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Microsoft study reveals improvement in digital civility

By Shannon Williams
Thu 11 Feb 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

There was an improvement in digital civility across the Asia Pacific region during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research from Microsoft.

Microsoft unveiled results from its annual study, “Civility, Safety, and Interactions Online – 2020” along with findings from its 2020 Digital Civility Index (DCI). 

Results from Microsoft’s metric showed that the Asia Pacific region performed better in online civility in 2020 with a score of 66, compared with the previous year’s score of 68. The global DCI also improved to 67 from 2019’s all-time poor score, indicating that more people are experiencing positive online interactions.

Two APAC geographies, Singapore and Taiwan, sit among the top five globally with the most favourable DCI scores, taking the fourth and fifth spots respectively. Conversely, other markets have reported more negative online experiences, with Indonesia ranking at 29 out of the 32 geographies and Malaysia reporting its least favourable DCI over the past five years. Vietnam saw the best improvement in the region, with a six-percentage point improvement to 72 on the index.

“Microsoft’s annual study on digital civility is crucial to raising awareness and encouraging positive online interactions," says Liz Thomas, regional digital safety lead, Asia-Pacific, Microsoft.

"Our societies are relying on and embracing digital technologies more than ever amid COVID-19, and a safer internet will improve experiences and shape the well-being of our communities,” she says. 

“This Safer Internet Day, we are reminded that governments, organisations, and individuals all have a part to play in helping to make the internet a better place for work and play.”

Teenagers drove positive improvements, yet scams, hate speech, and discrimination are up

Teenagers (aged 13-16) were found to be positive drivers for improvement in DCI performance, and scored 63 in the global measure of online civility, as opposed to adults at 72. 

In Singapore, teenagers scored 50 on the DCI as compared with 68 for adults, while Taiwan also saw its teenagers score higher than adults, at 55 compared with 67. 

Mirroring this trend, there has been no change in DCI score for teenagers but a 16-point deterioration amongst adults in Indonesia, while Malaysia saw adults’ scores drop three times more than teenagers. 

Overall, 26% globally said online civility was better during the pandemic, attributed to people helping one another and a greater sense of community, while 22% cited online civility as worse, partly due to a greater spread of false and misleading information.

Risks that spread hate and division continue to grow, with global respondents reporting an increase in experiences of hoaxes, frauds and scams (+3%), hate speech (+4%), and discrimination (+5%). In APAC, the number of respondents reporting instances of hate speech in India doubled since 2016 (to 26% from 13%), while in Thailand, the number of respondents who reported experiencing microaggressions was 18% above the global average.

“It’s heartening to see our next generation take the lead in driving positive interactions online, and to witness digital citizens come together to uplift online communities during the pandemic,” Thomas says.

“Nonetheless, threats such as false and misleading information, together with uncivil behaviours online, continue to pervade society, requiring us all to take positive action.”

Moving into the new year, respondents’ top wishes for the next decade worldwide were for better respect (65%), safety (55%), civility (33%), kindness (29%) and freedom (28%).

Responding to build a safer internet

Within APAC, Microsoft works with governments, academics, civil society, and other stakeholders to share best practices on digital safety, help inform policy and regulatory debates, and advocate for a respectful, healthy online environment.

To foster a better and safer internet, Microsoft also champions the Digital Civility Challenge, which outlines four principles that online users can commit to, namely:

  • Living the “golden rule” – To act with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treat everyone online with dignity and respect
  • Respecting differences – To appreciate cultural differences and honor diverse perspectives, engaging thoughtfully and avoiding name calling and personal attacks
  • Pausing before replying – To pause and think before responding and not post or send anything that could hurt someone else, damage someone’s reputation, or threaten safety
  • Standing up for yourself and others – To tell someone when feeling unsafe, offering support to those who are targets of online abuse or cruelty, and report activity that threatens safety
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