Introduction

Hello and welcome to the Digital Citizenship Toolkit.

Have you ever wondered if your phone is listening to you? Do you ever look to the Internet for the answer to a question, and hours later, find that you are more confused than before? Have you argued with a friend or relative about a meme? Have you been tempted to share your own thoughts and feelings online, but resisted for fear of trolls? This book delves into these issues and more.

Finding What You’re Looking For

If you spend any time at all plugged into the digital realm, whether through social media apps, streaming services, or websites, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content that exists – you can scroll all you want, but you’ll never reach the end of the Internet.

All of that content, from the silliest YouTube video to the most serious news reports, has to be critically evaluated by you, the viewer. When you engage with the digital world, are you able to find the answers to your questions? When there are a thousand different responses to the same event, how do you know who to trust? Can you identify whose voice is missing? These are some of the components that make up digital literacy, the topic of Chapter 1.

Same As It Ever Was

It can feel like every day there’s a new factor to take into account when engaging with digital technology, from identity theft to facial recognition technology, election hacking to government censorship.

As much as the digital world feels very different than anything that has existed before, we can also learn a lot from the past. In Chapter 2, we examine modes of communication through history. For each new form of media that has been invented, there have been positive and negative impacts on society. How has knowledge spread around the world? What role did the printing press (and later, television and Twitter) play in revolution? How have governments and corporations sought to control access to the means to produce and share information?

Protecting Yourself Online

It’s become an increasingly common practice to cover the webcam of computers with a sticky note, with the idea that at any time the camera could be watching. In Chapter 3, we examine how our devices track us through things like cookies, permissions, and device fingerprinting. We also look at ways to protect your privacy and security online, helping you decode the terms of service for your apps and devices, and learn to encrypt your communication and strengthen your passwords.

What we say online can have many real world consequences, good and bad. Cleverly curated Instagram accounts, hilarious blogs, and well-made YouTube videos have gotten their creators sponsorships, record deals, and publishing contracts. Tasteless jokes on Twitter and offensive posts on Facebook have caused some people to lose their jobs or get kicked out of school. Looking to join the conversation online? We provide an introduction to concepts like defamation, slander, and libel. We also review harassment and cyberbullying and how to protect your mental health when engaging online.

Whose Voices Are Heard?

When you do a search on the Internet, you might receive millions of hits. While it can often seem like all the information that has ever existed can be found online, there are in fact many gaps and omissions. In Chapter 4, we explore whose voices are heard online and whose are ignored or silenced.

When you find a piece of information online, how do you determine the context for that information? What viewpoint is being represented? Is there a dominant worldview that is being used to exclude other minority opinions? Are you more likely to accept something as true if it aligns with what you already believe? Do you understand the systems that underlie the search results you see? How does geography, race, gender, economic status and other factors impact the access to information?  If “knowledge is power,” how can we begin to ensure power is distributed more equitably?

Breaking Open the Black Box

A search engine like Google is considered a black box, meaning that the ways in which it works are not visible to the user. We don’t really know how it generates a list of results to a search query or how they are ranked. Because of that, it’s even more imperative that we think about the ways in which we evaluate the information that search engines provide. In Chapter 5 we review what we do know about how Google and its competitors function, with explanations of concepts such as spiders and search engine optimization. We also provide a fact-checking toolkit for evaluating the pages returned in search results. Learn how to check who owns a domain name, execute reverse image searches, and verify the accuracy of claims.

Stepping into a Scholarly Conversation

The goal for this book is not just to help you become a better consumer of information, but to empower you to take an active role online. How can you shape the conversation? What do you have to contribute and where? In Chapter 6, we take you through finding a space to participate and become confident in sharing your opinions with a larger audience.

By the end of this book you will have learned how to find and evaluate information, think critically about the production of digital content, protect your privacy and your digital identity, and finally become an active and responsible participant in conversations online – all the skills necessary to being a good digital citizen. We hope you enjoy!

 

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Digital Citizenship Toolkit by Edited by Michelle Schwartz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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