Year in review: Council for Digital Good shines; new councils to spread digital civility in 2019

Jacqueline Beauchere, second from left, with, from left, Judah, Bronte and Christina, three members of Microsoft’s inaugural Council for Digital Good at the Family Online Safety Institute annual conference.

Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good captured the spotlight of our online safety work in 2018, along with new efforts to tackle online child sexual exploitation, including a cross-industry initiative focused on child grooming. Although we officially sunset our U.S. council pilot program this summer, we hope new regional councils across the globe will continue to seed our digital civility message in 2019 and beyond.

We kicked off 2018 by releasing a 15-point cohort manifesto for life online drafted by the same number of impressive teens that make up our inaugural Council for Digital Good. The cohort manifesto was the second of three major assignments the teens completed as part of their 18-month term. The third – an open letter to U.S. law and policymakers about working together to improve life online – followed in July as a culmination of the council’s work. At a more public event that month at our Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, D.C., the teens shared what it’s like to grow up online and what they’re doing to advance digital civility in their schools and communities.

“This group of 15 kids that became the Council for Digital Good was previously an untapped resource,” Champe, a teen council member from Oregon, told the D.C. audience in July. Online safety issues, including cyberbullying, hate speech and sextortion, are topics that everyone can and should discuss, added Champe – all within the context of advancing digital civility and becoming better digital citizens. “When we engage people about the topic (of digital civility), everyone has the ability to positively rise above the hate online,“ Champe said. “Everyone has the ability to form and share incredible ideas.” (Visit our YouTube channel to see a video of Champe delivering his concluding remarks from our July event, as well as 10 other new videos featuring the council members in D.C.)

Immediately following the July event, Council for Digital Good members met first lady Melania Trump to discuss their projects and ideas for fostering digital civility: safer and healthier online interactions among all people. The first lady referenced her time with our Council for Digital Good members in three subsequent speeches, including an address at the United Nations in September. Although the July event officially concluded our inaugural council pilot program, three teens who had served on the council traveled back again to the U.S. capital this fall for an on-stage conversation with the first lady during the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) annual conference.

“Earlier this summer, I met with students who are part of Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good, a platform designed to allow students to demonstrate their individual expressions of what it means to be civil in this digital age,” the first lady told the FOSI conference. “Their projects were not just impressive; they have the capacity to create real impact.” The first lady was referring to the creative and artistic projects that the teens produced to depict their individual written manifestos for life online – their first assignment, all of which are posted here.

Members of Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good

Members of Microsoft’s Council for Digital Good gather for an ice cream social before their meeting in Washington, D.C., in July 2018.

And, our teens continue to promote digital civility and grow awareness of online safety issues. I plan to follow-up with a “Where-they-are-now” post in 2019.

Looking ahead to other Council for Digital Good-related activities in 2019, our Egypt subsidiary is spearheading the formation of an African Council for Digital Good as well as an Arab Council for Digital Good. Nearly 750 applicants across both regions vied for 24 positions on the two councils. We look forward to the work of these two new councils and the impact these teens will have in promoting digital civility in their regions and around the world.

Preventing online child grooming and our 360 cross-industry hackathon

In November, we welcomed U.K. Home Secretary Sajid Javid to our Redmond, Washington, campus for an event and cross-industry hackathon focused on combatting child online grooming for sexual purposes. The event featured Javid and other luminaries who work to combat online child sexual exploitation. It also included a two-day, three-part hackathon, led by Microsoft, to address three key aspects on online child grooming: technical, legal and operational. Dr. Hany Farid of Dartmouth College led the technical team, which created a working prototype to surface potential instances of child online grooming based on interactions between a presumed adult and a minor in text chats. (Online sexual grooming occurs when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain that child’s trust for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.) While there is still more work to be done, particularly in the form of training and testing the prototype, the technical hack team hopes to make a more robust version of its tool freely available to smaller technology companies to help them detect potential instances of online child grooming for sexual purposes. (You can learn more by watching this video.)

Other collaborative efforts and advancements in preventing child sexual exploitation and abuse this year included our participation in the first U.N. solutions summit on ending violence against children, as well as the first Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities Forum on Child Dignity in the Digital Word. In addition, Microsoft announced the availability of PhotoDNA for Video, which brings all the benefits of PhotoDNA to the video environment.

Digital civility 3.0

In 2018, we again released new research and other materials to grow our campaign for digital civility. Announced in conjunction with international Safer Internet Day 2018, the study showed, perhaps surprisingly, that exposure to online risks and abuse often comes from people’s own social circles. That unfortunate trend appears to be continuing. According to preliminary data released in advance of Safer Internet Day 2019, the majority of online risks (62 percent) were still sourced to strangers and people whom survey respondents only knew online, but 28 percent of people’s risks and abuse came from friends and family, up 11 points from the previous year. The latest study polled more than 11,000 teens and adults in 22 countries.

As with our previous two research studies, the full and final results of digital civility 3.0 will be made available on Safer Internet Day, Feb. 5, 2019. I hope to spend Safer Internet Day 2019 with some amazing European youth who call themselves the European Council for Digital Good, a “sister” council run by Janice Richardson, the creator of international Safer Internet Day, which began in 2003.

While we continue to make progress combatting online ills and promoting positive digital behaviors, there’s always more that can be done. More stakeholders from even more disciplines and sectors need to get involved and commit to making online life safer and healthier for all. Individually and collectively we need to invest in more projects and programs designed to cut through the everyday clutter of online life and inspire people to adopt safe online habits and practices. One such program that Microsoft is honored to be associated with is the Power of Zero, which is slated to launch in 2019. Power of Zero will arm new parents, caregivers and early childhood educators with the tools and resources they need to ensure children set off on the right digital foot from the earliest of ages. Power of Zero means zero hate, zero violence and zero bullying from age zero. Check out the Power of Zero website to learn more:

Also, visit Microsoft’s online safety website and resources page, as well as our webpage dedicated to digital civility. “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. And, happy 2019!

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