New Microsoft research shows reports of increased civility online

  • Awareness
  • 22/02/2019
  • Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer at Microsoft

For Safer Internet Day 2019, Microsoft released a new research showing that people around the world, and in particular in the United States, Germany, France and Belgium, are reportedly experiencing increased levels of online civility.

Microsoft's Digital Civility Index – Background

The research, entitled "Civility, Safety and Interactions Online – 2018", measures the perceptions of adults and teenagers in 22 countries about their exposure to a number of online risks across four categories:

  • Reputational – "Doxing" and damage to personal or professional reputations
  • Behavioural -  Being treated meanly; experiencing trolling, online harassment or bullying; encountering hate speech and micro-aggressions
  • Sexual - Sending or receiving unwanted sexting messages and making sexual solicitations; receiving unwanted sexual attention and being a victim of sextortion or non-consensual pornography (aka "revenge porn")
  • Personal / Intrusive - Being the target of unwanted contact, experiencing discrimination, swatting, misogyny, exposure to extremist content/recruiting, or falling victim to hoaxes, scams or fraud

The Digital Civility Index (DCI) works like a golf score: the lower the value (on a scale from zero to 100), the lower the respondents' risk exposure and the higher the perceived level of online civility among people in that country.

Results of the 2018 Digital Civility Index

Microsoft's DCI fell two points in the latest year to 66 per cent, although the level is still one point higher than the inaugural reading taken two years ago. Meanwhile, the DCI as measured by online risks experienced by family and friends of respondents fell 5 points to 63 per cent.

The decrease in the DCI is particularly significant in the United States, Germany, France and Belgium, meaning higher levels of perceived online civility in these countries. The US DCI showed the biggest improvement, down 10 points to 51 and an overall ranking of n°2 behind the UK. Germany's DCI stands at 57, down 8 points. France's DCI fell 6 points and Belgium's reading came in at 56, down 5 points from the prior year.

Unwanted contact remains the most reported risk across all three years of research, and across geographies and demographics. In the latest report, four in 10 respondents (40 percent) said they experienced unwanted contact, still the highest of all 21 risks, but 4 points lower than the level of unwanted contact recorded a year ago. This slight decline was the primary driver for overall improvement in the DCI. Exposure to other online risks were largely unchanged from the prior year.

In this study, Microsoft wanted to dive deeper into the actual risk types, as well as the consequences and the follow-on pain and discomfort. Following exposure to online risks, people reported becoming less trusting of others, both online and off. They claimed their lives became more stressful; they lost sleep, and were less likely to participate in social media, blogs and online forums.

On the positive side, teens are, now more than ever, looking to their parents and other trusted adults for help with online risks. 42 per cent of teens surveyed said they asked a parent for help with an online issue, up 32 per cent from the prior year. Just under 3 in 10 (28 per cent) said they asked another adult for help, such as a teacher, coach or counsellor.

Microsoft's Digital Civility Challenge and resources

To mark Safer Internet Day, Microsoft reminded people about its Digital Civility Challenge: four practical principles for safer and healthier online interactions.

  • Live the Golden Rule by acting with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treat everyone you connect with online with dignity and respect.
  • Respect differences, honour diverse perspectives and when disagreements surface, engage thoughtfully, and avoid name-calling and personal attacks.
  • Pause before replying to things you disagree with, and do not post or send anything that could hurt someone else, damage a reputation or threaten someone's safety.
  • Stand up for yourself and others by supporting those who are targets of online abuse or cruelty, reporting threatening activity and preserving evidence of inappropriate or unsafe behaviour.

To empower people to take up the challenge, Microsoft is sharing a range of digital civility and online safety resources. Following the organisation of the Council for Digital Good in 2017-2018, Microsoft has compiled a short guidebook about the programme, available for those interested in creating youth-focused programmes and initiatives, simply by contacting Microsoft Online Safety and Digital Civility at msftosdc@microsoft.com.

For more information about Microsoft's role as a Safer Internet Day supporter, view the full article on the Microsoft blog and visit the dedicated page on saferinternetday.org.


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