Along with our rights to privacy and internet access come the responsibilities of being a digital citizen.* Each of our digital interactions produce data about ourselves and our networks, which both informs our personal experiences online and actively shapes the future of the internet as a community.
* Digital citizen: individuals who use the internet regularly.
As the network of the internet and connected devices grows, these new links have the potential to both strengthen and destabilize the network as a whole. This is often referred to as the network paradox.* Digital citizenship* is about developing the tools and skills necessary to be an active member of the rapidly evolving internet ecosystem. It empowers people to not only be conscientious users of technology, but creators of a digital future which is inclusive and enhances rather than weakens the protection and delivery of their rights.
* Digital citizenship: the idea of developing the tools and skills necessary to be an active member of the rapidly evolving internet ecosystem.
* Network paradox: the idea that joining a network can either strengthen the network or make it more vulnerable. It either empowers and givers the users independence or quite the opposite.
In this way, digital citizenship is an antidote to the network paradox, because it promotes practices which strengthen both the social and technical or informational security of the internet.
Digital citizenship encompasses several components including our social interactions and ethical values as well as our digital hygiene.
Digital citizenship: education, security, activism
This section will break down digital citizenship into three components: education, security, and activism. Each of these elements help to strengthen privacy rights by creating the conditions for informed consent and enabling more equal terms of participation for internet users. The internet should be a safe and inspiring place for everyone who wishes to use it. Reflecting on and changing our own practices as digital citizens is one step to making the network as a whole stronger.
Digital rights and policy issues can often feel intimidating and give the impression that extensive technical knowledge is required to speak about it. This is a problem because it excludes citizens from conversations which profoundly impact their day to day lives as well as the future of our societies. In order to build an inclusive digital future, it is essential that a diversity of perspectives and experiences be represented in the development of technologies themselves as well as the policies which govern their functionality and data use. Doing so will help to prevent automated inequality which arises from embedded bias in tech and the resulting data discrimination.
As digitization transforms the social, political, and economic spheres, making sure digital citizens have the information and tools necessary to be included and benefit from these developments is key to dismantling existing social inequalities and moving towards greater equity. Raising public awareness and digital literacy levels is, therefore, crucial to achieving a culture of digital inclusion and security for all because our increasingly digital world will only be as inclusive, accessible, and diverse as the group shaping its development.
Improving your online privacy does not have to be a complicated and tiresome endeavour. There are many steps you can take to ensure that your personal information and data are not (or at the very least, less) accessible to those who you don’t want to share it with. Taking ownership over your data is in and of itself an act of claiming your privacy rights and personal autonomy because it allows you to have control of the information you do and don’t share with the world, giving you the ability to shape your identity online however you choose. Check out the #TalkBackToTech section for ideas on how you can protect your privacy online.
In recent years, a number of revelations have exposed many nefarious uses of technology and digital practices embedded in governance and business models alike which fundamentally undermine citizens’ human rights. While these moments have demonstrated that current practices deeply and systemically violate individuals’ privacy, misappropriate data, and even threaten to undermine social values such as democracy, it is not the time to lose hope. Some suggest that we have become privacy nihilists and that the fight for digital rights has already been lost, but to accept this and become complacent is what actually constitutes defeat. Rather than providing discouragement, moments such as the Snowden and Facebook/Cambridge Analytica revelations should be calls to action for internet users.
The power of big tech companies is undeniable, but it is dependent on users’ continued support and compliance with their practices. As internet users we can and should demand better from those we share our data with. And where changes to respect users’ rights aren’t made, we should consider revoking our support.
The internet and its various platforms are communities and users are its citizens; much like if we disagree with a policy or action of our government in Canada, we can contact our representative, freely voice concerns, and campaign for changes with success we should be able to do the same with our online communities. Following from this idea, we want to encourage you to be an active digital citizen and #TalkBacktoTech.
For Further Reading:
- State of Digital Literacy in Canada
- Use, Understand & Create: A Digital Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools
- The Social Network Paradox
- The Paradox of Power in the Network Age