October 13, 2017

Are You Practicing Ethical Digital Citizenship?


Are You Practicing Ethical Digital Citizenship?

Last week, I attended a talk by Richard Guerry, the founder of Institute for Responsible Online and Cellphone Communication (IROC2), at my son’s middle school.  All seventh-grade students and their parents were required to attend this very timely and vitally important presentation.  Mr. Guerry educated the audience on the very simple fact that once information has been put into the digital space, it is public and permanent, whether or not you believe or are told otherwise.  In today’s era, my children, not unlike their peers, are increasingly the target audience for new games, applications, and software that can be downloaded with the quick click of a button on a smartphone.   There is a fallacy that spreads.  It goes something like this….”Mom, Snapchat only shows a picture for a quick bit and then disappears, never to be seen again.”  The reality, of course, is that the picture will always be accessible if one possessed the desire to locate it. Ethical digital citizenship is the appropriate, responsible, and ETHICAL behavior of technology use.

IROC2 states that we should have a mantra of digital citizenship and consciousness.  This includes:

  • “I am aware of the personal and global issues caused by digital ignorance and irresponsibility, and I am committed to cultivating good citizenship for myself, my family and my global community by using my digital tools with a Digital Consciousness.
  • I am aware that poor digital judgment betrays my ancestors, my parents, my community and my future generations, and I will strive to eliminate the violence, fear, anger, ignorance and confusion stemming from digital abuse by understanding, practicing and communicating the mindset that my digital activity is public and permanent.

While I sat and listened to Mr. Guerry’s words of wisdom, it was clear that ethical digital citizenship and consciousness requires every single person using an electronic device to “always do the right thing.”  Social media, website chats, emails, texts and more can be reproduced for a malicious purpose.  However, if a person is focused on ethical vigilance, there is no concern about a leak in privacy or images because there would be nothing unethical or inappropriate in the first place!

The challenge of ethics in the digital age is equally relevant within the public and corporate sector.  As artificial intelligence advances, some technology leaders, such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, have led discussions about the potentially disastrous effects of super-intelligent AI.  Some experts say that there is a risk associated when complex and serious decisions are outsourced to digital systems whose operation we still do not fully understand, yet which seem to be vulnerable to “embodying the worst of humanity’s pre-existing biases and prejudices.”  “DeepMind announces ethics group to focus on problems of AI”  The Guardian, Mark Hern, October 4, 2017.

Ryan Calo and Kate Crawford, two researchers, wrote in Nature: “Auto­nomous systems are already deployed in our most crucial social institutions, from hospitals to courtrooms. Yet there are no agreed methods to assess the sustained effects of such applications on human populations.”

So, how do we put a reign on technology advancement and maintain some semblance of ethical living?  I believe we should promote ethical digital citizenship and consciousness within ourselves and our public and corporate sectors.  Kaveh Waddell writes in The Atlantic that “Technology is evolving faster than the legal and moral frameworks needed to manage it.The Internet of Things Needs a Code of Ethics, The Atlantic, May 1, 2017.  As individuals, it is our responsibility to balance individual privacy with the potential for any social good of our connected devices that can share data with one another.

Here are 9 tips by Mike Ribble that each person can employ to strive for ethical digital citizenship.

  1. Digital Access – we need to be committed to make sure that no one is denied digital access for equal digital rights.
  2. Digital Commerce – we need to understand that a large share of market economy is being done electronically and, thus, we need to be effective consumers.
  3. Digital Communication – we need to learn how to make appropriate decisions in communication given the ever-expanding options to collaborate and interact with anyone from anywhere at any time.
  4. Digital Literacy – A renewed focus must be made on what technologies must be taught in schools as well as how it should be used.
  5. Digital Etiquette – it is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens practicing digital etiquette (ie appropriate conduct) in this new society.
  6. Digital Law – we must maintain electronic responsibility for our actions and deeds. There must be an ethical use of technology within our society.
  7. Digital Rights & Responsibilities – each citizen has the right to privacy, free speech and more. But with these rights, come great responsibility that must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the digital world.
  8. Digital Health & Wellness – each digital user needs to be taught that there are inherent dangers, both physical and mental, of technology through education and training.
  9. Digital Security (self-protection) – we must protect our information from outside forces that might cause disruption or harm.

What efforts are you making in your personal and professional lives to practice ethical digital citizenship?


Rashmi Airan‘s mission is to share the need for ethical vigilance and to inspire you to make good ethical choices in all areas of your life. Rashmi is an ethics speaker and consultant fighting to create a culture of conversation and bring ethical issues in business to light, to promote integrity, to enhance commitment to fiduciary duty, to build ethical leadership, and to shift the paradigm of ethics standards through ethics training.

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