To mark Safer Internet Day 2019, Microsoft has released the findings of its Digital Civility Index (DCI) that show that Ireland currently ranks 11th out of 22 countries by the level of civility and safety in online interactions, compared to the UK which ranked first and the US ranking second.

The research was conducted by Thompson Research Group for Microsoft amongst adults and teenagers, with the latest Digital Civility Index recording an improvement of two points on the previous year despite Ireland recording a four-point reduction in civil online interaction.

In the past year in Ireland, adults and teenagers aged 13-17 experienced an average of 3 online risks each. Online risks include all forms of unwanted online contact, and are broken down into four categories: behavioural, intrusive, reputational and sexual.

The types of risks that stood out for Ireland compared to the global averages included firstly, ‘sexual risk’, with 68% receiving offensive or obscene content. Second was exposure to behavioural risk, as 66% of Irish people said they were called offensive names online, which was 15 points higher than the global average of 51%. Thirdly, following the emergence of fake news worldwide, 58% of Irish people reported encountering fake news online.

To help curb these trends, Microsoft has developed eight simple steps aimed at helping everyone to stay safe online:

– Using complex, unique passwords for different accounts;
– Don’t accept invites from strangers on social media;
– Be aware that online actions can have offline consequences;
– Protect sensitive and personal information;
– Be careful where you click;
– Update your privacy settings and antivirus;
– Always use a secure connection.

Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland said: “The internet is a wonderful resource opening up a world of opportunities for people of all ages. However, our Digital Civility Index is a timely reminder on Safer Internet Day that we cannot take it for granted that everyone, including our young people, have a positive and safe experience online.

“At Microsoft, we believe in the need for young people to engage with technology in safe and secure way and through the Index released today we can promote responsible online practices that protect people of all ages. While negative consequences for teenagers remain high, this year our research found some positive trends with a substantial increase in teenagers turning to adults for support. 47% or Irish teenagers sought help from their parents, while 31% asked another adult they trusted.

“The more we educate young people about internet safety, the more teenagers will ask for help to deal with online risks.”

Speaking on Safer Internet Day, Rosa Langhammer, General Manager, CoderDojo Foundation said: “As an organisation with thousands of students in all four corners of Ireland and across the globe, we know the critical importance of the internet in enabling the young people in Dojos to create with code and technology. We believe that young people are more conscious of staying safe online if they are equipped with a deeper understanding of technology. It’s important to reflect on the part that we all have to play in minimising risks on the internet, to educate young people on the positive power of the internet and give them an opportunity to be creators not consumers of technology. Industry and NGOs alike must come together to take measures that ensure young people are protected when they are using the Internet. We look forward to working with Microsoft and other partners to ensure online safety and digital literacy become essential skills for every young person in Ireland and around the world.”

Online risks had some of the strongest impacts on millennials (72%) and teenage girls (70%) in terms of risk exposure compared to teenage boys (65%). Worldwide, 55% of consumers reported experiencing moderate or severe pain due to online risks. Whilst Ireland fared better at 51%, the group most effected were teenage girls. 66% of teenage girls reported moderate to severe pain from online activity, compared to their global peers at 64%.

The Index also reveals that the identity of online aggressors is changing. Although the level of unwanted contact from strangers decreased this year, there was a sharp increase in antisocial behaviour from within people’s social circles. Within Ireland, risks from family and friends increased noticeably to 24%, up 7 points on the previous year, which follows a global increase of 11 points.

Negative online interactions can have lasting psychological, physical and emotional pain, and this year saw an increase of consequences from online interactions.  As a direct result of online risks, 44% of Irish people said they became less trusting of other people online, and 34% became less trusting of people offline 32%. Other physical symptoms also increased including stress (32%), and sleep deprivation (30%).

Research for Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index was carried out amongst 16,000 teens and adults in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In addition to the research findings Microsoft is also supporting the first Safer Internet Day Awards from Webwise. The awards were launched yesterday and are open for applications with the awards ceremony due to take place in Microsoft’s DreamSpace in Leopardstown at the end of March. For more details log onto webwise.ie/sidawards.

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