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Global digital incivility index rises again in volume, frequency & severity

Updated: Feb 21, 2020

The 2020 Microsoft Digital Civility Index (DCI), a measure of the tone and tenor of online interactions as reported by online users in 25 countries, reports its highest levels of digital incivility since the survey began in 2016., and the first time the DCI has reached the 70th percentile. Canada and the United States are tied for 6th in the world at 60%.

In Canada, it was also found that millennials are the most "at risk" group at 71% and that women perceived incivility at rates 14% higher then men.

The most painful acts of incivility stemmed from:

~ damage to professional reputation (84%)

~ discrimination (81%)

~ personal reputation (81%)

~ online harassment (79%) and

~ cyber-bullying (78%).

What makes the statistics worse is that a majority of these threats come from the people we know – our families, "friends" and acquaintances.

Three countries were added to the 2019 study: Indonesia, the Netherlands and Poland. The Netherlands debuted at number two, registering a DCI of 56%, second only to the UK, which has held the number one spot for online civility in three of the last four years. Still, even the UK saw an increase in incivility to 52% from its most favorable DCI reading of 45% in 2016.

The other three countries rounding out the top five for online civility were Germany (58%), Malaysia (59%) and the U.S. (60%). Those with the lowest online civility readings were Colombia (80%), Peru (81%) and South Africa (83%) – all in the 80th percentile, and the first time any individual country has seen a reading at this level.

What topics drive online incivility?

Physical appearance and politics are the primary drivers of online incivility, with 31% of all respondents pointing to both of these two topics as problematic. Sexual orientation was close behind at 30%, while religion and race came in at 26% and 25% respectively.

In Canada, physical appearance (24%) was considered to drive the most incivility, followed by race (22%), sexual orientation (21%), politics (21%), and religion (20%).

In addition, more so than in previous studies, respondents reported experiencing risks recently and more frequently. For instance:

  • 40% said they’d been exposed to a risk in the last week or month prior to the study being fielded, and

  • three-quarters (75%) experienced one of the 21 risks on two or more occasions.

In fact, 40% of all respondents said they’d experienced unwanted sexual attention, sexual solicitation and unwanted contact three or more times in their lifetime. (The study was conducted May 1-31, 2019.)

Looking forward

On the plus side, people seemed encouraged by the advent of the new decade and what the 2020s may hold in terms of improved online civility among all age groups.

Participants were asked to share thier “2020s vision,” and select three words to best describe what they hope will define online experiences and digital interactions in the coming 10 years. “Respect” was by far the preferred option (66%), followed by “safety” (57%), “freedom” (33%), “civility” (32%) and “kindness” (26%). “Empathy” was the only other choice to garner more than 20% of the vote, and “well-being,” “inclusivity,” “health,” “compassion” and “curiosity” all scored between 11% and 15%.

Survey participants were also asked to pull out their crystal balls and predict online behaviors across some sensitive scenarios. Here are some of their responses:

  • Half (50%) say technology and social media companies will create tools and implement policies to encourage more respectful and civil online behavior and punish poor conduct.

  • Half (50%) predict people’s ability to protect their privacy and personal data will improve.

  • A third expect fewer women to be sexually harassed online (34%),

  • fewer teens to be bullied (33%) and,

  • expect online political discussions to become more constructive (33%)

Do you part to make 2020 a better year for civility. Take the Digital Civility Pledge.

Source: Microsoft Digital Civility Index Global Report 2020


More on how to foster civility in your community and municipality, read Save Your City. Local government exclusive edition published by Municipal World available here.



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