Respect in the Digital Age

Considering the increasing use of technology that brings people together from around the world, the existence of cultural differences, and the digital divide between those who have access to technology and those who don’t, there is a growing need to promote respect for cultural diversity.

ISTE standards for Coaches #7b addresses the importance of fostering a culture of respectful online interactions.

We often hear that respect is essential for peaceful interactions. As former Mexican president Benito Juarez stated, “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.”  This quote means that among individuals, like among nations, respect for the rights of others means peace. Without respect, people and civilizations would end up in conflict. In this era where digital technology bypasses borders, people from all over the world now interact with one another, creating a new population of global digital citizens. The internet and digital devices of this era have redefined social exchanges as they allow cross-cultural interactions that were not previously possible. With our own values and definition of “common sense” often biased to our geography and culture, how can we ensure we treat others respectfully?

Respect: multiple definitions

Let’s start by defining the meaning of “respect.”

Merriam-Webseter defines it as “1a: to consider worthy of high regard : ESTEEM b: to refrain from interfering with.”

Can we really show high regard for every culture? This definition implies that we not only understand the culture, but also esteem and value it.

Urban dictionary provides a more detailed explanation “Treating people in a positive manner that acknowledges them for who they are and/or what they are doing. Being treated or treating an individual in a dignified manner.” This definition of respect does not involve approval and esteem, but rather requires acknowledging others and treating them with dignity.

Given both definitions of respect, we can conclude that there needs to be some kind of understanding that other cultures may be different from ours, and that we need to acknowledge the existence of those differences.

Cultural differences

In order to treat others respectfully, we need to first acknowledge that there are unique cultural differences. Learning about the world is often included in school curricula. 

The global digital citizen foundation recommends implementing a school-wide program. In this school program a digital citizen is characterized by five unique values “Personal responsibility, global citizenship, digital citizenship, altruistic service and environmental stewardship.” It also includes six tenants of digital citizenship: respect and responsibility for yourself, others, and property (Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 2020). The foundation recommends the use of digital citizenship agreements that clearly define respect and break it down into different areas. There are digital citizenship agreements for primary, middle school, and senior school, which use age appropriate language for the different grade levels. Some examples included in the agreements are “only say nice things about people,” “choosing online names that are suitable and respectful,” and “I will show respect to others” (digital citizenship agreements).

Being from a culture different from the United States, I can say that these statements are somewhat vague and up for interpretation. I have personally experienced misunderstandings brought about by the culture clash. What may be appropriate for one person, can be rude or inappropriate to another. Even within the same language, Spanish for instance, one word may be a term of endearment in one country, but a bad word in another. There is a need to acknowledge that our socially correct behavior may contrast with other cultures (or vice versa) easily causing misunderstandings and cultural clashes.

Understanding the existence of misunderstandings

In order to be better global citizens, we need to not only acknowledge and accept the existence of diversity, but we also need to understand that different cultural products, practices and perspectives may cause misunderstandings, or unintended disrespect. Furthermore, we need to be tolerant and proactive in order to find solutions when those misunderstandings happen. Similar to Garner’s argument regarding technological ambiguity, there exists a cultural ambiguity, where the intentions lie in the underlying values. So the same question applies, “What framework of values do we use to evaluate both intention and consequence?” (Campbell & Garner., 2016, p. 36)

Digital gaps and divides

Another area of respect relates to digital access. In his book A Very Short Introduction, Floridi (2010) warns “the digital divide will become a chasm, generating new forms of discrimination between those who can be denizens of the infosphere and those who cannot, between insiders and outsiders, between information-rich and information-poor” (p. 28). Therefore, respect needs to be promoted for students who do not have access to technology. Students without access may feel excluded or judged. There is a need to create a culture where students are sensitive, kind, and supportive to one another regardless of their place in the digital world.  BrainPOP Educators highlights an article by Dr. Mike Ribble, where he presents the importance of respect for digital access, and recommends that schools facilitate access to technology and online resources and that educators provide options and resources for the home that are not dependent on technology. 

It is also important to consider that while some students do not have digital access, there are others whose parents prefer to limit the use of technology, not because of a lack of resources, but because of their cultural values. Therefore, in addition to promoting digital awareness in the schools, I also envision resources being made available to parents regarding the importance of cultural mindfulness. Such resources can include newsletters, brochures, and blogs. There needs to be more literacy training in K-12, and such training should not be limited to students, but also include families and the community. 


Given the implications of the digital era, how can we ensure we treat others respectfully?  I would positively mention that the answer is complex and fluid, meant to be formed by society as it matures towards an understanding world. We can only begin to attempt to be respectful, knowing that we may fall short sometimes. Therefore, we need to be open to learning about other cultural perspectives, the existence of cultural differences, and know that there are those who lack access to technology. We also need to be proactive in helping others gain cultural understanding, and do so kindly, patiently, and with grace.


Campbell, H. A., & Garner, S. (2016). Networked theology (Engaging culture): Negotiating faith in digital culture. Baker Academic. 

Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s most-trusted online dictionary. Respect. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from 

DIF Texcoco. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from,derecho%20ajeno%20es%20la%20paz.%E2%80%9D 

Digital citizenship: Respect, protect, educate. (2019, October 8). BrainPOP Educators.

Floridi, L. (2010). The information revolution. In Information: A very short introduction (p. 28). Oxford University Press.

Global Digital Citizen Foundation. School program. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from

Image. Retrieved September 27, 2020 from 

ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from 

Urban dictionary: Respect. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from

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