Digital Citizenship, Rights and Responsibilities
Dr. Grace Javier Alfonso
Rights and responsibilities of a citizen is an enormous concern and more so in these digital times. We are citizens of our community, our town, our country and the world, and not too long ago we now have claimed space beyond our physical world, beyond our plains, mountains, waters and beyond the air we breathe. When you think about it… what is this space that we are talking about? Space is nothingness… until we touch it. And the more we touch it the more we have space… It is limitless. For those who know how to harness and access this great resource digitally comes enormous power. We are all in this web that is ubiquitous, connected, allowing non-stop construction of data, concepts, ideas, information through a communication process of interactivity in a continuing accelerated mode fuelled by us… billions of users. A combination of people and machines with artificial intelligence talking to each other. Exchanging stories and creating realities. As in our physical world we have learned that the created power of information, communication and traditional media has afforded access and space to a limited sector. Now, social media, multimedia and new media in general have afforded us, the everyday citizen, the ability to connect, relay our stories…ideas, concepts, constructs, through photographs graphics, multimedia, sound, moving images like animation and videos by us for us and others to access. As we have become more connected to many we become more aware of our expanding community and that we have the right to use this virtual platform to create our own personal communities of choice… Networking, linking and choosing to collaborate, create works with many other individuals. Or one may prefer to do things on their own. This becomes a choice.
Let’s talk about “rights”.
In today’s digital world, we make extensive use of technology, computers, electronic devices and communications networks. And when we talk about digital rights therefore, we are talking about a person’s right to access, create, use, interact and express oneself and publish in cyberspace, the Internet.
Right to Internet access and use refers to freedom of expression, freedom to access information and freedom to opinion.
The right to Internet access and use today, is already recognized in laws enacted in several countries. These rights are freedom of expression, freedom to information. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion as well. To hold opinions, to find, receive and disseminate information and ideas, orally, written and in the form of artworks through any media in an environments … all of us have these rights at all times.
However, there is no one digital government that powers, regulates and controls the content that stays and travels the internet. But there are some serious dissent coming from groups, governments, and institutions that find discomfort in an unregulated space for billions of voices engaging in trillions of conversations which challenges free flow of information, freedom of expression and construction of opinions. And so, some lead to situations of threat of libel, elimination of those who oppose dominant views and even the forcing of pressure on those who support and sponsor freedom of speech, opinions and expression which create a strong undemocratic culture in societies.
In societies with a long history of colonial rule, authoritarian government and with unstable political environment, there is a predisposition to overly be controlling and regulating freedoms of speech, expression, and dissemination of opinions.
In societies where its people, governments, and institutions are perceived to be in a democratic environment, there is an expectation of emerging active e-societies for their governments and institutions to accommodate and work for the free flow of information, communication and for maximizing the affordances of e-technologies. In these societies there is a strong clamour for government protection and respect for the freedom of expression and freedom of information for its citizens.
Here we see the rise of social networking, e-government services, e-commerce, individual ownership to mobile gadgets and equipment and the access and maximization of the use of available broadband and infrastructure. The proliferation of e-communities and networking, affordable broadband, wireless access services, public and open mobile applications, searchable open facilities like e-repositories and e-libraries make the movement of ideas instantaneous and ubiquitous.
Now, let’s talk about the “right to privacy”.
The right to privacy in the context of the digital technologies are continuing to emerge and advance. The maturity of ICT has changed the digital landscape as an efficient automated instrument for real-time communication and information-sharing and networking reaching all those who want and can access global debate, expanding the democratic space, of course, for thickening the discourse on countless important concerns. This, therefore, is a good sign of resonating the voices of defenders with progressive ideas that push for critical thinking which help to expose abuses, to help improve lives of people.
However, the advancement of technology also allows the tapping into the privacy of individuals who are read or misread to be seditious revolutionaries. Though these are advanced technology for free flow of ideas these same advanced technologies are used for surveillance and interception. These technologies are being designed and harnessed to efficiently gather, store data to be used in violation of individuals’ rights to privacy. We must speak up against these practices that leave societies vulnerable to this chilling effect in the environment.
Let’s talk about “right to development” And together with this, “right to education”
“right of the consumer” and “right to use multi-languages”
The right to development refers to the right to education, the right of the consumer and the right to use multi-languages. The right to development refers to one’s being able to harness one’s skills, talent and potentials. In this digital times when the cities of the world suffer traffic congestion, and also high cost of transport compromises one’s mobility. There then is the rise of people working from home and studying from home or from anywhere. The right to education is important to discuss at this point. We have come across declarations that knowledge must be free. In this time of maturity in the digital environment of eTeaching and eLearning and with the availability of open educational resources and massive open online courses, both basic and higher education systems private and government have moved into harnessing this situation. In the Philippines there has been a law passed. R.A. 10650 where the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, the Commission on Higher Education, and the UP Open University (a fully online constituent university of the University of the Philippines) were named as the institutions to develop, collaborate and help bring all training and education institutions to be technologically enhanced and enable them to excel in e-pedagogies for open distance learning. Coming from Right to Education…talking about right to development refers to the protection of the right of consumers as well.
While e-commerce has come to a certain maturity in practice, its laws have not caught up to address the purely online businesses—businesses which have no physical presence in the countries they operate in. We require respect for the consumer rights which means consumer protection that provides for individuals to fight back against abusive business practices. It is our right that sellers of goods and providers of services be accountable when they profit by taking advantage of a consumer’s lack of information, stripped of bargaining power which brings unfair practice, misrepresentation and outright fraud into focus. Since the study of accountability of digital business establishments are still in the offing, let us make sure that we arm ourselves with the comprehensive and correct information to be able to make informed decisions in our transactions and engagements online.
Though there are cases of negative experiences in general it is still most important that the developing countries and its governments see the digital phenomenon as a positive development contributing to inclusive growth and respect for cultural diversity and that the use of multi-languages leads to understanding other cultures and that it also promotes the sustainability and continuous growth of cultures. The integrity of languages is strengthened with its constant use which is the core and driver of the richness of cultures.
The concept of Digital Citizenship has already become a serious concern but must be continuously defined and redefined by us, the users. We must be committed to the concept of Digital Citizenship and must take our rights seriously and protect them.
Now, let us talk about responsibilities.
As we give importance to Digital rights we equally give seriousness to Digital Responsibilities in the light of Digital citizenship. We should be aware of accompanying responsibilities that come with our rights and the praxis of which will help guide the integration of technology into new areas with care and appropriateness. We have to do this with diligence and rigour.
There is so much that is asked of us as digital citizens. Let us make sure that we make our digital environment secure, safe, and enhanced and sustained with care and sobriety.
We talk of responsibilities, do, the first one… monitoring, with vigilance, bullying, harassment and stalking.
First there must be efforts in monitoring with vigilance on our part… bullying, harassment and stalking by individuals, groups and institutions including governments. The Internet is such a vast space for massive social networking and social interactivity. We, as its citizens, must lead and take the opportunity to be the supervisors and take a stock of what is happening in all aspects.There will always be attempts by bullies, predators and thieves cloaked with apparent institutional and commercial legitimacy who will take advantage of the environment that lacks interested sectors in monitoring activities in the internet that threaten having a healthy and safe digital environment. So it is us, digital citizens, who will take that role. We claim our voices in the digital spaces and craft our works and upload them… then we have to take responsibility in making sure that in the same way we want others to respect our work we must do the same. Treat with respect the space and opinions of others. But what is likewise important is we do not put ourselves in a position where we are abused and taken advantage of, and certainly not to tolerate such a situation. Report it when it happens.
Number Two. Contribute to Internet safety and security.
What is best is not to chronicle all that you do in your facebook. Do not reveal too much in social media. Do not be tempted to tell everyone all and everything that happens to you. This might compromise your safety, even safety of your family and maybe some of your friends as well. Always be aware of breach of one’s security may happen when too much is freely revealed.
Social sites opens up opportunities for predators to victimize the most vulnerable sectors like women, children… the uninformed. But it also does not spare anyone of us. So it is very important that we heighten our sensibilities to detect threats and risks to our safety and security.
Three, to be knowledgeable of the consensus on digital etiquette popularly known as Netiquette
Netiquette is a collective unofficial general rules or conventions of accepted polite behaviour in digital social settings and situations making use of online communication such as the Internet, email, chatrooms, discussion boards and texting in our mobile phones. Netiquette is derived from the words “internet” and “etiquette”. Netiquette, however, may vary from one culture to another.
Four, awareness and Understanding the Digital Law.
We must learn and understand the laws that govern Internet conduct, use and activities. Know and understand digital copyright procedures but also understand the concept of Open Educational Resources and the concept of Creative Commons. Be familiar with websites and other practices that involve software pirating but understand what open data and open source mean as well. Be aware of possible internet scams, identity theft, and hackers possibly invading your system.
Remember … what is most important is to know our rights and our responsibilities as digital citizens in our fast expanding world.