In his posthumous op-ed, House Representative John Lewis wrote, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act,” and challenged all Americans to “do [their] part to help build…a nation and world society at peace with itself.” In our generation, where technology is integrated into virtually every aspect of public and private life, preserving the American democracy must involve ensuring that digital tools and platforms are employed in service of our communities, facilitating the productive and equitable exchange of information and opportunity, rather than being hijacked to sow misinformation and discord. In recent months, we have observed ample examples of both cases. Young Americans are using technology to raise awareness of ongoing racial justice issues, which have led to significant policy shifts. However, at the same time, members of the public are sharing falsehoods about the COVID-19 global pandemic, costing lives and extending economic devastation.
To ensure that upcoming generations can positively leverage online spaces and rise above the ever-present call to division, digital citizenship—encompassing the critical competencies to discern fact from fiction, navigate relationships, and use technology to champion change—must be fostered, beginning in our schools where students already engage with technology regularly. The work to develop digital citizens and future leaders is underway in several states and districts, and there exists numerous ways that the federal government can supply further momentum—setting a national vision around digital citizenship, building the capacity of educators, and strategically investing necessary funds.