Digital Citizenship


Information Systems; Digital Media; Privacy


Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms of appropriate, legal, and ethical behavior with regard to the use of information technology in a person's civic and social life. Digital citizenship is a unique phenomenon of the digital age, reflecting the growing importance of digital literacy, digital commerce, and information technology in global culture.



Digital citizenship can be defined as the norms and rules of behavior for persons using digital technology in commerce, political activism, and social communication. A person's digital citizenship begins when they engage with the digital domain, for instance, by beginning to use a smartphone or e-mail. However, digital citizenship exists on a spectrum based on an individual's level of digital literacy. This can be defined as their familiarity with the skills, jargon, and behaviors commonly used to communicate and conduct commerce with digital tools.


Educational theorist Marc Prensky suggested that the modern human population can be divided into two groups. Digital natives were raised in the presence of digital technology. They learned how to use it in childhood. They absorbed the basics of digital citizenship during their early development. Digital immigrants were born before the digital age or have limited access to technology. They adapt to digital technology and communication later in life. Given the growing importance of digital technology, educators and social scientists believe that teaching children and adults to use digital technology safely and ethically is among the most important goals facing modern society.

Digital communication enables people to have relationships online or on mobile devices. The degree to which these digital relationships affect IRL relationships, or those that occur “in real life,” is an important facet of digital citizenship. For instance, research suggests that people who spend more time communicating through smartphones or who feel they need constant access to digital media have more difficulty forming and maintaining IRL relationships. Good digital citizenship can help people use digital technology in positive ways that do not detract from their IRL relationships and well-being.

Good digital citizens know and understand the nine themes of digital citizenship.

Good digital citizens know and understand the nine themes of digital citizenship. These themes address appropriate ways of interacting with the technology, information, government, companies, and other citizens that comprise the digital world.
EBSCO illustration.

In Digital Citizenship in Schools, educational theorist Mike Ribble outlines nine core themes that characterize digital citizenship. These themes are: digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security. They address appropriate ways of interacting with the technology, information, government, companies, and other citizens in the digital world. Ribble writes that well-adjusted digital citizens help others become digitally literate. They strive to make the digital domain harmonious and culturally beneficial.

Plagiarizing content from digital sources,

Hacking (gaining unauthorized access to computer networks or systems),

Sending unwanted communications and spam messages, and

Creating and spreading destructive viruses, worms, and malware.

Such behaviors violate others' rights and so are considered unethical, illegal, or both.


The rights and responsibilities of digital citizenship differ by political environment. In the United States, individuals have the right to free speech and expression. They also have a limited right to digital privacy. The ownership of digital data is an evolving subject in US law.

One responsibility of digital citizenship is to learn about potential dangers, both social and physical, and how to avoid them. These include identity theft, cyberstalking, and cyberbullying. Strong digital security can help protect one's identity, data, equipment, and creative property. Surge protectors, antivirus software, and data backup systems are some of the tools digital citizens use to enhance their digital security. Though the digital world is a complex, rapidly evolving realm, advocates argue that the rules of digital citizenship can be reduced to a basic concept: respect oneself and others when engaging in digital life.

—Micah L. Issitt

McNeill, Erin. “Even ‘Digital Natives’ Need Digital Training.” Education Week. Editorial Projects in Education, 20 Oct 2015. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Ribble, Mike. Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know. Eugene: Intl. Soc. for Technology in Education, 2015. Print.

Saltman, Dave. “Tech Talk: Turning Digital Natives into Digital Citizens.” Harvard Education Letter 27.5 (2011): n. pag. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.

Wells, Chris. The Civic Organization and the Digital Citizen: Communicating Engagement in a Networked Age. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. Print.