Kick off 2018 with online safety tips from Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good

To get everyone off on the right digital foot in 2018, Microsoft’s teen Council for Digital Good offers 15 pieces of guidance, designed to make online interactions safer and healthier by emphasizing resilience, mindfulness and digital civility.

We assembled this impressive group of U.S.-based youth as part of a pilot program, launched in 2017. The 15-member council serves as a sounding board for Microsoft’s youth-focused, online safety policy work. The council met for a two-day summit in August, and will convene again later this year. Last summer, each teen drafted a written manifesto for life online, and then returned home to take on three more assignments: (1) an artistic representation of their individual manifestos, (2) a consolidated written manifesto from the entire cohort, and (3) a visual representation of the cohort manifesto.

Council for Digital Good We thought the start of the new year was a fitting time to share the council’s inspiring words.

The 15-point cohort manifesto

After conference calls, email and social media, each teen selected guidance from his or her individual manifesto thought to be instructive and compelling. “Our (process) worked almost exactly like a democracy,” says Bronte, a 17-year-old council member from Ohio, who submitted the cohort manifesto on behalf of the council. “We would pitch ideas about what manifesto ideas we had, go into detail, and then vote on which we liked best. In the end, we all had a good time working together. We learned a lot about ourselves, and got to know more about a fellow teen from a couple of states away.”

Here are the individual pieces of guidance from each council member, which we’ve grouped into three broad categories: “skills, advice and perspective.” You can find the full cohort manifesto and view some additional context from each council member at this link.

Skills – Some important competencies for life online 

  • Build and repair resilience to ensure young people can bounce back from unpleasant online experiences.
  • Pause and think before sending or posting.
  • Your online profile represents YOU so, be sure to present yourself in the best possible and truthful light.
  • Be a skeptic and question the actions and motivations of others.
  • Instill morals and teach children ethics and etiquette online; it will serve them well online and in adulthood.

 Advice – Additional points that highlight the need for “skills” and “perspective”  

  • Wait until you’re 13 and meet the age requirements to use social media.
  • Take off the mask and be online who you are in real life.
  • Disagree respectfully rather than by lashing out.
  • Your voice and report [to trusted authorities] matter, so take advantage of tech companies’ resources for reporting illegal or harmful content and conduct.
  • Use the power of the internet to empower others.

 Perspective – Thoughts for maintaining a healthy online outlook   

  • Your screen is 2D while real life is 3D – What’s online can fall flat, so always consider context and other factors.
  • Don’t be a prisoner to your cellphone by letting online interactions control your life.
  • Posts affect you and your family, so remember, once you hit send, there’s no taking them back.
  • No, you’re not getting a free iPhone – If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Focus on the life you live and don’t let technology dominate daily activities.

The teens have offered some great counsel to help everyone lead safer, more productive and more fun-filled lives online. Leading up to international Safer Internet Day on Feb. 6, we’ll be showcasing the teens’ individual “Twitter moments” – the creative manifesto from the full council – where they each discuss their recommended point of guidance. Look for these on social media over the coming weeks.

A vision and mission for the council

In addition to the cohort manifesto, the teens went beyond their specific assignment and drafted an additional vision document, detailing how they see their individual roles on the council, their mission as a team and the impact they want to have.

“We need a ‘youth-inspired revolution’ as there is no silver bullet solution,” the cohort writes. “This is a global issue that requires a global response by everyone: parents, educators, technology companies and government. As the inaugural cohort, the council has devoted our time to advocating for issues around healthy online behaviors.”

The paper goes on to say how the teens will use social media and reach out to youth in their communities to raise awareness of online safety issues and grow support for meaningful programs and initiatives. “This will, in turn, force the hand of school administrations, community leaders, managers or anyone in an authoritative position, to ensure preventative measures are taken. We aim to see a generation of more empathetic young people … After our [term] is up, future council members will build on what we have achieved to create a lasting global movement. From the entirety of the council, to the entire world, everyone deserves and has a right to a safe experience online.” (Read the full council vision document here.)

Looking ahead in 2018

At Microsoft, we characterize these efforts as fostering “digital civility” by promoting safer and healthier online interactions for everyone. We’re driven to grow a kinder, more empathetic and respectful online world, and in this quest, we know we’ve chosen some outstanding partners in this remarkable group of teens.

We look forward to our next in-person event with the council this summer. We’re planning a more public event to discuss some important online safety issues, and we’re asking the teens to share their views with law- and policy-makers and other influentials, as we convene in our nation’s capital.

In the meantime, we’re readying our next round of digital civility research, which will be released on Safer Internet Day 2018 on Feb. 6. Much like the findings we announced in 2017, we’ve polled both teens and adults about their exposure to a range of online risks and forms of abuse. This year, we’re releasing research from 23 countries, up from 14 last year. We’ve also added a few more risks to the study, and some of the results are rather surprising.

Until then, you can follow the Council for Digital Good on our Facebook page and via Twitter using #CouncilforDigitalGood. To learn more about online safety generally, visit our website and resources page; “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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

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