Microsoft research indicates netizens were slightly nicer to each other in 2021


The big picture: Ever since 2016, Microsoft has been studying how people behave and interact online and recorded these trends as part of an annual Digital Civility Index (DCI) score maintained across 22 countries. The company’s research showed online civility reaching its lowest level in 2019, with fears of further deterioration in the following years as the pandemic raged on. On the contrary, things have been slowly improving since then, with 2021 recording the best ever DCI score of 65 percent.

Microsoft refers to the Digital Civility Index (DCI) as a measure of the tone and tenor of online interactions as reported to the company by netizens from 22 countries. Users taking part in this survey, which include teens aged 13-17 and adults aged 18-74, are asked for feedback regarding exposure to 21 online risks across four categories.

These categories cover incidents related to doxing or damage to personal/professional reputation, sexual and behavioral issues like sexting, trolling and bullying, and incidents of personal nature like experiencing discrimination, misogyny or falling victim to a scam or fraud.

The DCI score that Microsoft’s survey generates works like a golf score – the lower the better – with a lower index indicating the respondents’ low exposure to risk and higher perceived level of online civility.

Following 2020’s index score of 67 percent, which was down from 2019’s all-time high of 70 percent, last year saw a further 2 percent reduction to 65 percent. This improvement, Microsoft notes, was mostly due to teen boys experiencing less trolling, sexting and hate speech.

However, things weren’t on the up for teen girls and women, who experienced a majority 60 percent of all risks reported in 2021. The exposure to negative interactions and uncivil treatment online resulted in more severe consequences, worry and pain for females.

The study also noted an overwhelming majority of respondents calling for better education to make the digital world safer. To that end, Microsoft also shared its four common-sense principles:

  • Live the Golden Rule by acting with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treating everyone you connect with online with dignity and respect
  • Respect differences, honor diverse perspectives and, when disagreements surface, engage thoughtfully, avoiding name-calling and personal attacks
  • 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 those who are targets of online abuse or cruelty, reporting threatening activity and preserving evidence of inappropriate or unsafe behavior

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