5 facts that show how we treat one another online

Civility is on the rise — online at least. Microsoft’s latest Digital Civility Index shows that how we treat one another online is improving.

This index measured the perceptions of teenagers and adults in 22 countries to take the temperature of civility, safety and interaction. To do this, four categories of online risk were examined: reputational, behavioral, sexual and personal or intrusive.

People in the United Kingdom were found to be the most civil online. But it is the United States, coming in second, that has seen the greatest improvement. Parents. in particular, may take heart from the results, which not only show some risks are in decline but also that young people are now more discerning about who they turn to for help.

Here are five key findings from the research:

The volume of unwanted online contact is down

Unwanted online contact, typified by repeated, unsolicited attempts at contact made by a stranger, remains a significant concern. In fact, it’s still the biggest standalone concern. Four in 10 respondents said they had experienced it. But it’s falling — four points lower than the level of unwanted contact recorded a year earlier. That makes it the most improved of all the risk categories the research looked at.

Lifetime exposure to risks has fallen, too

Setting aside specific examples, such as unwanted contact, there has been an overall improvement in the likelihood that you or someone you know being exposed to online risk. When asked, “which of these has ever happened to you or to a friend/family member online,” responses indicated a clear drop across the full range of options.

[Subscribe to Microsoft on the Issues for more on the topics that matter most.]

Young woman working on a laptop computer

People are still getting hurt

There have been improvements in online civility. But every statistic showing someone being scammed or abused is the story of an individual person encountering something unpleasant. One negative point from the DCI was a rise in unwanted online sexual contact, with almost four in 10 people saying they had received repeated unwanted online attempts to start an intimate relationship.

Finding help

When confronted online by something unwelcome, unpleasant or harmful, a growing number of people now know what to do and who to turn to. Almost half of the people interviewed said they were confident in their ability to handle a bad situation and would know where to get help. But there is still work to be done, as 42% of people said getting the help they wanted — even when they knew who to turn to — could be difficult.

Knowing where to turn

When young people find themselves in need of help, they know where to go. And they’re turning to their trusted adults and parents more than ever. Parents were the most likely to be asked for help, favored by 42% of teens — up from 32% in the previous DCI.

There are simple, everyday things we can all do to help promote greater civility online. Here are the four practical principles of Microsoft’s Digital Civility Challenge that you can follow:

Live the Golden Rule, and act with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction.

Respect differences, honor diverse perspectives and, when disagreements surface, engage thoughtfully.

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 targets of online abuse or cruelty, reporting threatening activity and preserving evidence of inappropriate or unsafe behavior.

For more on digital civility, access the DCI reports here. And follow @MSFTIssues on Twitter.