According to business tycoon Jack Ma, the key to success is emotional intelligence. But if you want to be respected, he says, you'll need "high LQ – the IQ of love”.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, something key is missing from his list. This other type of intelligence is essential to navigating the kind of business empire Jack himself founded.

That’s right: as our lifestyles become more hyperconnected, it's digital intelligence, or DQ, that will become critical to individual success and the well-being of society. The problem is that most nations around the world may not adequately understand what DQ really is, or have its true implications on their radar.

What is DQ and why is it so important?

Many assume DQ has something to do with the skills needed to use technology more effectively, such as how to debug a computer that won’t start, or use all the features of your smartphone. Actually, this is not DQ. Others think it means limiting your screen time, being aware of developmental hazards for kids who overuse screens, or knowing when to disconnect from your device and anything related to addiction and “digital intoxication”. While this is part of DQ, it's actually only one of eight main elements that define it.

According to the DQ Institute, which coined the acronym in 2016, digital intelligence is “the sum of social, emotional and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges and adapt to the demands of digital life”. The demands of digital life increase not so much due to the devices that we use as tools, but to the platforms, applications and experiences that these tools provide access to.

New digital media and platforms are launched every year, and their hold on our attention as users is constantly on the rise, with younger and younger children gaining access without undergoing important preparation. Today, a child as young as eight years old can easily gain independent access to the internet in one form or another.

But unlike IQ, which is commonly viewed as a genetically determined intelligence, DQ is something that needs to be built. It is a fundamental precursor to 21st-century skill development for the future workforce because, like a language, it is most effectively absorbed at a young age.

A recent study, carried out on 38,000 children aged 8-12 across 29 different countries, found that over half were exposed to at least one online-related threat. Such threats include reduced digital empathy – leading to increased anxiety and social pressures among their peers – excessive screen time, digital addiction, cyber-bullying, online grooming, digital identity theft, online privacy mismanagement and exposure to digital disinformation operations.

What’s even more alarming is that young people from emerging countries were 1.3 times more exposed than their peers living in digitally advanced countries.

The fact that a child can gain access to the online world from the palm of his or her hand, at any instance and in any place, should be of utmost concern not just to parents and civil society organizations: educators, law enforcers, government, the media and even consumer platforms and brands need to understand the implications.

What could all this mean for society?

On average, education systems around the world are ill equipped to set standards and guidelines around online life for young people, and to integrate DQ capacity-building within their schools. As a result, children and parents are generally on their own, with little concrete support.

The consequences can be devastating: in some parts of the world, social media use by unprepared individuals has been linked to a rise in adolescent suicide rates. What is perhaps less obvious, but just as critical to society, is the link between DQ and the spread of digital misinformation (also known as “fake news”). The capacity of disinformation outlets to thrive has been linked to low DQ in the users who share such information. Without sound digital information discerning and critical thinking skills, ingrained from a young age, people are more likely to share false information without understanding the consequences.

In Factmata CEO Dhruv Ghulati’s opinion, “every part of the chain – from journalists to politicians, platforms to media organizations – needs to improve to combat fake news. However, the responsibility ultimately lies with us, the users.”

Other, less obvious consequences of low DQ include succumbing to online manipulation, poor awareness of one’s personal data and reduced online privacy. The situation is grave: even previous employees of large digital platforms have formed a coalition to fight the Silicon Valley establishment, due to fears over social media’s long-term impact on young people. This is not a challenge that each family should have to address on their own. This is a problem that society needs to address collectively.

What the World Economic Forum is doing about it

The DQ Institute was born in October 2016, during a World Economic Forum project workshop, out of a collaboration between a South Korean NGO, InfollutionZERO, and the Nanyang Technology University in Singapore. In March 2017, in association with the World Economic Forum, the Institute launched the #DQEveryChild movement. Its purpose is to build a global coalition of stakeholders to bring digital intelligence education to every child, filling in the gaps for education systems that do not have the resources or expertise to provide their citizens with these important skills.

Within nine months, the movement has mushroomed into a 100+ member coalition that has reached over 600,000 children in more than 30 countries, across 15 different languages. Child DQ was increased by 10% on average, which translated into a 15% reduction in online-related threats. See the coalition’s impact page for more information on what has been accomplished during 2017.

The world needs DQ. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution progresses and our lives become increasingly connected, the health and prosperity of societies the world over will depend on it.