Young people today consume large amounts of information through various media outlets and simultaneously create and distribute their own messages via information and communication technologies and massively multiplayer online gaming. In doing so, these ‘digital natives’ are often exposed to violent, racist, or other deleterious messages. Additionally, these digital citizens must navigate issues of information security, privacy, and identity theft. Because efforts to control access to information and exposure to these risks are fraught with difficulties, the most effective way to safeguard students and young citizens is through education. Children and youth need instruction on the application of skills for critical analysis and ethical decision making as citizens in a digital world.
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“We need a clear citizens’ vision of the way the Net ought to grow, a firm idea of the kind of media environment we would like to see in the future. If we do not develop such a vision for ourselves, the future will be shaped for us by large commercial and political powerholders” (Rheingold, 2000, p. 6). If the online environment is not considered as substantially different from the offline one, social studies educators run the risk of applying preconceived notions not only of citizenship, citizenship education, freedom of expression, and commercial and public space to the online environment, thus, limiting its potential and young people’s preparation for it. To prepare young people for online civic participation, A publicly supported virtual laboratory of democracy should be created that enables young people to become socialized to an online civic society and to learn how to act—in a civic manner—upon issues of importance to them and the larger society.