As with everything there is balance. There needs to be an interaction of our two sides, our digital life and our real life. As our lives become overwhelmingly influenced by our digital interaction, we need a new set of rules to guide our behaviors.

It’s easy to lose touch with humanity when engaging with an online community, but being a digital citizenship means having empathy in all that we do. Having empathy is important in any context. However, in our real lives there are many more cues to guide our behaviors and to signal if there is an issue (facial cues, head nodding, a smile). Reading the written word can make it difficult to judge emotions in a digital environment. Online, systems have attempted to help—think emojis—but the lack of direct contact can make this process more difficult. This means communicating in a digital world requires more thought and time to consider the impact of our words, pictures, and videos.

To assist in this process, there are three focus points to help users of digital media practice good behaviors that can make them more empathetic and conscientious online and off.

Respect. Think of respect as a two-way street. Keep others in mind as well as yourself. When working toward empathy, we must think about the needs of others even before our own.

  • Be polite to others, even when they are not always polite themselves. Make sure that when you are online, you include others whenever possible, even if they are not connected to digital devices.
  • Remember that laws/policies/procedures that have been created to protect you and to help others. Without these it would be difficult for anyone to be productive.
  • Give others your attention. Some stores have signs that say that they will be willing to help you once you are done with conversations with others on your device. Your time is important, but so is theirs.
  • Remember that illegal downloading does affect others. It is not just the big record/movie companies that it hurts, but many others working in those industries. If you wouldn’t walk out of a convenience store with a candy bar, why would you download something that you had not paid to use?
  • Digital citizenship is about character and how you want to be seen by others. Do you want to be known as a good person? How will you show this to others?

Next page: How to stay safe online