Neptune Navigate Blog

Tips for online safety, security, and responsible digital citizenship for parents, kids, and families.

Digital Citizenship Matters

March 15, 2023

We are living and teaching in the digital age.  No longer are we limited to news from only three local stations. Students aren’t restricted to accessing information from the library only during school hours.  The phones they carry with them 24/7 give them access to news outlets worldwide. Google, Siri, and Alexa patiently wait to answer all of our most mundane questions.  In 2023, one thing our students don’t lack is access to information.  

That unlimited access to information can be a blessing and a curse. It’s our job as educators to teach them how to navigate this digital landscape.  In 1947,  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh the evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.” That was true in 1947, and it is even more true today.

A good digital citizen develops skills that enable them to use the internet and digital technology effectively and responsibly. They engage and contribute to the world in positive and meaningful ways. And these skills must be taught.  Most students can use all the digital tools available to them for entertainment without any direct instruction from us; however, they do need direct instruction in digital/media literacy, privacy protection, digital communication, digital law, and digital health and wellness. 

Let’s start with digital and media literacy.  When our research was confined to a school or public library, it was easy to differentiate the fiction section from the nonfiction section.  The Internet makes determining fact from fiction a formidable challenge.  In 2016 the Stanford History Education Group released their study, which reported, “when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they (students) are easily duped.”  

BBC News reported in 2022 that Instagram was the most popular news source among young people, and TikTok and YouTube came in a close second and third.  Navigating the digital world well means that we have to teach students how to analyze and evaluate sources.  As Dr. King said, we must teach students to “discern the true from the false.”

Nothing online is really free.  While it seems like we can create social media accounts, connect with an unlimited number of friends and family, and never send the social media company any money, that doesn’t mean it’s free.  We are paying with our personal information.  Students are the most vulnerable in this situation.  Some social media apps require users to scan the back of their driver’s license in order to create an account or require the user to give the app access to the user’s contacts.  Giving away personally identifiable information or the phone number of everyone in your contact list to tech companies and not having any control over how that information will be used is an invasion of privacy.  We must teach students early on how to protect their privacy online.

Digital communication is not a skill that digital natives come into the world knowing.  In the same way that many of us were taught in a high school typing class how to construct a formal business letter, students today need to know how to communicate effectively in various digital formats.  How one communicates in a text message differs greatly from how one would communicate in a cover letter for a resume. 

Many companies today use some type of digital communication platform. Almost every day, there are news reports regarding employees fired because of things they posted in what they thought was a private company chat channel.  The first lesson in digital communication we must teach students is that everything is permanent and nothing is ever private.

It’s interesting that we spend a great deal of time teaching students about traffic laws before they are given a driver’s license, but we don’t tell them about some very important rules that govern the digital world.  For example, online impersonation is illegal in most states.  Teens often think creating a social media account pretending to be a classmate is funny.  The purpose of this fake account is often to bully or harass the other student.  Doing this in some states violates two laws – online impersonation and online harassment.  

Every state in the US has laws regarding cyberbullying.  Each state handles cyberbullying differently, but it’s in the best interest of everyone to be aware of the laws in their state.  The Cyberbullying Research Center ( is a great resource for learning how your state addresses cyberbullying.

Students do not intuitively know how to protect their mental health from the damages that seem to be inherent in social media.  They need to know how to set boundaries.  They need strategies for dealing with cyberbullies, and they need to know that the number of likes, follows, and streaks do not determine their worth as a human being. 

Educators have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help students become responsible digital citizens.  As we use technology in our classrooms more and more every day, there are opportunities where we can model responsible use of technology and encourage students to use all the technology to impact their community in positive and productive ways.