Digital Citizenship: What’s Your Approach?

By Glenn Brown, Chief Digital Officer, Obama Foundation

Last time I posted here, I called for your help with the Obama Foundation’s work on digital citizenship, about what it means to be a good citizen online.

The original promise of the Internet was one of openness, inclusion, and a great leveling of opportunity to be heard — and with all that, a healthy, genuine competition between different points of view.

Going online was supposed to help us learn across differences, to face challenging new information, and to connect with people from wildly diverse geographic, cultural, and ideological backgrounds — in a way pre-digital life never could.

Instead, “we now have a situation in which everybody’s listening to people who already agree with them,” President Obama said in a conversation with young people at the University of Chicago this April. Nearly everyone with a connected device knows how easy it is to “reinforc[e] their own realities, to the neglect of a common reality that allows us to have a healthy debate and then try to find common ground and actually move solutions forward,” in President Obama’s words.

These are big challenges, and the solutions aren’t self-evident. So, where to begin? We figure that the first step is simply to identify the problems and talk about them — openly, together, via the very same channels that, when used without intention and awareness, help create the dysfunction in the first place.

Here are a few simple thought-starters. Respond through our site, share your thoughts on social media with #DigitalCitizen, or create your own original content and share it with us. We might revise or expand them over time — feel free to pose your own questions back.

  1. Who’s a model of digital citizenship in your world? Why?
  2. What habits do you want to change about your online life? What practices would you recommend for others? What’s one simple thing you could do to improve your “digital health”?
  3. What people or organizations do you think exemplify digital citizenship when it comes to questions of embracing difference — of thought, identity, or any other variable that you value?

To get things moving, here’s my response to the first questions, for starters: A person who I think exemplifies online citizenship is Zeynep Tufekci. Zeynep takes care to explain complex technical issues to nontechnical people in an accessible way. She brings both her personal and professional experience to meaty topics of public interest — particularly at the intersection of security, democracy, and technology — without making or taking things personally. She’s an academic with a fierce practical streak. And even when being most emphatic, she does it with a sense of humor and humility.

Your turn. Write to us directly or drop a thought on the social channel of your choice. Add your voice.