Digital Citizenship

‘Citizenship’ refers to a) the position of a person in the context of law, public discourse and civil society, and b) the active engagement of the person with that environment. This understanding of citizenship expands beyond the formal citizenship status and highlights the enactment and development of active citizenship through participation. It relates closely to concepts such as citizen journalism, citizen media and civic culture.

Digital citizenship, then, denotes the changing nature of citizenship in a digitally networked society and encompasses civic agency reified through the use of digital media (see authors such as Papacharissi and Coleman/Blumler). Digital infrastructure has the potential to facilitate the membership and participation of individuals within society. Digital citizens thus enter the sphere of civic activity through digital media and are both empowered and restricted by their uses of digital media as civic tools. To fully prosper and develop agency, digital citizenship requires an enabling and trust-worthy digital communication environment.

Mass surveillance therefore affects the very basis of digital citizenship. From internet service providers to social networking sites to mobile apps, surveillance programmes collect data based on core processes of people’s everyday lives. They affect the communication practices of citizens that have integrated the use of email, chat, social media and mobile communication into an ever-growing range of regular daily activities.

The Snowden revelations have prompted significant debates around issues that directly concern digital citizenship, such as the nature of civil rights in a context of security; the accountability and legitimacy of government agencies and corporate intermediaries; the transparency, use and configuration of technical infrastructures; the role of the news media in covering these developments; and the responsibilities and limitations of journalists reporting on state activities.