To mark Safer Internet Day, Microsoft released the findings of its Digital Civility Index (DCI). Microsoft conducted research among adults and teenagers in 14 countries to study the level of civility across various online interactions.

Among the countries surveyed, 65% of adults and youth aged 13-17 reported having ever been exposed to an online risk, averaging 2.2 risks per person. Online risks were divided into four categories: behavioural, intrusive, reputational and sexual. Unwanted contact (43%) was the main driver of intrusive risks and had the highest incidence of any individual risk. Behavioral risks (39%) were the second most common occurring risk category. Over one in five had experienced being “treated mean” (22%) or “trolling” (21%) and both were among the top five individual risks.

Three in ten consumers had experienced a “sexual risk” (30%) led by “unwanted sexting” (received or sent, 24%) and “sexual solicitation” (15%). Among reputational risks, people were most likely to have encountered “doxing,” which involves the publication of private information on the internet, followed by “damage to personal reputation.”

Cathriona Hallahan, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland said: “The internet is a fantastic resource 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 people will always have a positive experience online. We all have a responsibility to promote good online practices and to highlight the steps to take and the resources that are out there to help you when you run into trouble. The consequences of being exposed to online risks can be severe so this is certainly something we have to take seriously. It’s a challenge we all face – young and old, male and female.”

Two-thirds of consumers reported serious consequences from exposure to an online risk. Consequences were felt both in the online and offline worlds.

– The most likely consequence from online risk exposure was a loss of trust both online (40%) and offline (30%).
– Increased stress was a common outcome with people reporting my life became more stressful (23%), loss of sleep (23%) and became depressed (15%).
– Some people chose to withdraw by reducing the amount of participation in blogs and forums (21%) or stopping communications with a family member (12%).
– In an encouraging development, 27% tried to counterbalance negative outcomes by being more constructive in their criticism of others.

Unsurprisingly, youth (ages 13-17) were found to have had a greater number of interactions online than adults. Despite lower interaction levels, adults reported higher rates of online risk than youth (67% vs 62%). Youth said that their family and friends were much more likely to encounter risks than adults (69% vs 54%). This suggested that youth were more willing to share their negative online experiences than adults.

Overall, males reported higher exposure to risks than females (67% vs 62%) including all risk categories. Females and males shared similar levels of concern (49%, 50%) and were equally likely to have acted in response to a risk.

Research for Microsoft’s Digital Civility Index was carried out among teens (ages 13-17) and adults (18-74) in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.

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