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People are becoming (slightly) more civil online, Microsoft reckons

Examples of people abusing each other online aren’t exactly hard to find. If you haven’t seen any today, then you probably haven’t opened Facebook, Twitter or dived into the comments section on your news website of choice.

Yet Microsoft thinks things are slowly moving in the right direction. On Internet Safety Day – what do you mean you haven’t got your cards sorted yet? – the company has published the results of its third annual online civility survey, and the 2018 report shows marginal improvement on the 2017 edition.

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In all, the Digital Civility Index (DCI) dropped two points to 66% – although that still remains one percentage point higher than its inaugural reading in 2016.

As Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer, Jacqueline Beauchere, explains on the blog, lower is better: “The index works like a golf score: the lower the value (on a scale from zero to 100), the lower the respondents’ risk exposure and the higher the perceived level of online civility among people in that country.”

In an even more pleasing drop, the DCI score for “risk experience by family and friends” dropped five points to 63%. In all, the US showed the biggest improvement, dropping 10 points to 51, leaving it in second place behind the UK.

To be clear, these are still very high scores, but at a time when it feels like the internet is getting more and more aggressive, it’s a little reassuring all the same.

It’s not all positive, though: an increased number of respondents experienced consequences of online harassment.

Following online risk exposure, people became less trusting of others both online and off,” Beauchere explains. “They said their lives became more stressful; they lost sleep and they were less likely to participate in social media, blogs and online forums. Each of these – the top five consequences from the latest study – posted 3- or 4-point increases over the previous year.”

The survey found that millennials registered the highest DCI score (73%), suffered the most consequences (75%) and felt the most pain as a result (60%). The good news is the generation younger than them – the ones that grew up with the internet – report lower scores, though it’s not clear if that’s because they’re just more desensitised or not.

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Still, those that are struggling are now more inclined to help, according to Beauchere: “42% of teens surveyed said they asked a parent for help with an online issue, up 32% from the prior year. Just under 3 in 10 (28%) said they asked another adult for help, such as a teacher, coach or counsellor.

“The severity of online risks is certainly on the rise – consider “sextortion,” grooming, and bullying and ‘piling on;’ but the fact that more teens are turning to adults for wisdom and guidance is a welcome development.”

Do you feel like online discourse is getting more civil? Let us know what you think on Twitter @TrustedReviews.

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