At US Safer Internet Day launch event in Philadelphia, youth commit to being kinder online

Photo of teens' Post-its on display board about digital civility

Youth and teens attending the official U.S. launch event of Safer Internet Day 2017 embraced Microsoft’s Digital Civility Challenge and committed to being kinder and more respectful to one another online.

Celebrated in Philadelphia, as part of Safer Internet Day 2017, Microsoft released research from 14 countries, our inaugural Digital Civility Index, the challenge and other resources to encourage more empathetic and respectful online interactions. Our hope is that digital civility – built on a strong foundation of empathy – becomes a universal message and a second-nature behavior to foster a safer, more trusted and more respectful internet.

In Philadelphia, we asked young people at the launch to share with us the challenge tenet that resonated most with them, as well as what they will do to help promote digital civility this month and throughout the year. In short, the challenge consists of four basic tenets:

  1. Living the Golden Rule
  2. Respecting differences
  3. Pausing before replying, and
  4. Standing up for one’s self and others. (Click here to read the full Digital Civility Challenge.)

Out of 109 responses from youth ages 10 to 17, the Golden Rule was the clear favorite; nearly 40 percent of young people selected that single challenge ideal as the one to get behind. A dozen others said they would live the Golden Rule by respecting differences or standing up for others online. Another 20 percent said they would make an extra effort to pause before replying to posts they disagree with, and just under a third said they would either respect differences or make an extra effort to stand up for themselves and others online. A small number of students came up with their own commitments or adapted one or more of the challenge tenets. These included:

  • “I will pause before replying because if I send some mean messages, I can harm someone else’s feelings. I would be a cyberbully. If I give away some personal information, I can threaten my safety.” – Dante, age 12
  • “To respect people even if they don’t respect me.” – Israel, age 15
  • “To make positive comments to help people who have insecurities.” – Ailani, age 13
  • “I believe that if you stand up for yourself and others it will make a difference and hopefully evolve our generation.” – Valerie, age 12

Microsoft was honored to be a part of the U.S. launch sponsored by ConnectSafely.org. In a panel discussion, we presented our Digital Civility Challenge and told teenagers that we’re currently accepting applications for our new Council for Digital Good. We also managed a booth where were the young people shared their challenge commitments. The audience also heard from William Hite, Jr., the superintendent of Philadelphia’s public schools, who shared that K-12 Philadelphia youth are taught both internet safety and digital citizenship. Lessons include savvy guidance such as owning one’s online presence, thinking before posting, safeguarding your online reputation and being conscious of your digital footprint. Other speakers included the president of the National PTA, Laura Bay, and representatives from Comcast, Facebook, Google, LifeLock and TrendMicro.

Still, it was the youth themselves that offered some of the most perceptive and insightful comments. The closing panel asked select young people to share their thoughts on the day. One teenage girl commented, “One thing I take out of today is hope – hope that there are people out there that are concerned about people’s safety online, and concerned about us growing up … on the internet.” Another teen said he learned that he needs to “chill” on some social media interactions because “I don’t want them to come back at me later in life.” And, an elementary school participant summed up the day this way, “Today was a really special day. It gave me a clear view on ‘think before you post or say anything.’”

Safer Internet Day 2017 may be behind us, but there’s still time to commit to putting our best digital foot forward by taking the Digital Civility Challenge and committing to its four ideals. It’s not too late to share your pledge on social media. Use the hashtags #Challenge4Civility and #Im4DigitalCivility.

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