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  • April 18, 2024

    From citizens to digital citizens  

    Social media provide an opportunity   

    to communicate in multiple ways,   

    just as never before in history.   

    Nonetheless, there are dangers and risks as well.   

    We should be aware of them to protect ourselves and others  

    In the 21st century, the public in general is used to the term citizen. However, we may have not reflected enough about what it implies. Many times, we take for granted the benefits we get from owning the citizenship of a given country. This condition allows us to freely establish social and political relations within that community. Therefore, we can demand from official entities that our rights ought to be respected, and we can also ask protection if they have been infringed. When we need an official document, such as a passport, we are described as members of a nation-state, as its citizens.  

    Despite this concept being so widely known in the modern world, it is relatively new. Before the rising of modern states, in the 17th century, the most extended political models were monarchies and empires. There was not any kind of division of power among executive, legislative and judiciary branches. All power was trusted to a single individual, not by democratic means, but through random hereditary allowances. In the Middle Ages, for example, ordinary people were not citizens, but subjects of a given king or queen. As such, they were destined to simply obey what they were told, keep the social position they had been assigned by birth, and enjoyed few, if none, rights.  

    This status quo began to change when new political ideas spread and were enforced by historical landmarks such as the French Revolution, the Independence of the United States or Latin American countries. The members of these new political entities were not called subjects anymore but citizens, the inhabitants of a city. As such, they were right holders. Although this condition was not evenly applied since women, African slaves, and Indigenous peoples were excluded, it was an important step forward. The point is that the citizenship concept has been evolving. In most part of modern nations, its benefits are supposed to cover all its inhabitants without discrimination based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, or culture. However, this condition significantly varies from one country to another. Women in Afghanistan have barely the right to domestically interact under strict male domination. In contrast, women in Canada, Sweden, or France, are entitled to all political rights guaranteed by their condition of citizens. In few words, inequalities persist in the practical application of this concept.   

    On the other hand, citizenship has traditionally been granted by states to its members within a specific geographical boundary. Rights and duties are exercised under a territorial formal authority. If rules are broken, there is a visible person or institution that is supposed to intervene, restoring order, or providing compensation for victims. Although this kind of political and social setting is still valid, our interactions now can go beyond this realm. The advent of internet, easy-to-access digital devices, and invasive social media are posing new challenges to traditional citizenship. People now can find a new partner who lives overseas without meeting them in-person and the youth spend their time sharing images and videos about themselves, their tastes, the places they visit, or showing off what they just bought. Social media provide an opportunity to communicate in multiple ways, just as never before in history. Nonetheless, there are dangers and risks as well. We should be aware of them to protect ourselves and others.   

    In our hyperconnected world,   

    it seems the old citizenship is outdated,   

    just as if we had no limits to observe   

    in these new digital highways.   

    Thus, it is urgent to remember that   

    all rights and duties,   

    inherent to us by being citizens of a country,   

    are still standing.  

    Digital platforms are a communicational mediation form. As such, they allow users to present themselves just as they want to be seen by others. If someone does not like their appearance, they can edit their image and post it. Or even worse, an offender can easily pretend to be someone else just to deceive others, to rob them, or take advantage of a minor’s innocence. This kind of free interaction, with anyone in the world, has also provided an ideal ground for bullies. While at school harassment can be stopped by teachers or other authorities, online control is not that simple. For example, a fake social media account can be easily created just to cyberbully others by mean comments or offensive language such as racial or homophobic slurs. And there is more; deep fakes created with artificial intelligence (AI) are also circulating to mock people or make them say what they have not said.  

    In our hyperconnected world, it seems the old citizenship is outdated, just as if we had no limits to observe in these new digital highways. Thus, it is urgent to remember that all rights and duties, inherent to us by being citizens of a country, are still standing. Values such as inclusiveness, empathy, privacy, respect, responsible participation, and truthfulness must be practiced in our daily online interactions. For example, if we are about to share someone’s image, let us take a moment to think on whether that person wants us to share it, or on whether it is offensive for the way that person is depicted. A felony will always be something wrong that must be avoided or reported, no matter how digitally sophisticated it has been committed.   

    Finally, there are some practical tips and measures we should keep in mind to be responsible digital citizens. If someone has been victim of online bullying, the situation must be reported to a parent, guardian, or teacher. In some cases, there may be a criminal offense involved; for example, when private pictures have been shared without consent, or there are threats against life on social media; then, an official report should be sent to police authorities. In addition, there may be rumors circulating or posts about alleged facts that might not be true. In those cases, a simple fact-checking exercise with credible sources is useful to stop spreading fake news. Being responsible digital citizens is up to all of us, let’s create a safer environment online!  

    Useful links about cyber safety in Canada and Manitoba:   

    About Get Cyber Safe – Get Cyber Safe  

    New cybercrime and fraud reporting system | Royal Canadian Mounted Police (rcmp-grc.gc.ca)  

    Home – protectchildren.ca  

    Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca)  

    A Safety Message from the Manitoba RCMP on Safer Internet Day | Royal Canadian Mounted Police  

    Province of Manitoba | central – Manitoba Centre for Cyber Security (gov.mb.ca)  

    Literacy with ICT | What is LwICT (gov.mb.ca)  

    9-8-8 number for mental health and suicide prevention | CRTC  

    Written by: Nicolas Dousdebes  

    Practicum Student at MARL; Winter 2024  

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