Rights and Responsibilities of Digital Citizens

I was still in high school when the Canadian constitution was patriated and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms became a fundamental part of law in 1982. More than a decade after the Charter was introduced, I began exploring the concept of citizenship with Grade 8 students. I remember feeling at the time that we had shifted to a society focused on our rights, but had lost some of the the understanding our corresponding responsibilities. There seemed to be a gap in understanding about the basic tenants of membership.

To address this perceived gap, I used the Discover Canada resource and spent much time discussing how fulfilling our responsibilities might "look" in our school and in our community. My hope was to inspire students to begin to get involved in citizenship on a deeper level, to increase volunteerism, to understand the rights of others. But with the idea of rights so firmly entrenched in the culture of these young learners and with limited time spent on this concept, I felt I only scratched the surface of our responsibilities as citizens.


As the space in which students now "live" has moved into a digital world, the concept of citizenship has once again been on my mind. And a familiar pattern is emerging as I see examples of users/citizens, both young and old, not fully understanding the responsibilities associated with membership. This time around it feels as though the rights have a clear victory over the responsibilities.

This digital world has been dubbed the Wild, Wild, West for its lack of supervision and rules. In in the eight years since I had a parent first come to me with a concern about bullying through texting, I have seen little change in how we teach citizens about communication in these new spaces. With minimal emphasis placed on rights and responsibilities, inappropriate online behaviour is not hidden in dark corners, but is too often part our daily interactions. And our youth are especially vulnerable to this.

So I wonder: What are the criteria for citizenship in this new frontier? What are the rights and responsibilities in online spaces? To help make sense of this, I turned to Mike Ribble's book, Digital Citizenship for Schools, where he identifies nine elements of digital citizenship, including Digital Rights and Responsibilities:

"Just as in the American Constitution where there is a Bill of Rights, there is a basic set of rights extended to every digital citizen. Digital citizens have the right to privacy, free speech, etc. Basic digital rights must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the digital world. With these rights also come responsibilities as well. Users must help define how the technology is to be used in an appropriate manner. In a digital society these two areas must work together for everyone to be productive." 

Before planning to teach these rights and responsibilities, I thought it might first be interesting to ask a larger audience to help me identify the "etc." part of Ribble's statement above.

In addition to the right to privacy and free speech, what other rights and responsibilities do we have in a digital world?

I invite your comments.


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