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Positive Online Civility Trends Reversed One Year Into The Pandemic: Study

The survey marks the sixth straight year of Microsoft's digital civility research.

NEW DELHI — Teenagers and adults in 18 countries believe perceptions of online civility have deteriorated one year into the global pandemic, with respondents in Poland, Philippines, Italy, Germany, and Hungary reporting the sharpest net-negative sentiment, a new Microsoft research shows.

This latest study, “Civility, Safety and Interaction Online 2021,” polled teens aged 13 to 17 and adults aged 18 to 74 about their exposure to 21 online risks across four categories: behavioral, sexual, reputational, and personal/intrusive.

This year’s survey marks the sixth straight year of Microsoft’s digital civility research. It builds on similar studies in each of the last five years conducted in varying geographies.

A total of 11,067 individuals participated in this year’s poll.

In 82 percent of the 22 countries surveyed, respondents said online civility was net-worse one year into the Covid-19 pandemic. In contrast, only one country — Colombia — reported net-positive online civility after a year of global, stay-at-home restrictions.

The latest findings follow more mixed results about the state of online civility during the initial months of the pandemic in 2020.

“In 2021, fewer than two in 10 respondents (17 percent) globally said civility online improved as a result of Covid-19, while 30 percent said it worsened,” said Jacqueline Beauchere, Global Digital Safety Advocate.

“Those percentages compare with 26 percent and 22 percent, respectively, last year. Any hopes for improved online civility were dashed by across-the-board drops in positive actions.”

“Respondents were asked if they’d experienced or witnessed five different positive outcomes of online interaction associated with the Covid-19 stay-at-home environment, and all five categories yielded lower readings compared to 2020,” said Beauchere.

Last year, respondents in the Asia Pacific region, for instance, reported an uptick in more respectful online interactions. At the same time, those in Latin America said digital civility worsened, dampened by a rise in the spread of false and misleading information.

Both research projects were conducted in April and May — in 2020 when the world was just coming to grips with Covid-19 and again in 2021.

“Last year, we added a series of special Covid-19-related questions to our digital civility research, given the unique and challenging situation the world found itself in, and we hoped to gain valuable insights into people’s online attitudes and behaviors during these unprecedented times,” the report said.

“As Covid-induced challenges persisted well into 2021, we wanted to see how those perceptions of online civility may have shifted one year later.”

A bit of good news came in the form of declines in two adverse outcomes categories — the spread of false and misleading information (60 percent in 2021 vs. 67 percent in 2020). More people acting selfishly (49 percent vs. 52 percent), the report said.

(With inputs from ANI)

Edited by Saptak Datta and Praveen Pramod Tewari

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