Online risks have real-world consequences, new Microsoft research shows

Most people have had at least one negative online experience that resulted in real-world consequences, including a loss of trust in others, increased stress or sleep deprivation, preliminary results of a new Microsoft survey show.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those polled said they had fallen victim at some point to at least one of 17 different online risks. That figure grows to 78 percent when respondents also considered the online experiences of their friends and families. Half reported being “extremely or very” worried about online risks generally, with the most common concerns being unwanted contact (43 percent) and various forms of harassment (39 percent).

The study, “Civility, Safety and Interaction Online – 2016,” polled youth ages 13-17 and adults ages 18-74 in 14 countries.[1] Both adults and teens said they became less trusting of others in the real world after a negative interaction online (adults: 31 percent, teens: 29 percent). Consequences to adults that outpaced those to teens included the older generation becoming less trusting of people online (42 percent of adults vs. 37 percent of youth), and a reluctance to participate in blogs and other online forums (23 percent of adults vs. 20 percent of teens). On a positive note, 29 percent of adults said they tried to be more constructive in their criticism of others after a negative online situation. That compares to one-quarter of teens.

Not surprisingly, young people said they were more likely to suffer social and academic losses following online strife. Twenty percent said they lost a friend or their scholastic performance was negatively impacted; 13 percent said they intentionally spent less time at school.

These preliminary results are the latest in a series of research studies, both in the U.S. and internationally, on the state of digital civility, personal online safety and digital interactions. Full results will be made available on international Safer Internet Day 2017 on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

We’ve chosen to make this preliminary release, featuring some adult data, following the conclusion of the U.S. presidential election and in conjunction with World Kindness Day on Sunday, Nov. 13. (Preliminary data featuring youth were released in early September.) The months leading up to the new year and Safer Internet Day 2017 represent an opportunity for a “digital reset” – a time to take stock of online habits and practices to ensure we’re putting our best digital foot forward. For instance, we can:

  • Take charge of online reputations by searching and discovering what’s on the internet about us, periodically reevaluating what’s there and aiming to cultivate a positive and accurate portrayal.
    Risks of not doing so? Missed professional and personal opportunities.
  • Embrace digital civility and model healthy behaviors for young people both online and off. These include treating others with respect, interacting in constructive ways and disagreeing without name-calling or personal attacks.
    Risks of not doing so? Inappropriate content and conduct that pollute online environments to the detriment of all digital citizens.
  • Take extra steps to keep kids safe online, such as making online safety a family affair. Show a genuine interest in what kids do online, and impart wisdom about risks and potential harms. Mix guidance and monitoring, and build their resilience to best equip them to tackle tricky situations when they arise.
    Risks of not doing so? Kids could fall victim to online bullying, harassment or worse.

Digital civility is everyone’s responsibility, and Microsoft can help put you and your family on a path to good digital citizenship. Our website and resources page are chock-full of advice and guidance for handling almost any online situation. For more regular news and information, “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

[1] Countries surveyed: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

At the time of writing of this post, Jacqueline Beauchere’s title was Chief Online Safety Officer.