Digital Citizenship: A National Imperative to Protect and Reinvigorate our Democracy

Authors: Joseph South and Ji Soo Song


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.

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About the Authors

Joseph South is the chief learning officer at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and a national educational technology leader focused on evidence-based learning transformation. He formerly served as the director of the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. In this role, he was an adviser to the secretary of education and developed national policy, including policy to advance educational technology in teacher preparation. He also formed public-private partnerships to assist state and local education leaders in transitioning to digital learning. He is a strong proponent of the active use of technology by learners. He holds a doctorate in instructional psychology and technology from Brigham Young University.

Ji Soo Song is an advocate committed to educational equity. As senior policy and advocacy associate at ISTE, he analyzes policy issues related to state educational technology standards, educator credentialing systems, and educational technology funding streams. Prior to ISTE, he served as a City Year AmeriCorps Member in the District of Columbia, where he taught third grade mathematics and robotics, and received the WilmerHale Civic Innovation Award. Ji Soo was also an undergraduate fellow at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology (OET), where he supported development of the National Education Technology Plan and OET “Dear Colleague” Letter. Ji Soo holds an M.Ed. in education policy and leadership from American University’s School of Education.