Be a good digital citizen

Many of you know that I am a podcast fanatic and, next to producing two podcasts (purrpodcast and the cat café podcast), I listen to several every day. One of my favorite podcasts is ‘note to self,’ ‘a tech show about being human’ podcast hosted by Manoush Zomorodi. This week I loved the latest episode: ‘how to create good digital citizens’ and had to think of my good friend Eric Garcia, who recently started a new movement #enoughalready ( where he explains that he is done with toxic rhetoric on the internet. Eric is a digital specialist who has connected to our veterinary profession with an amazing goal of teaching us the ins and outs of our rapidly expanding digital world.

‘Note to self’ is an awesome podcast that discusses the limits and possible side effects of social media and anything else digital. Manoush discusses these issues in a helpful and positive way. In the specific episode I am referring to, she is talking about the fact that we have rules for everything in our off-line world. For instance, we all know that we cannot run a red light and not face the consequences.’ ‘What if you lived somewhere without any laws or boundaries,’ she asks? The internet is exactly such a place.  Why is it possible to write anything you want on social media without any evidence to back it up and get away with it? As this issue has been discussed in many blogs, articles and podcasts, the ‘note to self’ one struck a chord because of its positive spin. The episode talked about teaching young kids on how we should conduct ourselves online. Manoush interviews Richard Culatta, the CEO of the International Society of technology education (ISTE) on how to live well online. ISTE’s role is how to help schools to become more innovative. One of its goals is to set standards for using technology and teach these standards at schools all over the world. At the moment, there are no or very few standards or guidelines for how to be a good digital citizen.

Richard mentioned in this interview that we need a paradigm cultural shift and identified 5 core competencies that any digital citizen should have. The question is now, what has this to do with veterinary medicine and with us, veterinary professionals? Manoush asks that exact same question in the podcast: Consider now how competent you as an adult are in your digital space?

Let’s discuss these 5 standards:

  1. Be Alert; I am aware of my online actions and know how to create a safe environment for others and myself. In other words teach yourself to be a good cyber friend; help to create an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable. Don’t make it too easy for others to abuse your digital safe zone (i.e., do not use the same password for everything). Frame things positively, instead of negatively and be a positive force within your online community. We all know not to respond to urgent requests of Nigerian millionaires, but do we change our passwords immediately when there is another leak on your favorite platform (or even better do you use a secure password app)? Do we help our colleagues and do we come up for our friends when they are bullied? Or do we have a passive stance when people feel overwhelmed and only show support when we feel like it?
  2. Be Inclusive. I am open in hearing and respect multiple viewpoints and I engage with empathy and respect, even if others may not. Practice to be respectful and be tolerant. Agree to disagree. Listen and practice saying ‘I hear what you are saying’. We are often prone to respond fast and do not reflect on what effect your immediate response will have. It is ok not to agree, it is not ok to slam one down for it.
  3. Be Informed. I evaluate the accuracy, perspective and validity of digital and social media posts. If you expect people to tell evidence-based truth, start with yourself. Cite your info and sources! OMG, this is so logical and I, for instance, so rarely do this! In my previous academic career, I used to teach the various levels of evidence all the time but in my social posts I tend to forget this and just give my (sometimes emotional) opinion (n=1) without clearly stating that I am.
  4. Be Balanced. I make informed decisions how to prioritize my time and activities on- and off-line. We have many projects in veterinary medicine focusing spending more good quality time off-line (, but do we differentiate about what good quality online activities are? Do we fault ourselves because we have an 20% increase in overall screen time even after we used it mainly to find references or be on sites that help us deal with issues in our professional life? It is not black and white, that is all I want to say.
  5. Be Engaged. I use technology and digital channels for civic engagement to solve problems and be a force for good in physical and digital communities. How can we set good examples? How can we help other people to make better decisions? I feel good because I have an online surgical education site, helping global veterinarians be better surgeons ( We discuss topics that may be of help off and online, but do I engage enough in discussions that are outside my comfort zone? For instance, I get a lot of comments about the ‘not one more vet’ Facebook site ( being too negative, but is this not a platform where people created a safe zone where you could help and support others? Practicing these 5 standards in any safe zone will give you positive energy and will engage you to be a better digital citizen.

So how can you turn yourself into a good digital citizen? The real question that you need to answer is what kind of person do I want to be online? When I filled this in for myself I quickly came up with more questions: Should I spend a bit more time creating my zone where I feel safe and comfortable, or not do it for that reason?  Should I not respond immediately or primary but reflect a bit what people say and why they say it? Should I fact check a bit more often and change my way how I post my comments? Should I be less hard on screen time and recognize it is a gray zone en joy my time off line a bit more too? These are things (I) you probably should talk about with your (my) friends, colleagues and possible children and so create a better digital space for all of us.


‘Note to self’ podcast:

Levels of evidence:

Published by jollenl

Veterinary surgeon interested in cancer. Author, cat & dog lover with a focus on evidence-based medicine

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