Are you a good digital citizen?

IoUC emphasizes a specific theme each month. In October, we’re focusing on digital citizenship. Share stories and information about digital citizenship by tweeting out the urls with the hashtag #IoUCDigCit.

The basic guidelines to being a good citizen are pretty simple. Obey rules and laws. Respect and be kind to other people. Take responsibility for your actions.

This concept of citizenship is as old as humanity itself. But it only took a few brief years during the early-mid 1990s for that ages-old concept to change completely. On the morning of August 6, 1991, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, publicized the World Wide Web project. Then on April 30, 1993 CERN put the World Wide Web software in the public domain. And on October 24, 1995, the now defunct Federal Networking Council, which was a research forum for federal agencies, defined the term Internet.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Internet – and the various technologies it spawned and continues to spawn – have forever altered how we think of citizenship. Before the Internet, people had always been citizens of a physical community – a clan, a tribe, a neighborhood, a town, state or country. Suddenly, the Internet and technology turned everyone with online access into citizens of a wired and virtual digital world community. What’s more, this brave new world lacked a traditional governing or social structure at any level. Without warning, much of the planet’s population found itself facing a never-before contemplated new responsibility that is one of the most compelling examples of the Internet of Unintended Consequences: digital citizenship.

What does that term mean and what are our responsibilities as digital citizens?

Dr. Mike Ribble has dedicated his life to answering these questions. Ribble, who lives in Manhattan, Kan., is a pioneer in researching and defining digital citizenship. He applies his findings to helping people understand “how we can all interact together using technology.” He is doing that through the website Digital Citizenship ( Ribble created the website in 2007 as the result of a multi-year dissertation project after he first heard the term in 2003 from Dr. Gerald Bailey and saw a paper that Bailey and a previous doctoral student had done before that. At the time, Ribble was a graduate assistant to Bailey, a professor of educational leadership with a specialty in technology, at Kansas State University. “The moment I heard about it, I knew that was a space where I wanted to be,” Ribble said.

Ribble, who has earned international recognition as a digital citizenship expert, defines digital citizenship as the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use. He also created and defined nine elements of digital citizenship (, which he lists on the site. The definition of digital citizenship and the nine elements are purposely broad. “I wanted to create a definition of digital citizenship that was flexible enough to give people the ability to fit being a digital citizen into their needs,” Ribble said. “I wanted them to be able to understand digital citizenship in a way that would help them interact using technology.”

Ribble’s background is in education and technology and his work through has focused largely on education. In fact, school districts across the country and educational conferences both in the United States and internationally have hired him to give presentations on digital citizenship. He has authored and co-authored two books, a book chapter, 20 published articles, and the Pew Internet and Life Project asked him to serve on a core panel to provide insight for a digital citizenship research study Pew conducted. Frank Gallagher, a specialist in educational technology and vice president of the Cable Impacts Foundation, which is dedicated to social responsibility in the cable industry, even dubbed him the godfather of digital citizenship.

True to his broad definition of digital citizenship, Ribble is applying this still-new term – he says it’s only been in common use about 10 years – beyond secondary and college classrooms. He participated in a panel discussion on “Neighborhood Governance A Plan for the Future” at the World Futures Conference in San Francisco in July. The session focused on setting the framework to integrate Digital Citizenship into communities through what Ribble calls mobile collaborative governance. “The hope is to create civil discourse among community members in this new mobile, online world in which many belong,” he wrote in a blog post about the panel discussion ( “We see this as a first step into a larger discussion of where Digital Citizenship could become part of a larger discussion in society.”

With a lack of civility in so much online discourse, that is a good discussion to be having!


Tom Older





Other resources for information about digital citizenship can be found at:

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Dr. Mike Ribble will be our guest on this month’s IoUC blog talk radio show Oct. 15, 2015 at 1:00 pm EST. Look for the show on the radio section of the IoUC site after the 15th or join us live at

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