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Engaged Digital Citizenship


In my quest for the holy grail of knowledge; how individuals, community-based projects and digital technologies can positively facilitate each other, I am researching ‘engaged digital citizenship’.  To truly understand how individuals can become digital citizens, I am looking at the policies and research on the subjects of engaged digital citizenship, including digital communications, digital literacies and digital health and well-being. By being acutely aware of the themes of Digital Citizenship, I can gauge better the successfulness of a digital praxis in a community-led project.

Digital Citizen

Digital citizen refers to a person utilizing information technology (IT) in order to engage in society, politics, and government participation 1.  However, there can be different levels of engagement with digital technologies. In 2007, K. Mossberger et al, came to describe digital citizens as those who use the Internet regularly and effectively [K. Mossberger, et al 2011]. A digital citizen is not, however, someone who just uses digital technologies, but has an awareness and ability to self-determine and self-educate of the potential positive and negative connotations of being online.

Digital Citizenship

The social and economic impact of technology is widespread and accelerating. The speed and volume of information have increased exponentially. Experts are predicting that 90% of the entire population will be connected to the internet within 10 years. [Park 2016].

Mike Ribble, an American educator who, in collaboration with Dr. Gerald Bailey, has written prolifically on the topic of digital citizenship, defines digital citizenship as

an understanding of human, cultural, and societal issues related to technology and practice legal and ethical behaviour. [Good digital citizens] advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology; exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity; demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning; [and] exhibit leadership for digital citizenship [Ribble & Bailey, 2007].

It’s clear that digital citizenship is considered as different things by different people, and many people equate it with online safety, as well as something that is mainly for young students, or millennials. Figure 1 displays a diagram of Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship, developed by Ribble.

9 themes of digital citizenship

Figure 1: authors own, adapted from Digital Citizenship Institute2

Active participation and awareness of the pros and cons of virtual living, through these nine themes, are the difference between a digital citizen and an engaged digital citizen.

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Digital Access: full electronic participation in society. Access to all. Access to digital technologies vary greatly. This gap has become known as the ‘Digital Divide’, a term to describe the digital economic and social inequality: in access, education, employment and location. Unfortunately the digital divide is growing greater, as older hardware and software technologies become obsolete in the ever-changing world of digital technologies. Awareness of this digital divide, has resulted in a mass movement of new open-source technologies.

The term “open source” refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible 3. Support for projects, products or initiatives that are open source, are making access possible for people, that previously would have been impossible due to the high capital costs of certain technologies. This can range from hardware access, as in computers in schools and libraries, and alternatives to licensed software such as Apple, Microsoft, and Adobe.

As more publishers, museums and digital archives develop open access repositories, civil society groups user more open source services, and crowdsourced information, and online learning platforms such as Alison and Coursera provide open access education through moodle-style courses, individuals and communities are able to bypass some of the barriers.

shopping basket icon

Digital Commerce: electronic buying and selling of goods. A large amount of business activity is now conducted online; from larger sites such as Amazon and Ebay, that only have a virtual presence and sell a range of consumer items to more local sites with a geographical location, that advertise their services with an online booking facility.

Statistics for 2014 showed that 43% of Irish consumers bought something online last year, while 2.6 million people in Ireland regularly shop online; €4.1bn was spent on online shopping in Ireland in 2012, up from €2.96bn the previous year 4. We have embraced the notion of online shopping wholeheartedly.

As well as having many positive attributes, there is a darker side to e-commerce, that we all must be aware of. There are various forms of finance theft; from  stolen credit cards,  identity theft and phishing (a scam which involves a legitimate looking email asking for account numbers or money transactions). The Dark Net where you can buy a huge range of illegal goods from drugs and weapons to endangered animals. There is some attempt to introduce laws to control illegal buying and  selling online, and safeguard legitimate virtual commerce or e-commerce, but these are slow and difficult to introduce and implement. Awareness of the pros and cons of e-commerce, is essential, and caution is advised whenever you are taking part in a monetary transaction online.

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Digital Communication: electronic exchange of information.  One of the significant changes within the digital revolution is a person’s ability to communicate with other people 5. The ability to engage with one another has not just grown digitally, but has become mobile, through the advent of mobile phones and tablets. Its an anytime, anywhere situation, that has revolutionised communication from being able to work online, to keeping in touch with friends and family who have emigrated.

References are now frequently made to the phenomenon of ‘ubiquitous computing’, or the capacity to connect to the Internet wirelessly from almost any location using mobile digital devices that are small and readily portable [Goggin, 2011].

We have seen in the recent Syrian Crisis, how mobile phones have been the only tool of communication available for those who have had to flee their homes, to stay in contact with their families. Unfortunately, with rise of better access and cheaper hardware, comes with great responsibility. There has been a growth in inappropriate and harmful behaviour such as cyberbullying (causing distress to someone, verbally or visually), trolling (posting deliberately provocative messages, usually anonymously,, with intention of causing argument), and sexting (sending and receiving sexually explicit messages, primarily between mobile phones). Today’s digital citizens are at the mercy of others contempt. Physical and psychological precautions, against these forms of  behaviour are unfortunately necessary.

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Digital Literacy: process of teaching and learning about technology and the its uses.

Digital literacy is a complex and contested term. It is often understood as the ability to participate in a range of critical and creative practices that involve understanding, sharing and creating meaning with different kinds of technology and media.”[FutureLab].

Digital Natives, is the term to describe those who have been born in the digital era, the first generation to grow up surrounded by digital technologies. Digital Immigrants describes those of us who were born pre-digital, but have come to embrace digital technologies. Although Digital Natives may be able to use digital technologies better than Digital Immigrants, it does not mean they are digitally literate, and the need both parties to learn digital literacies is great indeed.

Digital literacies are not solely about technical proficiency but about the issues, norms, and habits of mind surrounding technologies used for a particular purpose.—Doug Belshaw, educational researcher.

New literacies for active digital citizenship are multi-faceted; Web2.0, online participation, citizenship rights, technological capabilities, Internet, social networks, values, norms, being informed, critical attitude, and digital divide are among key issues in interaction of new literacies and digital citizenship [Simsek, Simsek 2013]. The internet, and all it provides, is not a neutral space, and digital tools are not neutral tools; digital literacies includes the ability to critically analysis and contextualise the knowledge and information being accessed.

Searching through Google on digital literacy, provides a wealth of information on digital literacy for the digital natives, delivered through education, however there is little information for digital immigrants. Whereas, we, as these digital immigrants, are the very educators of our children: through parenting, teaching, technology based children’s clubs such as CoderDojo, or TechSpace. It is important to not just be aware, but actively engaged with new digital literacies. To not just be aware of, but practice and guide others in new forms of digital literacies.

Figure 2, below, is a model of Beetham and Sharpe’s (2010) Digital Literacies Framework which was derived to model students’ digital literacies. It highlights how this developmental process relates to digital literacy – from access and functional skills to higher level capabilities. Crucially, it recognises that digital literacies will vary according to context so it also reflects how individuals can be motivated to develop new skills and practices in different situations [JISK, 2016]

digital literacy model

Figure 2: Beetham and Sharpe (2010)

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Digital Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure. Etiquette is defined as the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave’ 7.  Digital etiquette can be defined then as the rules indicating the proper and polite way to behave either in the physical or virtual world. Physical etiquette includes rules such as, not having your phone on during a theatre play or in school, actively ignoring your parents and texting or snapchatting instead. Virtual etiquette has a much bigger problem.

internet troll

As discussed in section 3 on digital communication, behaviours such as trolling or cyberbulling are distressing and harmful. There is an excellent article written by Michael Nuccitelli, Psy.D. is a psychologist and forensic consultant, about trolls, and iPredators on https://darkpsychology.co/internet-trolls/. However, it is not enough to create rules and policy, we must be aware, as an individual, and as part of the online community of any discomfort or harm we either intentionally or unintentionally can cause, in order for us to become responsible digital citizens.

According to a survey by Pew Research Centre, on 2014, 73% of adult internet users have seen someone be harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it [Duggan 2014]. As with digital literacies, most online  information  with regard to digital etiquette is focused on digital natives, rather than digital immigrants. Online social software sites such as Twitter and Facebook, are bringing in new rules and regulations to deal with the growing problems of online harassment. Schools, college, businesses, employers, even parents, can all bring in digital rules and regulations, but awareness of these rules and policies is not enough. Active positive behaviour and a do-no-harm personal policy, will ultimately make each citizen become a responsible digital citizen.

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Digital Law: electronic standards for actions and deeds.

A person’s actual behaviour is directly influenced by his or her behavioural intention and, in turn, is jointly determined by his or her attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioural controls toward performing the behaviour [Yoon, 2011].

Ethical standards vary dramatically, and those who break the law in the physical world, are also more likely to break digital laws. In his research into Digital Piracy, Cheolho Yoon (2011), concluded that in order to break the habit of digital pirating, (and a behavioural cycle), it is desirable to enforce copyright laws and to increase individuals awareness of the potential severity and certainty of punishment. Digital Law deals with a range of digital technologies sectors. Most of these laws are already in place in the the physical world, such as copyright, plagiarizing, stealing: as in information, identity or software theft. A legal framework also exists for anyone involved in e-commerce, online companies must have privacy policies in regards to their customers private information. Digital monetary transactions must be legal and protected.

Exclusive to the web is hacking (unauthorized use of computer and network resources and creating viruses (a software program that, usually downloaded unintentionally, intentionally causes harm to your computer). One aspect that a normally law abiding citizen might be breaking without realising it, is copyright of online work. When doing a search for an image or piece of text , to illustrate a blog, report, review, etc, it is easy to simply do a search online, find an appropriate image or text and use it. Plagiarism isn’t illegal, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. In order to create some new licensing standards, Creative Commons Licensing was created. It goes beyond the ‘all rights reserved’ licence.Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-use copyright licenses to make a simple and standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work–on conditions of your choice. It is worth learning about Creative commons Licensing, which you can read here. (Or even better, read my previous post about metadata, and why you should add metadata to any content you post online).


justice scales icon

Digital Rights and Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world. When we think of digital rights, we tend to think of it in terms of business, such as copyright law. Digital rights management (DRM) is a catch-all term referring to any of several technologies used to enforce pre-defined limitations on the use and transfer of copyrighted digital content; the content most commonly restricted by DRM includes music, visual artwork, computer and video games and movies, but DRM can be applied to any digital content 10. However, apart from the e-commerce aspect, there are very important basic citizen rights being breached by businesses and governments.

quote from albert Einstein information is not knowledge

Organisations such as Digital Rights Ireland (DRI) is dedicated to defending Civil, Human and Legal rights in a digital age. Most laws that already in place deal with economic issues, whereas a digital citizens right to free speech and a right to privacy, might not be protected in law. For example, in 2015 been a hugely significant case, Schrems vs Data Protection Commissioner, of privacy activist Max Schrems, which DRI was a part of, won a judgment which found that the transfer of digital data from the EU to the United States, The Safe Harbour Regime, was illegal [Digital Rights Ireland] Although this was an exceptionally large case, it gives an example of where a legitimate business, in this instance, Facebook, and a government appointed body, the Irish Data Commissioner, were breaching the privacy of individual European citizens.

Basic digital rights must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the digital world [Ribble et all 2007]. There is a danger that the technical artefacts, and the monetary value of the digital industry will be prioritized over the societal implications; we need to prioritize the digital rights of an individual, and the digital responsibilities of those in web based companies, organisations and governments.

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Digital Health and Wellbeing: physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world. Users need to be taught that there are inherent dangers of technology [Ribble et al]. In the plus 27 years since the World Wide Web was first introduced, new physical and psychological issues are coming to light. Physical issues include eye strain, repetitive strain injury, obesity due to lack of exercise. Psychological issues include online addictions from Facebook online gambling to pornography.

Statistics tell us that between 6 and 13% of the general population meets criteria for Internet Addiction. In the college age population, that number stands between 13 and 19%! That’s a lot of young adults who are addicted to digital technology. In S. Korea and China, the problem is growing so rapidly that those governments have declared Internet Addiction to be their #1 public health threat [Cash, 2010].

This infograph, shows some of the statistics of the influence of the internet on our health.

inforgraph about the bad side of the internet in terms of health

However, there is a lighter side, the new phenomenon of digital health; the concept of patient engagement that encourages patients to take up the new digital media technologies to engage in self-monitoring and self-care, or what Deborah Lupton terms ‘the digitally engaged patient’ [Lupton 2013]. Self-monitering, or home care using digital technologies, could change the way hospitals, care centers and hospices function.

Positive mental health programs such as ReachOut, Ireland’s online mental health service are providing a positive alternative for teenagers. ReachOut’s five year review (2011-2015) finds 62% of young people would visit a website for support when going through a tough time. They favour online support as highly as speaking to a friend. And it’s first port of call over talking to a health professional (38%), calling a helpline (14%) or speaking to a parent/guardian (28%)11. Becoming a engaged digital citizen means understanding the pros and cons of internet use, from a personal health perspective, and the need for a holistic approach to technology.

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Digital Security: electronic precautions to guarantee safety:  The World Wide Web is a telephone, a library, and a soapbox; it is a storehouse of information and channel for communication [DiMaggio et al 2001]. It is also a virtual world where people can digitally eavesdrop (for example Keystroke logger, which records keystrokes and screenshots), steal (identity theft, credit card fraud), hack (into your computer or website). While encouraging people to become more actively engaged digital citizens, it is very important to put safeguards in place, to protect oneself, in relation to all of the above sections.


System lock ©Yuri Samoilov via Flickr CCBY

To not place too much trust into visual indications of security, making Web Spoofing (a hoax website that looks authentic), a practical threat. In particular, secure logos might give users a feeling of trust, just as store fronts do in the physical world. [Claessens et al 2002]. With regards to digital access and digital communication, in order to safeguard your rights to privacy actions such as backups of data, control of your data information in public domains, strong passwords on digital accounts, can be taken. Protection of the information on your digital hardware, as in laptops, phones and tables can be maintained through adequate anti-virus and spyware software.

A substantial amount of confidential information is made available via the WWW; unauthorized access to this information should be prevented [Claessens et al 2002]. It is important, as an active digital citizen, to self-educate on digital security, and put safeguards in into practice.


The DQ Project 12 was founded by Dr Yuhyun Park, and was developed in collaboration with researchers from a number of colleges. They have identified 8 DQ’s, similar to the 9 themes, for educators, parents, governments and more, around the world to promote digital citizenship. Their purpose is to promote the teaching of digital intelligence (DQ) to children.

Digital Intelligence (DQ) is the sum of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities essential to digital life. It is having the necessary knowledge, skills and ability to adapt one’s emotions and adjust one’s behaviour to deal with the challenges and demands of the digital era.

 Dr Park is a social entrepreneur, and has been awarded for her work in the area of digital citizenship, having previously co-founded InfollutionZERO, a comic book project promoting digital citizenship for children, youth and parents. InfollutionZERO addresses the challenges of “infollution” (i.e. the harmful effects of digital “pollutants”) including cyberspace predators and bullies, abusive language, and technology addiction.
image from infollutionzero
As I previously stated above, most programs promoting digital citizenship are aimed at children, or young adults, such as the DQ Project, and InfollutionZero. However, I fear, that the majority of trolls, spyware, purchasers of child pornography, and other digital deviants are not under-age, but in fact adults. No one predicting the future of the internet thirty years ago, would have predicted the rise and growth of the dark side of digital life. So how can we make our world a better place, for ourselves and for future generations?
The basics of human values: knowledge and understanding are key, to allow individuals to make responsible decisions about ones owns life, family life, local and global communities. Disinhibition on the internet has increased exponentially. Now termed the online disinhibition effect, it is the…
loosening or complete abandonment of social restrictions and inhibitions that would otherwise be present in normal face-to-face interaction during interactions with others on the Internet. This effect is caused by many factors, including dissociative anonymity (or, more precisely, the appearance thereof), invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination, and minimization of authority. [Suler 2004]
Here are some suggestions for developing an active engagement in Digital Citizenship:
  • A government and industry backed intergenerational awareness campaign through a range of established clubs and organisations such as Youth clubs, in particular technology clubs such as CoderDojo Techspaces, Over 65’s Clubs, Farmers Associations and in Libraries.
  • Free online courses using a variety of digital mediums such as YouTube videos, Tweets and Mindcraft.
  • More awareness of digital civil liberties, digital civil rights and the opportunity and right to participate in the construction of guidelines for the digital community that is fundamentally open to all.
  • More industry responsibility. Internet providers, software and hardware companies could integrate a declaration of digital human rights in their policies, and also, take more responsibility .
  • Better laws with regard to bullying, harassment, or illegal activity at an industry level, as well as at an individual level, with safeguards for whistleblowers and freedom of speech activists.
  • Cultivate digital intelligence, grounded in human values and basic human rights.
  • Create a social, moral, framework, where people are not afraid to speak out about injustice.

“We shouldn’t assume people know what digital citizenship is.”

David Ryan Polgar and Marialice B.F.X. Curran, DigcitSummit.com

We shouldn’t assume people know what digital citizenship is. But we should also, not leave it to others to be aware and take action when there is digital etiquette or digital security issues on the internet.  Although they do bear a great responsibility, we also cannot expect the creators of digital technologies, as in apps, software, social media platforms, to be solely in charge of their terms and conditions and private policies. It is us, as a community, to demand and support appropriate behaviour standards and active procedures. David Ryan Polger 13, a Tech Ethicist, has written many articles dealing with the role of digital citizenship.

Our emerging tech has opened up a vast array of ethical issues. Issues such as the right to be forgotten versus society’s value in remembering, the fine line between free speech and troll behavior, and the ethical implications of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and post-death communication.

Polger believes it is society’s responsibility, to decide how digital products are incorporated in regards to safety, privacy, and etiquette. In order to determine and minimize the negative impact that technology has on our society, we need to have an all round discussion, bring in ‘psychologists, attorneys, educators, sociologists, philosophers, etc, to the conversation’. I would add that we need to bring in the digital citizens themselves, both children and adults, to have an engaged community-based conversation about digital citizenship, and how it can be implemented digital technology can be a positive force in our daily lives.

globally connected, globally engaged

using voyant tools to create a wordle

Technologies Used:

In trying to advocate open source tools, I have decided to add a technology list, so readers can see what I used to create this article.

  • Article originally written in a Open Office text file (Free)
  • Bibliography created by Zotero (free)
  • Browser  used: Firefox (free)
  • Images used:
    • Word Clouds created by Voyant Tools (free)
    • Digital citizenship and Icon division bars created in Canva (free version)
    • Troll created in Photoshop (sorry, paid version, I like Photoshop too much)
    • Other images taken from Google search: Images > Search Tools > Usage Rights > Labelled for non-commercial reuse (free)
  • Search Engine: Google (free)


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  2. Digital Citizenship Institute, ‘Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship’, Digital Citizenship <http://digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html>
  3. What Is Open Source?’, Opensource.com <https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source>
  4. ‘Irish Spend €8.5 Million a Day Online with Retailers Abroad’, Digital Times, 2014 <http://www.digitaltimes.ie/irish-spend-e8-5-million-a-day-with-international-retail-sites/>
  5. Digital Citizenship Institute, ‘Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship’, Digital Citizenship <http://digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html>
  6. http://futurelab.org.uk/resources/school-approaches-developing-students-digital-literacy 2010
  7. Definition of ETIQUETTE’ <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/etiquette> [accessed 1 August 2016].
  8. Digital Citizenship Institute.
  9. Maeve Duggan, ‘Online Harassment’, Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 2014 <http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/>
  10. Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, ‘Fact Sheet: Digital Rights Management and Technical Protection Measures (November 2006)’, 2006 <https://www.priv.gc.ca/resource/fs-fi/02_05_d_32_e.asp>
  11. ‘Teens Looking for Mental Health Advice Are Bypassing Family and Going Straight to Google’, 2016 <http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/teens-looking-for-mental-health-advice-are-bypassing-family-and-going-straight-to-google-413392.html>Monday, August 01 2016
  12. DQ Project http://www.dqproject.org/what-is-dq/
  13. David Polgar http://www.davidpolgar.com/#!digital-citizenship/c1efm



Canada, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of, ‘Fact Sheet: Digital Rights Management and Technical Protection Measures (November 2006)’, 2006 <https://www.priv.gc.ca/resource/fs-fi/02_05_d_32_e.asp>

Claessens, Joris, Bart Preneel, and Joos Vandewalle, ‘A Tangled World Wide Web of Security Issues’, First Monday, 7 (2002) <http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/935>

Digital Citizenship Institute, ‘Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship’, Digitalcitizenship <http://digitalcitizenship.net/Nine_Elements.html>

Duggan, Maeve, ‘Online Harassment’, Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech, 2014 <http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/>

Cash, Hilarie, ‘Tiger Moms and Digital Media’, Psychology Today <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/digital-addiction/201110/tiger-moms-and-digital-media>

Digital Rights Ireland. ‘How the International Press Reported on Safe Harbor and Schrems’, Digital Rights Ireland, 2015 <https://www.digitalrights.ie/how-the-international-press-reported-on-safe-harbor-and-schrems/>

Digital Times. ‘Irish Spend €8.5 Million a Day Online with Retailers Abroad’, Digital Times, 2014 <http://www.digitaltimes.ie/irish-spend-e8-5-million-a-day-with-international-retail-sites/>

Goggin, G. (2011) Ubiquitous apps: Politics of openness in global mobile communities. Digital Creativity 22(3): 148–159.

Irish Examiner (2016) ‘Teens Looking for Mental Health Advice Are Bypassing Family and Going Straight to Google’, 2016 <http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/teens-looking-for-mental-health-advice-are-bypassing-family-and-going-straight-to-google-413392.html> Monday, August 01, 2016.

JISC Report, ‘Digital Literacies’ <https://digitalcapability.jiscinvolve.org/wp/files/2014/09/JISC_REPORT_Digital_Literacies_280714_PRINT.pdf> Web

Lupton, Deborah, ‘The Digitally Engaged Patient: Self-Monitoring and Self-Care in the Digital Health Era’, Social Theory & Health, 11 (2013), 256–70 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/sth.2013.10>

Merriam-Webster. ‘Definition of ETIQUETTE’ <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/etiquette>

Mossberger, Karen. Tolbert, Caroline. J. McNeal, Ramona S. (2011) “Digital Citizenship – The Internet, Society and Participation” By Karen Mossberger, Caroline J. Tolbert, and Ramona S. McNeal.” 23 Nov. 2011. ISBN 978-0819456069

Open Source. ‘What Is Open Source?’, Opensource.com <https://opensource.com/resources/what-open-source>

Park, Yuhyun. (2016) ‘8 Digital Skills We Must Teach Our Children’, World Economic Forum <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/8-digital-skills-we-must-teach-our-children/>

Ribble, M. (2008). Passport to digital citizenship: Journey toward appropriate technology use at school and at home <http://www.iste.org/404?aspxerrorpath=/Libraries/Leading_and_Learning_Docs/December_January_2008_2009_Passport_to_Digital_Citizenship.sflb.ashx>

Ribble M., & Bailey, G. (2007) Digital Citizenship in Schools. ISTE.. p.4

Simsek, Eylem, and Ali Simsek, ‘New Literacies for Digital Citizenship.’, Online Submission, 4 (2013), 126–137 <http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED542213>

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So, what do you think ?