When I read Richard Guerry’s Declaration of Digital Citizenship for the first time in the Social Networking Safety group in Facebook, I absolutely loved it. However, I wanted to know more, so I came up with a list of questions for Richard that would allow me, and you, to better understand exactly why this declaration is so important (now more than ever) in the field of online safety and digital citizenship.
Richard is the founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication (IROC) and, as you can imagine, a very active advocate of Internet safety. The work he’s accomplished, and seeks out to accomplish with this foundation have always been a source of knowledge and inspiration for me. I encourage you to stop by his website, comb through the information and resources, and then read the declaration for yourself. Then, share it with your family and friends.
1. What brought you into the field of digital responsibility and Internet safety?
Throughout the 1990’s and the turn of the 21st century, I served as an interactive marketing executive and achieved the position of media director by the age of twenty-eight. In my tenure, I strived to prevent children from viewing objectionable content online. As a result of this constant initiative, I encountered some of the darkest areas of the Internet and discovered countless individuals who were unknowingly being manipulated and scammed. To make matters worse, many users’ content was also being stolen and exploited. I was also exposed to the myriad of ways information could be collected about a digital user through technology by not only marketers, but criminals as well. I saw firsthand how the over-sharing of information by digital citizens was creating a number of very serious, yet avoidable issues in society. As a father of two young children, and an avid user of digital technology myself, I decided to make a change and start a new revolution centered on technology – Digital Consciousness. In 2009, I took basically a 100% pay cut and left corporate America to apply my vast experience and knowledge of Internet safety, responsibility and citizenship to start up and serve as the Executive Director of IROC2. I now travel the country speaking to digital users, young and old, regarding the importance of practicing a Digital Consciousness – maintaining a mindset that I am ok with my digital activity becoming public and permanent – in every aspect of life to avoid any current – or future – digital disease.
2. What inspired you to write The Declaration of Digital Citizenship?
The foundation for the creation of “The Declaration” largely stems from my opinion, as the author, that we must reallocate the bulk of our time and resources away from reaction to digital issues and proactively provide the mind with the information necessary to understand that we are each independently accountable and responsible to wholly obtain and practice with a Digital Consciousness before utilizing any digital device.
I am very proud of The Declaration of Digital Citizenship and the fact that both national and international safety organizations have embraced it, and continue to translate this piece into their native language to ensure every member of our global village, despite their nationality, has one uniform resource to reference as guidance towards understanding how to become a responsible digital citizen in our now rapidly evolving global neighborhood.
3. Explain “instant gratification” as it relates to the Internet. And how is it affecting children?
Instant gratification, like anything, has pros and cons. The internet and digital tools have us plugged into billions of people and resources as we share one global public platform called the World Wide Web. We can instantly communicate, share and obtain information, which is great when we need something, but this can be a real problem if we are abusing this benefit of digital technology. To instantly be able to send a picture from a vacation or a text about a movie you just saw is AWSEOME, but using the ability for instant gratification to send a “private” picture because you can’t wait to see somebody, or a hateful text at the height of your anger can turn into very serious issues should these images or texts become public and permanent, and they can, in literally one second.
Too few digital citizens understand that just because we can, does not always mean we should – meaning just because we can send a sexy pic to a loved one or for “fun”, doesn’t mean we should, unless we are prepared for that image to be public and permanent, because just as easy as it was to share it with our loved one (which is the pro) it is also just as easy for it to get out and be shared with unintended parties (the con).
4. You talk about guiding and supervising end users with their use of digital technology until they are mature enough to be held accountable for their actions. What criteria would you use to determine whether or not the end user is accountable? Would it be similar to a driver’s license (based on age)?
I would not make age the basis for determining when someone is mature enough to be held accountable for their actions because I see just as many adults making poor decisions in the digital world as I do kids, and so using age as a basis would not work.
How do we know when someone is ready to strike and match, and light a candle by themselves?
How do we know when someone is ready to drive a car by themselves?
Sure, age does play a role when answering these questions, but maturity and the ability to make good decisions through critical thinking really dictate the answer. For example, adults often accidently burn themselves or others with fire, and/or drive impaired or recklessly and crash their automobiles hurting themselves or others. Negative consequences often happen to adults when they fail to make good decisions, despite the fact that they had information! When you are presented with the necessary information to make good decisions, and you have shown you comprehend and understand the information, and still make bad decisions, then you are mature enough to be held accountable for your actions.
IMHO, an end user is ready to use digital tools and technologies only, and I mean ONLY after they have proven they possess a Digital Consciousness – they understand that they should expect no privacy, and should ALWAYS maintain a mindset that what they are about to do, they are ok being Public and Permanent!
If they truly comprehend this preventative philosophy – or what I call, the 21st Century Golden Rule – that anything they do can instantly become public and permanent, then they are mature enough to use a digital tool because having this information and still making a poor decision means they are mature enough to be held accountable because they knew the risks.
We don’t put on a seat belt expecting to get into an accident; we do it to minimize damage in case something happens. Similarly, we don’t expect everything we do with our digital tools to become public and permanent, but prior to handing powerful digital tools to anyone, they must first know that IF they lose their phone, have it stolen, hacked, lend it to someone who loses it, or something else happens that they were not expecting whereby their device is no longer in their control (like getting into an accident in a car), if they have always employed a preventative mindset of Public and Permanent (put on that seatbelt), they have minimized their damage. Thus, they have no worries; because they never created anything digitally that they are not ok with the world or their future generations seeing.
There are people right now wishing the day they powered up their digital device they were also given a mindset of public and permanent because they would not be in the trouble they are in today had they done so.
5. Why would education about being a better digital citizen include abstinence from sexual behavior? Wouldn’t we see a rise in sexting among minors if this Declaration were to push abstinence?
It is important to note that the line being referenced here promotes the, “benefits of abstaining from sexual behavior through digital tools and technologies”;
In other words, this document is intended to help all digital users – not just youth – understand that private sexual content created and shared on digital devices – which ironically are designed for sharing and communicating – often lead to unintended challenges and negative consequences. At the end of the day, nobody ever has to face embarrassment, legal charges, extortion, etc., due to private sexual content becoming public because it was created and documented on digital technology if they never digitally created it in the first place (i.e. abstain from this irresponsible behavior with powerful digital tools).
6. What three things do you hope this Declaration accomplishes?
1) Parents do not hand their children powerful digital tools and technologies until they understand for themselves, and can communicate to their children the importance of using those powerful tools the same way we use any other powerful tool – with a safe and preventative mindset – which in this case means always being prepared for what they are about to do with that digital tool to be public and permanent.
2) Understand that just as it is a benefit for us to have instant gratification – to be able to send anything through digital means instantly – when we abuse our powerful tools to easily send a “private” message or picture to a loved one, we must understand that our “private” message can be sent to the rest of the world just as easily as we sent it to our loved one – it is one second from becoming public and permanent.
3) I will refer to the end of the Declaration which states.
“Responsible use of digital tools and technologies should be based on a universal and preventative mindset that digital activity is public and permanent, and interaction with other digital citizens through digital means should be:
- honest, and;
If we want to be able to walk into a party or wedding and not worry about somebody taking a picture of us that could get us fired, and then posting it to Facebook or some other site online, then we all must become ambassadors of this information, and we must all believe in this document as a guideline on how to live in the digital world.
We do not attend a party worrying the whole time that somebody will burn the building down with matches because everyone in the room was taught at a young age that playing with fire can burn. We have billions of people using powerful digital tools and technologies, but they were never handed the preventative Public and Permanent philosophy (the 21st century version of playing with fire can burn) which is why so many individuals are getting into trouble, not only for what they are doing with their digital tools, but what others are doing to them; because so many of us have yet to learn about the importance of the Public and Permanent guideline.
It is my hope this document helps clarify why the dissemination and practice – by everyone – of public and permanent is necessary, not only to preserve our own lives and legacies, but so that we do not disrupt somebody else’s (maliciously or blindly).
Change is not easy, and it will not happen overnight, but it is vital our generation start teaching this to the next generation, so they can teach the generation that follows. Hopefully, at some point, citizens will be able to be “human” at a party or wedding or on the beach and not have to worry about a picture of them surfacing online leading to their termination because the picture would never be taken and posted in the first place due to a new global understanding – a new set of social values – based on the understanding that the pic could become public and permanent.
7. How can people get involved in endorsing this Declaration?
To endorse this Declaration or even offer to translate it into their home language, all they have to do is contact the Institute and ask to be listed as an Endorser of the document.
We have many endorsers that we will implement onto the Declaration’s homepage (with a clickable logo to their website and a testimonial) and it is our hope to accumulate enough endorsements across the global village that this document will obtain greater notoriety and global attention transforming it into THE standard guideline for all digital citizens to better understand how to become a responsible digital citizen in our now rapidly evolving global neighborhood.
And finally, the Institute is a non-profit organization that is on the front lines working with children, parents, educators, and law enforcement, and we never turn away a school or community because of an inability to pay. We rely 100% on donations and grants to carry-out our nationally acclaimed programs, and to allow us to create new initiatives to keep kids, and all digital users, safe online. If you’d like to make a donation, please visit our donation page at http://www.iroc2.org/6.html.