The UK has been named the safest country in the world for internet users, but they still face high levels of abuse, scams and unwanted contact.
New research from Microsoft, released to mark Safer Internet Day, revealed that being contacted by strangers, receiving unwanted sexual messages or images and being called offensive names were among the most common complaints from people of all ages in the UK.
Millennials were most likely to be affected by these negative experiences, with 62% admitting they had felt “moderate to severe pain”. Teenage girls were also more likely than boys to suffer – 61% versus 54%.
Despite this, the UK was named at the top of Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index, beating the US, France, Belgium and Germany.
“On this international Safer Internet Day, we’re reminding people about our Digital Civility Challenge: four practical principles for safer and healthier online interactions,” Jacqueline Beauchere, Chief Online Safety Officer at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. “Everyone can commit to the challenge actions this Safer Internet Day and pledge to adopt positive online habits and practices throughout the year.”
The four principles are:
- 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, honour 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 behaviour.
The UK research found that millennials experienced an average of 2.3 risks, while teenagers faced 1.5 risks.
Going deeper into the research, 48% of people had been contacted online by someone they didn’t know, compared with a global average of 42%. While 42% of those in the UK had been the target of phishing or spoofing scams (far above the global average), 36% had experienced “fake news” (far below the global average) and 33% had experience of internet hoaxes.
When it came to behavioural risks, 54% of internet users in the UK had been called offensive names (the global average was 51%), 48% said someone had tried to embarrass them on purpose and 26% revealed that false or misleading information about them had been posted online.
In addition, 59% of UK internet surfers had received unwanted sexual messages or images, 27% had received persistent demands to develop a romantic or sexual relationship and 24% received an unwelcomed request for a sexual favour (all below the global average).
While this affected teenagers’ well-being, they followed their peers across the world in asking for help from adults. In total 34% of UK teenagers told their parents about their negative experience online, below the global average of 42% but much higher last year’s UK reading of just 8%.
Despite the willingness to reach out for help, the research discovered that there were still consequences related to negative online experiences. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed in the UK admitted they had become less trusting of other people on the internet (up four percentage points from last year). Nearly a quarter said their life had become more stressful, 21% had lost sleep and 23% were less likely to take part in social media, blogs and forums.
In keeping with the rest of the world, Britons were less likely to take positive actions following an online issue, such as pausing before replying to someone or showing respect for others’ points of view.
Microsoft Digital Civility Index ranked Peru, South Africa and Chile as the least civil countries online.