Industries in Depth

Microsoft says the internet is getting a little nicer

A man works on his computer at a coffee shop in Ciudad Juarez, October 19, 2017. Picture taken October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez - RC14133EC470

You're more likely to be harassed online by a complete stranger than someone you know personally Image: REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Emma Charlton
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If you’ve been harassed online, it could be that you know your persecutor.

Uncivil behaviour is becoming more common within our inner social networks, according to a Microsoft report, which showed that family and friends accounted for 28% of online risks in 2018, up 11 points from a year earlier.

 Friends and family are a growing source of online risk.
Friends and family are a growing source of online risk. Image: Microsoft Digital Civility Index

While the proliferation of this behavior – which includes using offensive names, the posting of false information, and even making physical threats – was disturbing, the overall Microsoft Digital Civility Index, a gauge of how society is dealing with the downsides of digital life, showed a small improvement, as levels of unwanted contact fell.

 Online abuse can cause emotional, psychological and even physical pain.
Online abuse can cause emotional, psychological and even physical pain. Image: Microsoft Digital Civility Index

Even so, the report highlighted the psychological damage that online abuse can cause.

“The pervasive presence of online risks inflicted widespread emotional, psychological and physical pain,” the report says. “At their mildest, online risks created annoyances that could be quickly ignored or forgotten. At their worst, online risks were severely painful and disabling generating a host of negative emotions and stress that persisted over time.”

Have you read?

Developing digital life skills

Managing internet risks and interactions is one of the key challenges of the digital age and can influence mental health. Developing digital intelligence or “DQ” skills – the social, emotional and cognitive abilities required to meet the growing demands of digital life – is a focus of the DQ Institute, which works in conjunction with the World Economic Forum.

In Microsoft’s survey, the number of respondents experiencing consequences from online risks increased and positive actions to address them fell. Of those people targeted, 84% said they experienced pain as a result, with some saying the impact was long-lasting.

The most and longest-lasting pain was inflicted by attacks on self-image, damage to reputation, cyber bullying and discrimination.

 Online harassment is often personal.
Online harassment is often personal. Image: Microsoft Digital Civility Index

A country-by-country analysis showed offensive name calling was significantly higher in Russia and Ireland, while Vietnam suffered from high levels of fake information. Four countries showed sharp improvements – the US, Germany, France and Belgium – but the best of the 22 nations studied was the UK, where low levels of reputational attacks were reported.

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Industries in DepthCybersecurity
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