Teens play an active role in their own online safety, new Microsoft research shows

It’s fundamental that each of us plays a critical role in our own online safety, and young people and teens are no exception. Adults could take a cue from teens in this area, however, as teenagers are more likely to act in response to online risk, defend others and ask for help, according to preliminary results of a new Microsoft study.

Nine in 10 teens polled said they acted in response to an online risk; nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said they stood up for others in the digital space, and more than three quarters (77 percent) asked for help when they encountered online abuse. That compares to 84 percent of adults who acted in response to an online risk, 59 percent who defended someone else and 60 percent who asked for help. Teens outpaced adults across all three categories. In addition, 56 percent of teens said they knew where to go for help with an uncomfortable online situation, compared to just one-third of adults.

Microsoft study expands research launched last year
The findings are from Microsoft’s latest research on digital civility — encouraging safer and healthier online interactions. The study, “Civility, Safety and Interaction Online — 2017,” polled teens ages 13-17 and adults ages 18-74 in 23 countries. This year’s results build on a study done last year that surveyed the same age groups in 14 countries. In 2017, there were 11,584 teens and adults polled in total.

Indeed, it’s up to young people – with solid guidance from parents, teachers, technology companies and others – to understand their digital rights and responsibilities, to recognize the risks and benefits of their online communications and transactions, and to realize the personal and ethical implications of their online behavior. These are some of the reasons Microsoft organized its pilot Council for Digital Good this year.

Council for Digital Good members want to improve life online for all
Last month, we welcomed to Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, campus 15 teens from across the U.S., selected to explore the state of digital civility and how to foster a kinder, more respectful and empathetic web.

Council members have embraced their assignments and dove into how to go about making changes for the better when it comes to online life. In addition to drafting individual written manifestos for responsible online behavior, the teens created artistic representations of their manifestos after they returned home. We’ve received two rap songs, one video of an interpretative dance, several visual arts projects, animations and other imaginative creations.

Here is a photo of an artistic manifesto from Erin, a 15-year-old from Michigan, as well as a link to a video produced by 16-year-old Rees from Maryland. We’ll make other council members’ projects available on our website and other online properties soon.

Council for Digital Good teen artwork
Erin’s manifesto artwork.
Student video screenshot saying "Promote Life Literacy"
A screenshot from Rees’ manifesto video.

And, teen council members were in demand before they even arrived on campus for the two-day August summit. We let nongovernmental organizations and other partner groups know that we were forming the council, and that it would be in operation for about 12 months. Several NGOs expressed interest in tapping our teens for their thoughts and perspectives about various campaigns and other work that their groups were planning.

New Thorn PSA aims to raise awareness of ‘sextortion’
One such organization was Thorn, which asked for teen council members’ feedback on a public service announcement (PSA) it was developing about “sextortion.”

Sextortion takes place when someone threatens to distribute private and sensitive material if a victim fails to provide money, or images of a sexual nature or sexual favors. (The perpetrator may also threaten to harm a victim’s friends or family members by using information obtained from the victim’s electronic devices unless the victim complies with the abuser’s demands.)

Thorn wants to make teens aware of common tactics used in sextortion, to destigmatize the issue by raising awareness, and to promote open conversations with trusted adults so teens have a stronger safety net in place if something goes wrong. Thorn held an online focus group with our teens in late July, just days before council members arrived for the Council for Digital Good summit.

Thorn’s new PSA launched Tuesday, and Microsoft is helping to draw attention to this clever and informative resource that benefited from the teens’ input. Council members liked the approach and imagery, saying that the cat video animation made it easier to broach a sensitive subject. While still in development, the teens said the PSA was a resource they would promote on social media and share with their friends. We congratulate Thorn on the new video, and look forward to hearing of many tens of thousands of views and “likes.”

Materials like the new Thorn PSA are essential to generate interest among teens and young people to safeguard their online reputations and to help instill safer online habits and practices. For more about Thorn’s mission, visit the Thorn website.

To learn more about online safety, Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good and digital civility, visit Microsoft’s website, review our resources, “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

[1] Countries surveyed: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.

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

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