Another student said she liked the idea that the term is a transitional one – that, "as more and more people spend more time online it becomes about citizenship and not digital."
An adult member of the audience suggested that citizenship means "empowerment." Another participant said he liked the idea but that, "at least in Azerbaijan, I feel like there is a lack of knowledge of what it means to be a citizen and the empowerment that it gives you."
Does user empowerment support greater order on the Internet? Going forward, will order be less about law, as in the past, and more about self-regulation or, as Pat from Hong Kong put it earlier, self-discipline, as well as collective social norms that "regulate" behavior online?
A work in progress
A student participant asked if digital citizenship is practical. "Is it even possible? Is it just too idealistic? No one controls the Internet. So who is going to do it?"
Another young person responded that it does come down to user empowerment: "I completely agree with how you say that the Internet is empowering citizenship … but, as Victor said, he got some things wrong [when he was younger]." He continued referring to remarks from an adult in the audience: "You said that 95% of the people aren't getting it wrong or something along those lines, that most people are not getting it wrong. But people will get it wrong at some point. I think that, as you asked, is it idealistic to think that people can get it right all the time? And in a way, yes. It is impossible for everyone to get it right all the time but … if enough people want to and want to make sure it happens, yes, it can. So instances where people are getting one thing, two things, maybe three things wrong can be kind of get reduced, as such. So I think we should always aim for a reduction in the way that people misuse the Internet."
So perhaps the term "digital citizenship" is aspirational, suggesting rights and responsibilities for all Internet users and setting a universal standard or common goal of respectful participation worldwide. Not all participants agreed that this treatment is meaningful or necessary, and participants from some countries suggested that "citizenship" itself does not have the same meaning for people in all regions of the world. But it is a term that resonates well with both the Internet-safety and Internet-governance discussions. All that's clear is that this highly participatory discussion needs to continue, with more perspectives included.