<span class='p-name'>Building Ethical Communities</span>

Building Ethical Communities

I recently wrote a meditation for The Ethics of Digital Literacy, edited by my good friend Kristen Turner. My meditation for the text was focused on the challenges and opportunities in building ethical communities. You can review the submitted version here.

In this post, I am sharing materials for a virtual series on the Ethics of Digital Literacy hosted by Dr. Turner and the crew from #DrewTeach. You can review all of the webinars here.

My presentation

In this talk, I will focus on some questions I had as a I considered the pieces in my section in the text, and some overarching provocations I had while thinking about these issues. I sought to define, and explain the importance of my issue in the development of digital literacies. I also endeavored to reflect on issues we need to consider as teachers of students at all levels.

Specifically, I asked the following questions in my presentation:

1. What does it mean to be ethical, or “promote the public good” in new, digital contexts?

2. How do we promote desired ethics in new, digital contexts in a way that is inclusive for all?

3. How do we promote desired ethics in new, digital contexts in a way that is inclusive for all?

4. What efforts are you making in your personal and professional lives to practice ethical digital citizenship?

Evolving concepts of reality and public

We need to understand that change is the one constant in these discussions. What we understand to be “reality” is always in a state of flux. Concepts like “public” are frequently contested as new technologies and spaces become more ubiquitous. 

Digital dualism (Jurgenson, 2011) refers to the belief that the online and offline, or physical realms are distinct or different. This distinction is often made by individuals that grew up as the Internet and other communication technologies began to take hold of society. Digital dualism posits that the online and offline are intermeshed, especially as we examine how people often connect with each other using social media before, while, and often after they meet in-person.

It is important to recognize that the term “public” can mean different things for different purposes and practices. As digital technologies become even more ubiquitous around the globe, there are multiple versions of public, or publics, as individuals identify, connect, communicate, and engage with others. These “networked publics” enable a specific type of community that signifies participation and engagement amongst a collective in digital spaces (boyd, 2007). 


In hybrid spaces, networked publics are not just individuals grouped together, but “transformed by networked media, its properties, and its potential” (boyd, 2010,  The interactions, needs, and concerns of these collectives are shaped and modified by the spaces and tools they use to congregate. This begs the question what do these connections between individuals in new communities mean for the ethics of the group, and who determines ethical behaviors and practices?

We need to ask pointed questions about the shared responsibility between innovators, companies, the government, and the individual citizens online. We need to try and create and utilize a set of frameworks and “bill of rights” that assigns responsibility and accountability based on what promotes the public good.

What does it mean to be a digital citizen?

The description of what it means to be a citizen has no, singular, or simple answer. The term, and the rules and responsibilities that inform this term are generally a fluid process. Citizenship is equal parts culture, identity, empowerment, and responsibility.

You might consider the model of Visitors and Residents from David S. White and Alison Le Cornu as they expand on Marc Prensky‘s notion of digital natives and digital immigrants.

You might also examine Mike Ribble‘s definition of digital citizenship as the “continuously developing norms of appropriate, responsible, and empowered technology use.” Ribble identifies nine contexts that impact this discussion:

  • Digital Access – we need to be committed to make sure that no one is denied digital access for equal digital rights.
  • Digital Commerce – we need to understand that a large share of market economy is being done electronically and, thus, we need to be effective consumers.
  • Digital Communication – we need to learn how to make appropriate decisions in communication given the ever-expanding options to collaborate and interact with anyone from anywhere at any time.
  • Digital Literacy – A renewed focus must be made on what technologies must be taught in schools as well as how it should be used.
  • Digital Etiquette – it is not enough to create rules and policy, we must teach everyone to become responsible digital citizens practicing digital etiquette (i.e., appropriate conduct) in this new society.
  • Digital Law – we must maintain electronic responsibility for our actions and deeds. There must be an ethical use of technology within our society.
  • Digital Rights & Responsibilities – each citizen has the right to privacy, free speech and more. But with these rights, come great responsibility that must be addressed, discussed, and understood in the digital world.
  • Digital Health & Wellness – each digital user needs to be taught that there are inherent dangers, both physical and mental, of technology through education and training.

Ethics and citizenship in digital communities

Social practice theory (Holland & Lave, 2009) indicates that individuals enact practices that are composed of many integrated elements that include specific materials, competencies, and meanings. These practices inform and enact the ethics that guide citizens as they interact and connect with others for a variety of academic and personal purposes. Bringing all of these concepts together, citizenship in networked publics involves the need to better understand the challenges of participating and socializing in digital spaces and places.

A key challenge is that digital citizens may not have the skills or access required to create and share materials online, thereby not have the skills or competencies needed to be fully literate on the web. As such, there is a need for educators and members of the collective to educate, and ensure that all members of the collective have the skills, practices, and understanding to be a member of the group. How do we balance individual interactions with the greater community, and the benefits that come from this, while ensuring our privacy, security, and data?


We’re bumping into something that’s going to have a tremendous impact in the way we live, what we do, how we think about things, and even our individual rights. There is a need to revise and redefine existing power structures while advocating for ethics and empathy in digital and hybrid spaces. Members of the community need to problematize the complexities of these interactions, and prepare all children to participate in complex democratic discourses using diverse digital tools.

Stay in touch

I blog regularly on this site.

My weekly newsletter focuses on the news of the week in technology, education, and literacy. Subscribe here.

I’m also a member of the Screentime Research Group. While you’re there, you should check out the Technopanic Podcast that I co-host with Kristen Turner. This podcast is all about living and learning in an age of screentime. Subscribe on iTunesSpotifyGoogle Play MusicPocketCastsStitcher…or the podcast catcher of your choice.

More resources

CyberCivics – CyberWise

Practicing Ethical Digital Usage – iKeepSafe Generation Safe

Moving Students From Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership – TeachThought

Promoting Responsible & Ethical Digital Citizens – Education World

Digital Citizenship Curricular Materials – Digital Citizenship Utah

Everything You Need to Teach Digital Citizenship – Common Sense Education

What Is Digital Citizenship (& How Do You Teach It)? – Applied Educational Systems


Image Credits

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.