Year in review: New online safety resources created, 2017 brings focus on digital civility

I recently attended the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference in Washington, D.C., where the event theme – “Online Safety in Transition” – prompted me to reflect on my work in online safety and how it has evolved. Looking back on 2016, the online safety landscape has indeed shifted and we at Microsoft will continue to focus on the issue in 2017.

When I began working in online safety some 12 years ago, risks like child predation took center stage, more out of fear than fact, and issues such as phishing were just starting to become mainstream. With a code of conduct and robust content moderation practices in place, our responses focused on public awareness-raising, informal educational efforts and collaboration with others in industry and civil society. While being cognizant of existing and emerging risks, we spoke of the transformational power of technology, and the promises to be derived from a connected world. And, while those ideals still hold true, a dozen years later, the face of online safety has changed.

In 2016, Microsoft announced new resources for reporting hate speech on our hosted consumer services, developed a new form for reporting any type of content that we may have removed (or an account that we may have closed) in error and published our approach to addressing terrorist content online. We also marked one year since our non-consensual pornography (or “revenge porn”) policy went into effect, and we used that milestone to create new guidance to help support victims. We continued our work in the WePROTECT Global Alliance to End Child Sexual Exploitation Online; stepped up efforts to combat tech support fraud, online bullying and harassment; and supported groups and causes across the globe focused on safeguarding children’s rights, protecting other vulnerable members of our global online population and evangelizing best practices.

In the final months of 2016, we previewed new research (post #1, post #2) that we will publish in full on Feb. 7, 2017, which is Safer Internet Day. The study, “Civility, Safety and Interaction Online – 2016,” polled teens and adults in 14 countries,[1] asking about their experiences and encounters with 17 different online risks across four categories: behavioral, reputational, sexual and personal/intrusive. We hope these findings will serve as an evidentiary base for a global push toward “digital civility” – healthy behaviors for youth and adults alike, both online and off, grounded in respect, constructive interaction and inclusion. Such a shift will mark a further evolution in online safety, combining the focus areas of the early years of the new millennia with the fresh realities of the internet today.

In addition to the digital civility research, we plan to release other materials on Safer Internet Day 2017, including suggested smart practices for youth, teens and adults, educators, school officials, new technology companies and others. Watch our digital and social channels for updates and new releases between the start of the new year and Safer Internet Day.

While we’re encouraged by our new campaign for digital civility and some favorable early feedback, we don’t profess to have all the answers – not by any stretch. On the contrary, new concerns and fresh twists on age-old internet issues continue to surface regularly, with many problems presenting a delicate balancing of interests. So, as one step, we want to get back to basics and encourage civility and respect in all online interactions.

In the meantime ahead of our Safer Internet Day release, continue to visit our website and resources page on the Microsoft YouthSpark Hub.  There, we offer advice and guidance for dealing with almost any online situation. For more regular news and information, “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. We look forward to sharing more on SID, and here’s to making 2017 the safest digital New Year yet.


[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.

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