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Guiding the Next Generation of Digital Citizens: Interview with David Ryan Polgar

“Digital citizenship is not static…we need to constantly be evolving and thinking about new tools and techniques.” –David Ryan Polgar, Chief of Trust & Safety at Friendbase.

David Ryal Polgar

Digital citizenship is often discussed as part of online safety, but what is it? Online safety expert David Ryan Polgar defines digital citizenship as “the safe, savvy and ethical use of technology.” Polgar stresses the importance of digital citizenship, which because of technology, impacts multiple aspects of our lives.

It’s not hard to understand the importance of using technology safely and ethically. But teaching the safe and ethical use of technology can be complex, especially with teenagers. Getting teens to recognize that there is a real living and breathing person on the other side of their screen is key. This awareness can trigger an empathy that influences what and why they post.

After School Communications Manager Michael Luchies spoke with David Ryan Polgar, a speaker, consultant and tech commentator who currently serves as Chief of Trust & Safety at Friendbase. Polgar co-founded the Digital Citizenship Summit and is now focusing his efforts on the upcoming #Digital4Good event on September 18 in San Francisco. In this interview, Polgar shares his views on digital citizenship, social media, and anonymity.

Good digital citizenship doesn’t just happen on its own. It should be introduced to individuals from an early age, and needs to be taught by multiple parties — parents, teachers, companies, and more  “[Negativity and bullying online] is not going to be solved either by the citizens or the social media companies — it’s actually going to be a tandem type of pursuit.” For example, After School works with teens, schools, parents, nonprofit organizations, and law enforcement to address issues from suicide to bullying. It also collaborates with diverse stakeholders at events and conferences and workshops, like the 2017 Social Media Safety in Schools Event.

Bullying online often happens in one-on-one interactions with hundreds (or even thousands) of bystanders. Activating those bystanders to become part of the solution has been a focus of many organizations, including the Ad Council, which partnered with After School and others for the award-winning #IAmAWitness campaign.

Asked how to support someone who is being targeted and bullied online, Polgar says that an individual first has to recognize the problem, and then be willing to speak out. “If you see something that you think is inappropriate, this is where you want to take it on as your own… and say ‘you know what, I disagree with what’s being done.’” By showing their perspective, the bystander shows both the bully and the victim that other people are watching and prepared to act. As young people are developing, they are looking for feedback on their actions. Constructive criticism may not always be comfortable, but it can help young people discern what is appropriate behavior, and what is expected of them.

Good digital citizenship is not dependent on users having public profiles. “I think it’s a little flawed to think that anonymity is always going to lead to bad behavior,” says Polgar. “The beauty of online communities is supposed to be that they expand our freedom of speech. That being said, what we always want to work on is what incentivizes good or bad behavior.” By encouraging positive behavior, social networks can lead successful digital citizenship efforts. And they will also have a positive influence on their users and the communities they participate in.

Learn more about David Ryan Polgar at TechEthicist.com and DavidRyanPolgar.com.

Other Quotes from Our Interview with David Ryan Polgar:

  • “For any type of anonymous or private type of chat, you want to make sure that people recognize that people want to be good.”
  • “You don’t think of your most creative thoughts, when you have 5 open browsers.”
  • “It’s (digital citizenship) something that needs to be embedded within our school district, that’s why there are a lot of great organizations pursuing this endeavor.”
  • “Any type of online behavior, especially toxic behaviors we are trying to reduce and lessen–that all derives from some kind of place. Digital Citizenship as a concept or pursuit is crucial.”
  • “We can make tweaks (when developing social platforms) to really incentivize our better angels.”
  • “You don’t just do good behavior so you don’t get in trouble, you do it because that’s the right thing to do.”

Read more from the After School Social Change with Technology Interview Series here:



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