Can Digital Citizenship Scale into the Emerging and Developing Countries Effectively? Should It?

28 September 2011 - A Workshop on Internet Governance for Development in Nairobi, Kenya


Digital citizenship has emerged as digital youth are using online services for personal and educational reasons at younger and younger ages. Even though a significant digital divide continues to exist, increased mobile penetration and the use of online services, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other downloadable applications are bringing more young users online every day. Estimates are that young people in some countries spend over 7 hours a day interacting via online and mobile technologies. As access increases, especially via mobile devices, the number of young “digital citizens" is growing rapidly. Our world is a digitized world, with ICT and the Internet embedded in common day-to-day functions, including transportation, communications, education, healthcare and governmental services – known as m-government, or e-government.

Proponents argue that digital citizenship necessarily constitutes online safety in a user-driven, social media environment. Online safety can be aided and enhanced by governments and IT and media companies, but it cannot simply be provided to end users in a media environment in which users themselves are producers as much as end users, and media are social or behavioral. Despite the digital divide, this is the reality in all countries where social media has a strong youth following. For example, Facebook now claims to have members in every country on the planet, and other online services are rapidly spreading from emerging and developing countries.

While being a digital citizen includes elements of being safe online, it goes far beyond online safety, to include being an informed, media literate, and civically engaged user of digital media – someone who understands the implications, risks, benefits, rights, and responsibilities of Internet use and functions as an active citizen rather than a passive consumer and potential victim. Because research shows that in developed countries, social aggression or cyber-bullying is the most common online risk to youth, and online aggressive behavior more than doubles the aggressor's risk of victimization, respectful, mindful, socially literate behavior toward others online increases the safety and well-being of good citizens online and offline. Digital citizenship promotes youth agency and self-actualization, turning mere users into stakeholders in their own well-being as well as that of their communities. This benefits both citizen and country in the "real world" as Internet use becomes embedded in every aspect of our world.

This workshop will examine the views of digital youth on the role and uses of the Internet and mobile technologies and online media, and their role as users and citizens; hear the perspectives of some of those who are working on these concepts; focus on the present status of online safety and approaches; and include a roundtable of participants interacting with participants both on site and remotely to ask and answer these critical questions: Can Digital Citizenship Scale into the Emerging and Developing Countries Effectively? More importantly, how should it? As a concept and a strategy, how might it answer real challenges for both young users and the world they are growing into? What is their role in supporting it? What are the Internet Governance issues or questions that should be addressed going forward?



A brief substantive summary and the main events that were raised:
October 1, 2011

Summary of workshop No. 417

Can Digital Citizenship Scale into the Emerging and Developing Countries Effectively? Should it?

Our workshop, consisting of a youth panel of nine young people from Egypt, the UK, and the US and an adult panel representing NGOs, government, and industry, addressed our topic by considering the current state of digital citizenship, Internet safety and the meaning of "digital citizenship to youth."
Asked how they'd rank "digital citizenship" on a scale of 1 to 10 – with 10 representing "very relevant and meaningful" – the youth panel, ranging in age from 15 to 22 gave it a 1, two 3's, a 5, a 6, and an 8. The British teen who gave it a 1 said it "sounds distant and abstract," and people shouldn't distinguish between citizenship and digital citizenship anyway. An American university graduate newly living in Nairobi gave it a 6 saying she hopes it'll catch on but "it's not relevant to our generation yet." The Egyptian young people, who were remotely participating, gave it a 3 and a 5, making the point that it can't be relevant to youth unless there's Internet access at school so it could be practiced. The American panelist who gave it an 8 said digital citizenship is "the same as citizenship now that we're so much more connected internationally."
When the panel's moderator, Will Gardner, CEO of London-based Childnet International, said, "Ok, so the label on the digital citizenship jar doesn't grab you, what about what's in the jar?", the panel was noticeably more positive. So what is in the jar? In her opening remarks, Anne Collier of in the US offered five components of digital citizenship that have come up again and again in academic papers and international forums in the past few years:
• Norms of behavior, often called "good citizenship" or "online etiquette
• Participation or civic engagement (also seen as community, social, or political activism online)
• A sense of membership or belonging
• Three literacies: tech or digital literacy, media literacy, and social literacy
• Rights and responsibilities – what often comes to mind when people hear "citizenship" (rights might include access and participation, freedom of expression, privacy, physical and psychological safety, and safety of material and intellectual property; responsibilities might include respect for self, others, and community; protection of others' rights and property; learning and benefiting from the literacies of digital citizenship mentioned above).
The panel seemed to find these "jar" contents somewhat relevant to their current Internet use. However, it was clear during our 90-minute session that there is as yet no clear consensus yet as to the definition and best practice of digital citizenship. A member of the youth panel from the UK said, "Maybe 'participant' is a better word than 'citizen'."
Douglas Harre of New Zealand NGO Netsafe said in his opening remarks that schools in his country, which "are increasingly integrating the idea of digital literacy into our National Curriculum document and aligning it with the key competencies [of] a digitally literate citizen: Someone who…
• Is a confident and capable user of ICT
• Uses technologies to participate in educational, cultural, and economic activities
• Uses and develops critical thinking skills in cyberspace
• Is literate in the language, symbols, and texts of digital technologies
• Is aware of ICT challenges and can manage them effectively
• Uses ICT to relate to others in positive, meaningful ways
• Demonstrates honesty and integrity and ethical behaviour in their use of ICT
• Respects the concepts of privacy and freedom of speech in a digital world
• Contributes and actively promotes the values of digital citizenship.
David Miles of the London- and Washington-based Family Online Safety Institute cited examples of digital citizenship best practice in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zambia, based on the findings of FOSI's GRID (Global Resource & Information Directory). The Kenyan example he gave is the UNICEF-supported Mapping Kibera Project, demonstrating digital citizenship in action. He told us that Nairobi's Kibera slum is Africa's largest, with 1 million occupants. "Prior to 2009, the slum did not appear on any maps, and the Map Kibera project trained 13 young people to use GPS devices to map facilities such as toilets, street lighting and clinics. In addition to the valuable mapping project, the youths involved (a gender mix is maintained) also receive training in how to use technology that will provide transferable skills for future employment. As well as mapping physical features to benefit their community, the mapping project identifies safe areas and crime hotspots, including hot spots of child abuse. This allows the NGOs behind the project to work with the authorities to combat them and residents to stay away for their own safety. The project team have found that large numbers of residents own mobile phones that are utilized in various ways, from crowd-sourcing information from residents on all topics, including safety (which is then published on the Voice of Kibera Web site) to sending SMS alerts of trouble. UNICEF is just one of the agencies supporting the project, stating in its 2011 report that, 'through this process, young people gain new awareness about their surroundings, empowering them to amplify their voices on critical issues.'"
The Map Kibera project demonstrates the value of using mobile technology and the Internet to enable communities to connect within and outwardly and to be aware of risks to the safety in the offline world. This is the kind of practical, meaningful work that gives meaning to the positive, active engagement of digital citizenship. This kind of practical, meaningful work is a demonstration of how technology can foster community cohesion and notions of citizenship.
Yomna Ahmed Shawky Omran of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in Gizah, Egypt, said that, "as a developing country, Egypt realizes the potential of online social media and the importance of introducing not only online safety, but also the wider and more comprehensive concept of digital citizenship that examines the implications, risks, benefits, rights and responsibilities of internet use and functions. We realize that the adoption of the concept of digital citizenship is a challenge both for the end user, as well as for the service provider, or entity in charge (educational, consumers’ protection, etc). Both groups have a role in disseminating and localizing the concept in order to fit into the cultural context of the country. But the vision of digital citizenship offered us a comprehensive and rich framework balancing between positive and negative usages of the internet and an opportunity to educate the masses by providing them with multiple dimensions they rarely find in any trainings or awareness raising sessions."
Kim Sanchez of Microsoft said that her company's approach to children’s online safety includes "the four components of 1) technological tools; 2) education and guidance; 3) robust internal policies and practices for moderating content and addressing online abuses; and 4) partnering with government, industry, law enforcement, and others to help create a safer, more trusted Internet for all." Recent research done by Microsoft does indicate that American parents and teens are actively managing their online reputations with an eye toward good digital citizenship.

Conclusions and further comments:
In summary, it seemed clear from the workshop that we collectively have a ways to go before we reach consensus on what digital citizenship is, much less how it can be practiced and taught in a uniform way. But with multicultural, multinational and multistakeholder discussions like this, we are getting closer to the goal.
We certainly did have consensus on several points: 1) there is no consensus yet, among the workshop participants or in individual countries, much less worldwide, 2) youth, as some of the Internet's most active participants, have to be included in the consensus development, 3) broad uptake of "digital citizenship" may be difficult because the Internet is slowly changing our collective notions of citizenship, including the meaning of "belonging," "community," and rights and responsibilities thereto, and 4) if consensus develops among activists in Internet governance, including youth, there will be a significant need for global awareness-raising for it to become broadly meaningful. Except possibly in New Zealand (also represented in the workshop) – whose national online-safety organization, Netsafe, has completely replaced Net safety with digital citizenship in its programs and approach – it won't be a simple matter of just replacing online safety with a more empowering, less negative and paternalistic approach to young people's online activity. And a key reason for that may be a not wholly unjustified suspicion on young people's part that "digital citizenship" might be a "fancy new wrapper around on the same old messaging," which they tell us has consistently missed the mark.
However, there's something about social media and citizenship that seemed commonly accepted among the youth panelists, illustrated too by the Map Kibera project: the power of combining connection and intention. Both youth and East Africa are all about rapid growth, and when we combine a strong sense of purpose with the connections and informed active engagement that technology now allows, we have citizenship on a whole new level, including possibly a more global sort. We hope the discussion will continue and enfold more and more stakeholders.
On the youth panel:
Ahmed Ragab Al-Kotby, a postgraduate student at Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt
Yasmeen Fahim, 17, a college student in Cairo
Alex Everett, 17, a secondary student in Devon, UK
Becca Cawthorne, 16, a secondary student in Leeds, UK
Jack Passmore, 15, a secondary student in Devon, UK
Nicola Douglas, 15, a secondary student in Edinburgh, Scotland
Kellye Coleman, a 4th-year student at Elon University in North Carolina, US

Samantha (Sam) Baranowski, a 4th-year student at Elon University

Taylor Foshee, a 2011 graduate of Elon University now residing in Nairobi

Adult participants:

Pamela Covington, Verisign, Dulles, Virginia
Anne Collier,, Palo Alto, California.
Nevine Tewfik, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Giza, Egypt
Will Gardner, Childnet International, London
Douglas Harre, Netsafe, Auckland
Dave Miles, Family Online Safety Institute, London
Kim Sanchez, Microsoft, Redmond, Washington
Jim Prendergast, Galway Strategy Group, Fairfax, Virginia