Understanding Digital Citizenship

Alec Couros was the speaker in Changemooc this week.

He is clearly a popular speaker and there were a number of people attending who obviously regarded him with a great deal of affection.

Alec talked about digital citizenship in terms of Cyber-safety (keeping safe and being able to discern truth from hoaxes and myths); Memes (value laden digital viruses); Copyright/copyleft (we used to consume information, now we produce, remix, share); Network Literacy; Identity (81% of children under the age of two have some form of digital footprint and some even have a footprint before birth); and Activism. See http://mooc.wikispaces.com/couros

Alec hasn’t posted his slides yet – but there are plenty more here – but as he told us and exemplified he has developed his own style of online presentation, which I think was very effective. You certainly couldn’t get bored. He had a lot of slides, but a lot of those were simply images. Text on the slides was limited – and he talked over his slides with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. Perhaps most impressive was the number of videos he asked us to view during his presentation, which kept it interesting and lively. I think he must spend an awful lot of time online and particularly viewing videos as he seems to be all over the web.

Whilst there was a lot in his presentation that was new to me and fascinating, there were a couple of things that left me questioning.

The first was that during the presentation, the videos that were shown and many photos, left me with the word ‘voyeurism’ floating in my head. I felt as though I was being introduced into people’s lives where I had no right to be.  It left me wondering to what extent the internet encourages us to be ‘voyeurs’.

The second was that I wonder how ethical it is to share another person’s identity online – particularly if that person is a child. I have questioned this before in a discussion with Dean Shareski

I know with absolute certainty that I would not like people to be sharing personal details about me online without my knowledge, understanding or agreement and I doubt that children are in a position to agree to this.  It’s not that I have never mentioned my children online – I have, but I do not understand why a personal communication of love between a parent and child needs to be conducted in view of the whole world. Alec showed one such example of a father sending online messages to his newborn and growing child. What I don’t like about this is that the child cannot object to this. The child doesn’t even know the effect that this might have on their identity and is in no position to control it.

So I do not think that digital citizenship means that you have to be ‘watching’ the lives of people you do not even know, or that you have to share the details of your nearest and dearest with the whole world.

12 thoughts on “Understanding Digital Citizenship

  1. Lisa M Lane April 6, 2012 / 7:27 am

    Yes, that’s the only aspect I find creepy about all the openness – that children don’t have a choice. Often, neither do their parents. We have schools here who routinely film school events and post them on YouTube or post pictures on the school’s page in Facebook, and parents who film birthday parties and share the videos. If one doesn’t wish to participate, it’s becoming very hard not to.

  2. courosa April 6, 2012 / 9:43 pm

    I agree that I have struggled with the issue of ‘choice’ in all of this, and I agree with the concerns raised by you and Lisa. The thing is, how can we escape choices as parents around our kids’ identities? We choose (or have a great role in their choosing of) the clothes they wear, the school(s) they go to, whether or not they are religious, their clubs and after-school activities, restrictions or limitations on their social activities, etc. Parents play a huge part in defining the identity of children for them … and if we are cautious and thoughtful about these other pieces, can’t we just extend this role to the online space? Can’t we help them develop digital identities through modelling and appropriate sharing? Now, obviously this issue isn’t black & white – however, I don’t think we can simply say “don’t share online because kids can’t choose” unless we have done the same in all other identity-forming activities in the rest of their lives.

    Thanks for your post, and for sharing your ideas online. I truly appreciate the feedback and your questions.

  3. Lisa M Lane April 7, 2012 / 2:45 am

    Alec, I think parents can be responsible and help children develop digital identities if/when they think that’s appropriate. But the culture plays a role, as in other areas, in violating the privacy of children. So unlike controlling what a child wears or where they go to school, if a child leaves the house and is involved in society in any way, it may not be in the control of the parent as to whether his child’s image or name is posted online, or what use others may make of such images and videos. A parent may say, “no, you may not have a Facebook account”, but another child or adult may post that child’s image and name in FB anyway.

    My concern is that by celebrating examples of parents who have created or permitted their child to have an online presence, we are encouraging cultural tolerance of the violation of other people’s privacy (a concern with adult privacy too, of course), instead of encouraging the thoughtful participant you’re trying to engender.

  4. courosa April 7, 2012 / 3:35 am

    @lisa I do understand your point, but I question whether or not celebrating these examples (as you have explained) leads to a “tolerance of the violation of people’s privacy” – I think that’s quite subjective, and not nearly the way I see it. I do want to celebrate wise choices around identity, especially since I see that there is an inevitability of individual identity becoming part of (online) publics (I am sure that this is a sticky point for many). As well, with this, I’d like to celebrate the overcoming of fear caused by media sensationalism and to grasp the reality that children and adults can live safe lives online through understanding and weighing real risks & benefits through education.

  5. Lisa M Lane April 7, 2012 / 4:16 am

    An excellent point – thanks for clarifying your thinking. There must be a balance between unfounded fear and the intelligent development of ones online identity, and between protection and freedom, in an environment where our real understanding is still developing.

  6. jennymackness April 7, 2012 / 8:11 am

    Hi Alec and Lisa,

    I agree that parents inevitably influence their childrens identities, through, as you say, choosing their clothes, which school they go to and so on. I also agree that it is, these days, a parent’s responsibility to ensure that their children are not afraid to be online and can manage their digital identity safely.

    But I don’t see that teaching them to be digital citizens requires providing them with a digital identity before they are old enough to make that decision for themselves. I do not see this as the same thing as choosing their clothes for them. I think the difference is that, for me, clothes are a ‘must have’ for a young child who cannot choose them for himself, but having a digital identity is not.

    In the case of the video where the parent wrote to the unborn child and then to the child who did not even know this was happening, even though a lot of unknown people around the world knew it was happening, I think the child’s digital identity was probably a ‘must have’ for the parent – not for the child.

    >Parents play a huge part in defining the identity of children for them … and if we are cautious and thoughtful about these other pieces, can’t we just extend this role to the online space? Can’t we help them develop digital identities through modelling and appropriate sharing?

    I agree with this – but if the child doesn’t know about it – how can it be modelling and sharing?

    These are difficult issues though with no straightforward answers and no right answers. I quite often think that I am so pleased that my children grew up before we had to think about digital citizenship, so I didn’t have to make these decisions 🙂

    Thanks to you both for your comments.

  7. brainysmurf April 11, 2012 / 3:22 pm

    I agree that identity issues are very difficult to address, both online and in-person and particularly when a parent is defining the boundaries on behalf of their children.

    This reminds me of fairly controversial article that came out nearly a year ago regarding a family’s choice not to reveal the gender of their child.


    In the digital age, this personal choice explodes into the public sphere for all to comment and judge.

  8. jennymackness April 11, 2012 / 4:13 pm

    Hi brainysmurf – thanks for the link. What a fascinating article. I can see why it was controversial.

    One thing that strikes me is that if we want to do something that is ‘outside the norm’ these days, then we probably have to be prepared for a possible public onslaught, given how easy it is for ‘stories’ to be distributed on the web. If we don’t want this kind of attention then we need to ‘conform to the norm’ – and become sufficiently uninteresting for people to comment on!

    If this is so – what sort of implications will this have for innovation, creativity and originality?

  9. brainysmurf April 11, 2012 / 8:41 pm

    I’m chuckling at the idea of being ‘sufficiently uninteresting’ to avoid public scrutiny, that’s great! For me, it’s also about remaining sufficiently anonymous to be a reputable but private contributor in the digital space.

    Your question about the implications for innovation, creativity and originality is excellent and the reverse is worth considering, as well. Knowing that there is potential for a vast, public audience to view one’s creations, how much do some people try to be extraordinary (not authentically) just to draw attention?

    A simple example discussed earlier: how much do we blog with the audience in mind? And how much does the audience’s reaction play in to how we reveal or censor ourselves during the creative/productive process?


  10. jennymackness April 13, 2012 / 6:42 pm

    Hi brainysmurf – thanks for the link 🙂 Jenny

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