Last week, I had the privilege of speaking to a class of sophomores about the meaning and importance of being a good cyber citizen. I sat on a panel with four other adults and two student representatives. Each panelist was asked to come prepared to address the following questions:
1. In terms of your own experience, what do you think it means to be a good cyber citizen? Describe behaviors that you think are important to being a good cyber citizen?
2. How do you think students’ virtual lives can impact their “real lives”?
Being a good citizen on or offline is not the result of a one-time action. It is crucial to demonstrate accountability, responsibility and compassion each day. Am I perfect? No, not even close. Do I handle each situation with grace and maturity? There are too many people who could answer to the contrary if I pretended I was holier than thou. Being a good citizen takes practice. You must have patience with others and yourself. Here are the tidbits I shared with the young adults to the first question:
- Online persona is only one facet of a person’s character. You may have heard of the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” (though the phrase seems a bit archaic in the age of ebooks), the same is true of not judging people solely on their online profiles, comments or shares. While this content may prove insightful, it is not indicative of the person as a whole. You know the person as they choose to show themselves.
- There is a continuous blur between your professional and personal profiles. No matter how hard you try to keep the two separate, there will be someone, somewhere who will be able to follow the online breadcrumb trail and connect your profiles or attempts at anonymity. What you do and say anywhere is a reflection upon you and your networks – past, present and future.
- Nothing is private; Your online conversations are your unique digital tattoo. What you write and say online is captured forever. Anyone can take a screenshot of your actions and share, despite your privacy settings. Deleting your social profiles does not stop people from talking about you. Stop trying to take control of how others perceive you and take command of your actions. Be aware of what you post. Think about the consequences. And when you slip up, because you will…take responsibility and be accountable. These are the actions that define maturity, not age.
We are the voice and controllers of history. Us. Everything we write and say is being tagged, classified and judged by humans and robots. I can’t look into a crystal ball and personalize my response to the second answer. Some people have to learn the hard way. I know, in some respects, that has been me. Even if I had the opportunity to redo some of the messier parts of my life or questionable decisions, I would have probably taken the same path because that is what needed to happen for me to learn and be accountable in the future.
What you do now, impacts you now and in the future. Even before the digital era this life lesson was true. Today, what you say or do will be seen forever. When you are 50 and you see the thoughts and ideas publicized from when you were 15, you may cringe, but will you be ashamed? Will you know that that very public and visible tattoo influenced every other decision you or any other person or organization made? Life is not so black and white, but it should give you pause to reflect how those shades of gray will be reflected.