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Responsible Participation In Online Communities

Posted October 15, 2019 by Yvette Sonneveld. Filed under Community.

In our first article in this series, we highlighted the WordPress mission to democratize publishing. WordPress introduced a tool to independent and small publishers who did not have the resources of the larger publishing platforms. Access to a free content management system to create websites has empowered thousands of people to find their voice online. People have been able to share their enthusiasm for hobbies, causes, products and much more. Through these different voices, we can encourage understanding, spark creativity, and create environments where collaboration can happen. But as we build more digital communities, it’s easy to forget that online safety is a group effort.

Digital literacy is also part of being a good digital citizen, but it’s more than just being able to do basic actions with your mobile device. Digital literacy refers to the range of skills needed to do online research, set up web accounts, and find solutions for fixing devices among other things. But to be able to enjoy more of the digital world safely and responsibly – to be a good digital citizen – we need to be able to: 

  • navigate vast amounts of information without getting overwhelmed;
  • evaluate a variety of perspectives;
  • connect with people with respect and empathy;
  • create, curate and share information.

We will need our offline analytical and social skills to make that happen. 

Here’s some best practices our community members have shared!

Online or offline, let empathy be your compass

The hardest part about all of this is the anonymity of online interactions. Without that face-to-face feedback of saying something mean to another person’s face, it’s easy to upset the people you’re trying to communicate with.

In our daily lives in the offline world, comments may be more tempered and slow to anger  in disagreements. Visual cues will help us determine how a remark is perceived. That, in turn, helps us adjust our behaviour Action, reaction, it’s how we learn best.

Online, however, the experience is different. A keyboard does not protest if we type angry, hate-filled messages. A screen does not show any signs of being hurt. The lack of physical human presence combined with the anonymity of online alter-egos can be a formula for disrespectful and unfriendly behavior. It is good to remind ourselves that behind the avatars, nicknames and handles are real people. The same empathy we display in our in-person interactions should apply online as well.

Critically evaluate your sources 

We all have times when we consume information with limited research and fact-checking. For some of us, it feels like there’s no time to research and compare sources when faced by a sea of online information. For others, there may be uncertainty about where to start and what to consider. But, without a bit of skepticism and analytical thinking, we run the risk of creating narrow or incorrect understanding of the world. With a little effort we can curb the sharing of fake news and biased information, particularly on topics that are new to us or that we’re not familiar with.

Misinformation can spread like wildfire. Ask these simple questions to evaluate information online: 

  • who is the source of the information?
  • is it plausible?
  • is the information fact or just an opinion?

Own our content

In this day and age, it’s never been easier to just copy, paste and publish somebody else’s content. That doesn’t mean that we should! Publishing content that is not truly ‘yours’ in wording and tone of voice is unlikely to build a connection with the right audience. But, just as important, using someone else’s content may breach copyright and potentially intellectual property rights. 

For more information about intellectual property, visit the World Intellectual Property Organization website.

Don’t breeze past terms and conditions

Have you ever signed up for an online service (to help you distribute published content or accept payments) that was offered at no cost? In our fast-paced digital lives, we tend to want to breeze past terms and conditions or warning information and often miss important information about what will happen with our data. 

When we are given a contract on paper, we tend to read and re-read it, giving it a greater priority of our time. We may send it to other people for a second opinion or seek further review before signing. Remarkably, we rarely do that with online agreements. As a result, we may be putting our online privacy and security at risk. (WordPress uses a GPL license, and only collects usage data that we never share ever.).

Keep your website safe and healthy

If you would like to own your voice online, you also need to protect your reputation by securing your publishing platform. Websites can face security attacks. Hackers may seek to obtain access through insecure settings, outdated plugins and old software versions, and in extreme cases can try to scam your visitors. And leaking customer data, may even lead to legal consequences.

On top of that, websites ‘flagged’ for security issues, can lead to high bounce rates and eventual loss of search rankings. This can all affect how search engines rate or even block your site. 

Good practices to keep your website safe include changing your safe password regularly, installing security software, an SSL certificate and keeping the core software, plugins and themes up to date. This will not guarantee that you will keep hackers out, so always keep several backups of your site, ideally both offline and online.

That is just website security in a tiny nutshell. If you would like to learn more about keeping websites safe, you may want to check out some of these resources and many more videos at WordPress.tv.

Join in and help make the web a better place!

As part of Digital Citizenship Week, we would like to encourage you to learn and share skills with your colleagues, friends and family members. That way, we all become more informed of potential issues and how to reduce the risks. Together we can make it easier to navigate the web more effectively and securely!

Additional resources

Site health check

WordPress 5.2 introduced pages in the admin interface to help users run health checks on their sites. They can be found under the Tools menu.

Security and SSL 

Contributors

@chanthaboune, @yvettesonneveld, @webcommsat, @muzhdekad @alexdenning@natashadrewnicki, @oglekler, and Daria Gogoleva.


See Also:

Want to follow the code? There’s a development P2 blog and you can track active development in the Trac timeline that often has 20–30 updates per day.

Want to find an event near you? Check out the WordCamp schedule and find your local Meetup group!

For more WordPress news, check out the WordPress Planet.

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