People around the world and in the U.S., Germany, France and Belgium, in particular, are experiencing increased levels of online civility, data from a new Microsoft research study show. The findings are being released in conjunction with international Safer Internet Day, Feb. 5.
Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index (DCI) fell two points in the latest year to 66 percent, although the level is still 1 point higher than the inaugural reading taken two years ago. Meanwhile, the DCI as measured by online risks experienced by family and friends of respondents fell 5 points to 63 percent. The findings are from “Civility, Safety and Interactions Online – 2018,” which measured the perception of teens and adults in 22 countries about their exposure to a number of online risks across four categories: reputational, behavioral, sexual and personal/intrusive. The index works like a golf score: the lower the value (on a scale from zero to 100), the lower the respondents’ risk exposure and the higher the perceived level of online civility among people in that country.
Indeed, the U.S., Germany, France and Belgium all registered noticeably lower DCI readings in the latest survey, and thus higher levels of perceived online civility among people in those countries. The U.S. DCI showed the biggest improvement, down 10 points to 51 and an overall ranking of No. 2 behind the U.K. Germany’s DCI stands at 57, down 8. France’s DCI fell 6 points and Belgium’s reading came in at 56, down 5 points from the prior year. All four countries also showed improvement in DCI from the first readings taken in 2016.
Unwanted contact is still a prominent risk, but has subsided
Unwanted contact has by far been the standout risk across all three years of research and across geographies and demographics. In the latest report, four in 10 respondents (40 percent) said they experienced unwanted contact, still the highest of all 21 risks, but 4 points lower than the level of unwanted contact recorded a year ago. This slight decline was the primary driver for overall improvement in the DCI. Exposure to other online risks were largely unchanged from the prior year.
Because the global DCI has seen limited movement year over year, in this latest study, we wanted to dive deeper into some of the actual risk types, as well as the consequences and the follow-on pain and discomfort. It should come as no surprise that the pain and suffering from online risks is real, as these latest data confirm. Indeed, following online risk exposure, people became less trusting of others both online and off. They said their lives became more stressful; they lost sleep and they were less likely to participate in social media, blogs and online forums. Each of these – the top five consequences from the latest study – posted 3- or 4-point increases over the previous year.
On the positive side, a standout piece of good news from the study came from the teen data. Teens now more than ever are looking to their parents and other trusted adults for help with online risks. Forty-two percent of teens surveyed said they asked a parent for help with an online issue, up 32 percent from the prior year. Just under 3 in 10 (28 percent) said they asked another adult for help, such as a teacher, coach or counselor. The severity of online risks is certainly on the rise – consider “sextortion,” grooming, and bullying and “piling on;” but the fact that more teens are turning to adults for wisdom and guidance is a welcome development.
Commit to the Digital Civility Challenge
Also on this international Safer Internet Day, we’re reminding people about our Digital Civility Challenge: four practical principles for safer and healthier online interactions. Everyone can commit to the challenge actions this Safer Internet Day and pledge to adopt positive online habits and practices throughout the year.
Here are the Digital Civility Challenge actions:
- Live the Golden Rule by acting with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treat everyone you connect with online with dignity and respect.
- Respect differences, honor diverse perspectives and when disagreements surface, engage thoughtfully, and avoid name-calling and personal attacks.
- Pause before replying to things you disagree with, and don’t post or send anything that could hurt someone else, damage a reputation or threaten someone’s safety.
- Stand up for yourself and others by supporting those who are targets of online abuse or cruelty, reporting threatening activity and preserving evidence of inappropriate or unsafe behavior.
More resources to promote digital civility
To help digital civility gain a firmer foothold in 2019, we’re offering some new resources. We conduct our research in more than 20 countries, and there may be opportunities for others to take part. If you are a leader or part of a nongovernmental organization and would like to launch our research in your country, we are making our research questionnaire available free of charge. In addition, you may have heard about our inaugural Council for Digital Good. In 2017, we selected 15 teens from 12 U.S. states to become champions for digital civility as part of an 18-month pilot program. The impact and positivity that came from those efforts, we feel, can and should be replicated. So, we’ve compiled a short guidebook about the time we spent with our teens and the program that we devised. We are making it available to others interested in creating youth-focused programs and initiatives. To receive either or both of these resources, please contact Microsoft Online Safety and Digital Civility at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We again share some best practices for all stakeholders, and we highlight the written manifesto for life online created by our inaugural Council for Digital Good. Finally, we thank our partners and collaborators that have taken up the digital civility cause by starting their own projects and programs rooted in this universal message of treating each other with respect and dignity. This new version of Voices for Digital Civility highlights the numerous individuals and organizations dedicated to advancing these common-sense ideas.
We hope you’ll get involved this Safer Internet Day and become an ambassador for digital civility today and throughout the year. Our website and resources page offer advice and guidance for learning about and addressing almost any online safety issue. For more regular news and information, you can connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. Remember to take the Digital Civility Challenge, and here’s to promoting safe, respectful and inclusive online interactions in 2019 and beyond!
 Reputational – “Doxing” and damage to personal or professional reputations
Behavioral – Being treated meanly; experiencing trolling, online harassment or bullying; encountering hate speech and microaggressions
Sexual – Sending or receiving unwanted sexting messages and making sexual solicitations; receiving unwanted sexual attention* and being a victim of sextortion or non-consensual pornography (aka “revenge porn”), and
Personal / Intrusive – Being the target of unwanted contact, experiencing discrimination, swatting, misogyny, exposure to extremist content/recruiting, or falling victim to hoaxes, scams or fraud
* Indicates a new risk in this latest study
At the time of writing of this post, Jacqueline Beauchere’s title was Chief Online Safety Officer.