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Digital Citizenship Toolkit – How to Respond to Online Negativity

What is digital citizenship?

A digital citizen is someone who participates in or is a part of an online community. This online community could be your Facebook wall, the YouTube comment section, or an online classroom. As an individual of an online community, it is important that each one of us does our part to make sure that the community we’re participating in is safe and respectful for everyone. This is the core of what digital citizenship is, it means being a conscious participant in our online communities.

Digital citizenship is a key skill for students.

The internet is here to stay. It has increasingly become a tool that we use in our daily lives to communicate with friends, family and even people around the world. We use it to learn new things, read the news, watch videos or pass the time, and it’s why the discussion of digital citizenship is more important than ever to have with our students.

With our world becoming more polarized than ever before, students need to understand how to communicate with other people online in the digital space. Teaching students about digital citizenship will help prepare them for positive and productive online discussions with classmates, as well as ready them for any future online interactions on the internet.

Digital citizenship is an important and core ingredient in making sure an online discussion has a positive and fruitful outcome. There’s so much that can be accomplished when respectfully discussing ideas and collaboratively communicating online with other people, this includes:

  • Ideation
  • Gaining new and diverse perspectives
  • Building on other peoples ideas
  • Learning how to work together

However, sometimes discussing real-world issues and topics online can lead to negative emotional feelings such as, being upset, feeling frustrated, dissatisfied and annoyed. These are totally normal feelings, but it is important that negative emotions don’t lead to negative comments that lash out and hurt others. When people respond in this manner, it creates a toxic environment where people don’t feel comfortable participating, and it can lead to additional negative comments, which doesn’t benefit the community, the conversation or anyone involved. That’s where digital citizenship comes in.

Teaching students how to react online with digital citizenship can help them learn:

  • How to positively communicate with others.
  • That it’s okay for people to have differing views and perspectives than our own.
  • That it’s okay to be wrong and that way we can open ourselves to learn new things.
  • Collaboration with other people can help them to build on ideas and expand their understanding of a topic.

Here are some tips on how to help students respond with digital citizenship when topics get tough online.

Stop and think before you post.

Remind students that it’s important not to react quickly when they’ve read something that they don’t agree with, or makes them upset. Encourage them to take some time to think about the comment that has made them upset. Give them questions to think about before responding:

  • Are you upset because they have an opposing view or constructive criticism?
    • Ask them to think about the other students/person’s point of view.
    • Remind them it’s ok to have different opinions.
  • Is it worth a response?
    • If so, don’t respond right away. Take time to process the information and respond when you don’t feel upset.
    • If the comment is rude, or makes you feel uncomfortable, flag or report it. Report any inappropriate behaviour.

Note: Remind students to think of it as editing. Difficult discussions can create emotional reactions, but it’s never profitable to the conversation when people get angry with one another. Get students to take time to process their thoughts and feelings before replying.

Be clear and concise.

Misunderstandings online can be caused by something that was not written well, or was written before thinking it through. Remind students to take their time to logically think out their response to an argumentative or frustrating comment from another student or person. Again, remind them to think about these questions before responding.

  • Did the other person’s comment make sense?
    • If so, reread the other person’s response to make sure you read it correctly.
    • If not, ask the other person to clarify what they meant or what they were trying to say.

Note: Digital citizenship starts with having a conversation, always remind students to take their time when writing their response and/or comment. In order to keep meaningful discussions going, everyone has to play their part and make sure to construct clear comments that won’t lead to misunderstandings or arguments.

Be open-minded.

It’s important to remind students that everyone has different views and opinions, not everyone is going to agree all the time, and that’s ok. What may seem like a disagreement is just a differing of opinion, there’s no need to be offended or respond negatively.

An important part of digital citizenship is being open to learning new things! Get students to consider new ideas and perspectives, and to share those ideas with their peers.

Note: Students need to know that discussions aren’t about being right, and that not everyone is right all the time. Which also means that they are not always right. Each person will have their own ideas and views about a topic. Discussions will get them thinking about new perspectives, even if it’s not what they originally thought was correct. There are lots of different ways to think about things.

Lead by example.

Get students to take the lead and set the example for good digital citizenship. Remind them that regardless of how other people are responding online, they should set the standard for the conversation by contributing positive work. Positive engagement will speak for itself.

Note: If students are engaging in productive conversations, taking responsibility for their actions and acknowledging room for improvement, they’ll be helping to build better online communities and getting other people to follow in their footsteps, perpetuating positivity in online discussions.

The outcome.

Always remind students not to participate in negativity. Responding with negativity to negative comments doesn’t build the community, it disrupts it and ends productive conversations. Building digital citizenship skills will lead to fruitful and respectful conversations online, even when there are disagreements, misunderstandings and negative comments.

The goal of discussions is NOT to be right, but to expand on ideas, and learn new things in a collaborative environment.

Everyone you will ever meet knows something you do not. – Bill Nye

Give your students the tools to respond with digital citizenship. Keep practicing!

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep the discussion going, we’d love to hear your thoughts on digital citizenship.

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