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Digital Citizenship Lessons from the Summer of 2016

I have advocated in favor of Digital Citizenship education on this platform in the past. With all that I have seen this summer, I feel the need to make another plea for educators, our public schools and our institutions to invest in digital literacy for all. We are just over half-way through the summer months but the digital transgressions are plentiful: plagiarism, unauthorized use of music, email hacks, adults behaving irresponsibly on social media, and teens sharing their passwords freely. For parents who want to open a dialogue about responsible use of technology, here’s your chance, there’s plenty to choose from below.

Lesson 1: You Are What You (Re)Tweet

Over the course of the Presidential campaign Donald Trump has tweeted or re-tweeted unsubstantiated rumors, racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic comments. On occasions he has tried to abdicate liability and unapologetically state that he only ‘re-tweeted’ something and therefore bares no responsibility for the tweets’ truthfulness or offensiveness. This is ridiculous, especially from an adult. Re-tweeting is giving credence, promotion and support to a comment. If you re-tweet something, you are endorsing it. It is the definition of cyberbullying, allowing something hurtful or harmful to continue on by liking, re-posting and continuing the chain. The difficulty for those trying to teach good digital habits is that Mr. Trump does use the new medium very effectively to connect with his supporters and get attention. He is savvy in his manipulation of social media platforms. What we need to continue to hold him accountable for is not the use of the medium to connect with his audience, but the inappropriate messages he creates or shares. We need to remind those watching, especially children, that you need to take ownership and be mindful of everything you post, like, re-tweet, and share on social media because it is a permanent and public reflection on you.

Lesson 2: Don’t Share Your Password, Even with Cute Celebrities

The number one way to protect yourself online is to use, and keep private, strong passwords. It is so fundamental I almost skim over this in my presentations to students. I assume they already learned this lesson and discussing it again would make me lose some credibility when trying to connect with teens. I was wrong. All it took was one cute Internet celebrity to roll back our online safety progress to step one. Once someone gets access to your accounts your privacy is violated, identity could be stolen, digital reputation damaged, credit cards accessed, whereabouts traced and on and on. So here it is again: Never share your passwords with anyone (other than your parents), ever! Not a best friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, online acquaintance, or superstar. Ever.

Lesson 3: Some Conversations Should Not Be Conducted Electronically. Period.

The Democratic National Committee email scandal (and the Sony email scandal before it) should remind us all not take our privacy online for granted. This should also serve as a reminder that some conversations, discussions and arguments should not be conducted over the Internet. I am not suggesting that it is okay to scheme, conspire and trash people as long as it is done offline, but be extra careful about what you say and do online. Every off handed remark, inflammatory accusation and derogatory statement could be broadcast beyond your intention and will be forever electronically tied to your profile (Refer to Lesson 1).

Lesson 4: Not Everything Online is Yours For the Taking

This summer, adults are the ones who need to be reminded about the issues with plagiarism and unauthorized use of copyrighted material. Today we have access online to countless creative works, academic projects, photos, music, movies and speeches. It is so easy to cut and paste, download and copy that we sometimes forget to respect the intellectual property of others. Piracy, plagiarism and copyright violations are too plentiful online. There are several resources to help you learn how to cite, request permission and respect intellectual property. Here’s one from Common Sense Media.

Lesson 5: Don’t Shame Bad Online Behavior with More Bad Online Behavior

Parenting kids online can be overwhelming and frustrating. Too often however, parents are part of the problem. There have been parents who use fake online profiles to stalk and bully their children’s ex-friends. In July, a mother used Facebook Live to broadcast her physically disciplining her daughter for questionable online behavior. This is not the first example of a parent publicly shaming their child on social media. As parents, we need to be better digital role models for our kids. You cannot teach a child to use social media responsibly by using it irresponsibly. That’s parenting 101: set the example for how you want your kids to behave, they learn from what you do and not what you say.

Lesson 6: Augmented is Different than Virtual

Pokémon Go exploded on to the scene this summer with an app that uses GPS tracking and your phone’s camera to superimpose game elements over real-life surroundings. The problem is that people are so engrossed in the game as they ‘try to catch them all’ that ignore the realities of their surroundings. They are putting themselves in real danger because they are distracted by their virtual search. So while using this game, or any device for that matter, remember to look up and be aware of your surroundings. Do not (all done using Pokémon Go): drive while playing, trespass on private property, leave a toddler unattended, walk in to oncoming traffic, be drawn somewhere unfamiliar and dangerous, be disrespectful to sites of worship or generally allow your tech to distract you from reality.

The digital lessons from this summer are plentiful. In order for our kids to use technology responsibly, adults need to set a better example and everyone needs to remember not to allow technology to distract us from reality or provide a screen for us to behave badly.

Denise Lisi DeRosa is the founder of Cyber Sensible, an expert in online safety, digital citizenship and a frequent speaker on parenting in the digital age. This article was originally published on Huffington Post.

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