Promoting digital citizenship during a pandemic

School librarians and teachers are instrumental in ensuring students build strong digital citizenship skills--even while they're learning from home

When the coronavirus pandemic forced school closures and stay-at-home orders across the country, the internet became a social and academic lifeline for young people. Students are now engaging in distance learning daily. They’re also spending more time on social media as a way to stay connected to friends and family.

This increase in the amount of time spent online also means there is greater potential for problems such as cyberbullying and other concerns. It highlights the importance now more than ever of understanding and practicing good digital citizenship.

Related content: Moving from digital citizenship to digital leadership

Being a good digital citizen requires understanding how to be safe, respectful and informed in the online world. For example, it’s important to understand how to behave properly in an online classroom, how to identify “fake news” disseminated online, and how to engage in social media in a positive way. Here are some issues to consider, and some ways to promote good digital citizenship during the pandemic and beyond.

Set rules of etiquette for online classes and video chats

As learning has moved online, schools, library media specialists, and teachers should communicate expectations to their students for online classrooms and video lessons.

Teachers may also request that students participate in their online meetings in an appropriate part of the house such as a home office or living room (rather than a bedroom or bathroom). Teachers should explain the dos and don’ts of video lessons. For example, don’t take screen shots of a video call and post it publicly. Do “raise your hand” and wait for the instructor to call on you rather than talking over others. Don’t share the password for your video meeting. Do let others in your home know that you are going to be on a video call to help avoid distractions or other people interrupting your class.

Teach media literacy

How long does the coronavirus live on an item shipped to your home? Is it true that drinking household cleaners will cure COVID-19 (the answer is “no”)? Is that online fundraiser real or is it a scam? These are just some of the examples of questions a student might encounter when doing internet searches regarding the coronavirus or by simply scrolling through their social media feeds. Misinformation and scams have been prevalent during the pandemic. It’s important to teach students how to fact check the information they come across.

Some good rules of practice are:
• Investigate. Verify the source of the information. Determine whether it is a credible source and fact check with other credible sources such as the CDC.
• Don’t share misinformation. If you aren’t sure a piece of information is legitimate, don’t share it.
• Look for signs of bias. Find out who supports the web site or if the article is sponsored by a particular group or company. This will help you understand the motive behind the piece so you can make a more informed decision about whether to share it.
• Don’t click on links sent to you by a person or organization you aren’t familiar with, and even if it looks legitimate, verify it with the sender before opening it.
• Watch out for sites or emails that request your personal information.

Protect against online bullies

Social media and anonymous forums are prime areas for cyberbullying. According to’s research, on average about 28 percent of middle school students said they had been the victim of cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime. These numbers may increase for students of all ages as they increasingly rely on social media to stay connected to friends and have more time on their hands to explore anonymous forums and other such sites.

To help protect against cyberbullying, teachers and parents can provide some guidance to students around the proper way to conduct themselves online. For example, if a student disagrees with a post or article and wants to comment about it, they should be respectful and do it in a way that will further the conversation rather than attack the author. Similarly, make sure students know how to disable comments on their own posts if needed.

According to, warning signs that a child is being cyberbullied include shutting down social media accounts, hiding their devices when others are near or becoming withdrawn or depressed. If parents notice these issues, it’s time for a conversation and then, if needed, a call to the teacher or parents of the bully – or potentially law enforcement.

Lessons that support social-emotional learning can help. For example, teachers can assign writing assignments that help students think about and process their emotions. They can assign lessons that help students practice kindness. Activities such as exercise or meditation can help lessen the anxiety that many are going through right now and may lessen the likelihood that a student will lash out via cyberbullying.

These are unprecedented times in which everyone’s access to the online world has expanded out of necessity. By providing lessons and support around digital citizenship, teachers can help students navigate this new terrain effectively sand safely.