We've all become accustomed to the convenience and ease with which we connect to the Internet; to order food, link up with friends, get directions, research a product, post a selfie and even pay for coffee. It is a part of our social fabric, our culture and an important part of our kids' education. As President Obama recently said, "The Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity." With this in mind, we all need to take responsibility for creating a safe and welcoming online environment for everyone. Part of being a good citizen is being a good digital citizen. What does that take? Who is responsible? How can you help? Here are some suggestions for what you can do to make cyberspace a place for the whole family, and our extended community, to enjoy.
One Goal, A Shared Responsibility
We can all agree that we'd prefer for all interactions online to be positive, but that is just not the case. So what can be done? First, large social media companies need to be a part of the solution. Many have systems in place that discourage bad behavior on their platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and others include programs to combat online bullying, harassment and troll behavior.
However, these systems only work if users know how to use them. Parents should educate themselves on the safety tools put in place by any social media platform that they themselves, or their kids are using. Make sure your teens know them, too.
Show Restraint When Sharing
The whole world does not need to know every moment of your day. You don't need to live-tweet your every move or share every photo of your adorable dog. After awhile, it's only cute to you. Share true highlights, not every detail of your life. Encourage your teens to follow this advice as well.
Also, be mindful of the digital footprint you are leaving to your child. Do you really need to share that bathtub photo with the world? Will your future teen appreciate that when they take control of their online presence? Think about what might later be embarrassing to your son or daughter. There are ways to share photos and posts with a select few. Employ the select audience features on social media, especially when sharing news, photos or stories about your children.
Complement, Don't Replace Face-to-Face Interactions with Technology
It is wonderful that the Internet offers us the ability to stay in touch with loved ones all over the globe. But don't use technology in place of seeing those you can in person. Don't text when you can call. Don't only follow someone on Facebook if you could just as easily meet him or her for coffee. Use technology as one, but not the only way, to stay connected.
Shut Down the Bullies
There is a lot of negativity online. Insults are hurled, sometimes anonymously, at celebrities, athletes, politicians, our neighbors and our kids. Each and every one of us needs to take action against the trolling. Call out the bad actors. If you see someone bullying online, or spouting rumors, or just generally being negative towards someone, say something. To steal from Albert Einstein, the Internet could become a cesspool of negativity "not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Ensure that loved ones are connecting safely, especially novices like seniors unfamiliar with digital technologies or toddlers who are handed down devices from older siblings. Use resources like Techboomers that are designed with seniors in mind. Remember to set parental controls on devices as you hand them over to younger children and offer age-appropriate content for each of your kids.
Being a good digital citizen requires that each and every one of us who uses and benefits from the connected world take ownership of it's culture and climate. Remember to be your best self online and encourage others to behave with thoughtfulness and kindness online.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.