Coinciding with Safer Internet Day (SID) on 7 February this year, Microsoft released the results of its Microsoft Digital Civility Index, and unfortunately, it didn’t look good for South Africa.

This index uses a survey to determine the extent of online interactions, negative online behaviour, and the consequences of these. The survey was conducted in 23 countries during May and June of 2017 among teens from ages 13 to 17 and adults between the ages of 18 and 74. It was conducted to gauge attitudes about 20 different types of exposure to online behaviour. These behaviours stretch across four different categories: reputational, behavioural, sexual and intrusive, and include online safety risks like cyberbullying, online harassment, hoaxes, scams and online fraud, among others.

South Africa ranked 22nd out of the 23 countries that were surveyed.

According to the survey, the most common online risks that South Africans experience are:

1. Unwanted contact
2. Hoaxes/ fraud/ scams
3. Being treated meanly
4. Receiving unwanted sexting messages
5. Trolling

While the results are concerning, they shouldn’t come as any surprise to the average South African internet user. Online conflict is rife and has led to at least one prominent court case in the past few years.

Being a good human being should come natural in both real life and in the online realm, but Microsoft, in conjunction with SID, has initiated a four-step “Digital Civility Challenge”. This will assist internet users to be more courteous and to combat online conflict and harassment.

This entails a pledge to live up to the four Digital Civility Challenge ideals every day:

1. Live the Golden Rule. I will act with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treat everyone I connect with online with dignity and respect.
2. Respect differences. I will appreciate cultural differences and honour diverse perspectives. When I disagree, I will engage thoughtfully and avoid name calling and personal attacks.
3. Pause before replying. I will pause and think before responding to things I disagree with. I will not post or send anything that could hurt someone else, damage my reputation, or threaten my safety or the safety of others.
4. Stand up for myself and others. I will tell someone if I feel unsafe, offer support to those who are targets of online abuse or cruelty, report activity that threatens anyone’s safety, and preserve evidence of inappropriate or unsafe behaviour.

Chief Operations and Marketing Officer at Microsoft South Africa Kethan Parbhoo echoed this sentiment.

“What we are trying to achieve is to show people that just because we are interacting in an online world, it does not mean we can act differently to real world interactions. This is the idea behind both the Index and the Challenge, to educate people not only about the risks but also about how they act online,” said Parbhoo.

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