Like anything, there is a right, and a wrong way to be a digital citizen.
For me, I try not to separate myself too much from my digital life. Yes, I can take on a different personality, I can feel a little less self-conscious, and I have the freedom to just have fun when I am on social media; but I never act in a way that I absolutely wouldn’t in real life, and, to me, this is how you start on the path of a good digital citizen.
If I wouldn’t bully someone in real life, I certainly wouldn’t go to the comment section on facebook to bully someone I don’t even know. If I would shut someone down for their rude, hurtful, or ignorant statements if I heard it out in the real world, then I will do the same on the internet. You can’t allow yourself to live two separate lives; this is not only unhealthy but damaging to yourself and to others.
I often try to consider the future, and I don’t think enough people really think about the future in terms of consequence. Yes, I can allow myself to be 23, young, and dumb, but not at the risk of my future. I will always strive to live myself in a way that will make my future-self proud. I don’t want to look back in five or ten years and be completely mortified or regretful of my actions. I don’t want to be unable to get a job or make friends because I made a stupid post on facebook just to get a few laughs.
People can be incredibly short-sited in terms of consequences, but I think the biggest issue is a lack of empathy. And yes, I understand that it can be difficult to empathize with a person when you don’t know them or don’t have to look them in the eye when you say something to them; you don’t have to wait for a response, but I think the main problem is that we tend to highlight a culture that revels in angering others for fun.
To some degree, yes, it can be so satisfying to see someone who does not agree with you, or is a terrible person, become enraged; but I am so much more interested in having a conversation with them. I want to engage them in conversation because that’s what kept me from joining in on stupid, hateful language. Listening to others and talking with others is what kept me from being a jerk on the internet and a jerk in real life! There is a small satisfaction in angering someone, but a much larger satisfaction in gaining understanding.
And don’t be mistaken— this is not isolated to ‘millennials’. If anything, I would say that since older generations have not learned about online bullying, about digital ethics, that they are the biggest bullies you will see on the web. They stay inside facebook and do not engage with communities outside that platform or their circle of friends who agree with them. Because younger generations use multiple platforms, they are more likely to encounter people who will call them out on their language and are more likely to receive an understanding that their behavior is not acceptable.
Still, I think the overwhelming message that needs to be heard is to life your online life the same way as your real life, because the two can no longer be separate.