Annual Microsoft Digital Civility Index (DCI) score hits all-time best since the survey began in 2016, despite perceptions about the overall state of online civility worsening during the pandemic and a growing burden of risk for women

Microsoft South Africa shared the findings of the organisation’s latest Digital Civility Index (DCI) and facilitated discussions about how people can work together to promote safer, healthier, and more respectful online interactions for teenagers and adults alike at its Women@Microsoft Digital Safety and Tech Savvy Parenting event.

The global survey, in its sixth year, asked teens aged 13-17 and adults aged 18-74 about their exposure to 21 different online risks across four categories: behavioural, sexual, reputation, and personal/intrusive, as well as their experiences of life online (including during the pandemic) and how interactions in those areas impacted their perception of online civility.

This year’s global DCI score stands at 65 percent, which is the best it has been since the survey began in 2016. This is also an improvement of two percent since 2020, despite perceptions of online civility deteriorating one year into the pandemic, with 30 percent across all ages and genders reporting that civility worsened during the health crisis and Covid fatigue identified as the most likely explanation for people taking their frustrations out online.

These overall gains were driven primarily by males: 90 percent of the year-on-year improvement seen was accounted for by men, with teenage boys experiencing significantly fewer risks. 

The gender gap: an all-time high for females facing online risks

Teen girls and women reported being both more exposed to online risks and feeling more severe consequences as a result. Females experienced almost 60 percent (57 percent) of all risks reported in 2021, an all-time high, and were also more likely to have experienced consequences, worry or pain due to being treated uncivilly.

“Insights from the research indicate that more frequent use of social media and messaging apps could be driving the higher share of risk and making women more vulnerable online,” says Andréa Campbell, Commercial Attorney at Microsoft South Africa. Nearly 70 percent of women (69 percent), for instance, use social media several times a day, compared to 59 percent of men. This figure is even higher for teens: 72 percent of teenage girls use social media several times a day, compared to 62 percent of boys.

As a result, half of all women admitted to becoming less trusting of other people online – opposed to 40 percent of men. “While the study indicates a gap between how males and females experience and view online civility, it is important to educate and remind digital citizens that everyone is at risk and that each one of us creates a ripple effect with every click we make online – be it positive or negative,” says event guest speaker Rianette Leibowitz, Cyber Wellness, Online Safety and Digital Parenting Expert, and Founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety.

Collaborating to educate people on how to make the digital world safer

The survey backs this up: it checked in on people’s perceptions of what’s needed to help create a safer online environment for everyone – and nearly 9 out of 10 respondents, across all genders and age groups, stated that there’s a need to better educate people on how to make the digital world safer. Three-quarters also said that social media companies should moderate harmful online speech more closely.

“What these results show is that it is critical for multiple stakeholders to collaborate to build a safer internet together. Collaboratively we can create more positive impact and encourage people to become responsible digital citizens,” says Leibowitz.

“A key part of our approach is not only to partner and work with advocates, industry partners and governments worldwide to develop solutions and promote effective public policies that help protect people online – but also provide access to online safety resources and tools that empower people to make safe choices,” says Campbell.

Another part of this approach to promote digital civility is encouraging people to take the Digital Civility Challenge, which is made up of four ideals:

  • 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, honour 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 behaviour

For additional advice and guidance on online safety issues, visit Microsoft’s resources page and follow Microsoft Safer Online via Facebook and Twitter.