Online risks can mean real-world consequences

Study shows what happens online doesn't always stay online.

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Preliminary results of a new Microsoft survey show nearly two-thirds of people surveyed had at least one negative online experience that had an impact on them in the real world, ranging from a loss of trust in others, increased stress or sleep deprivation,.

The study, “Civility, Safety and Interaction Online – 2016,” polled youths aged 13 to 17 and adults aged 18 to 74 in 14 countries. Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of those polled said they had fallen victim at some point to at least one of 17 different online risks. Microsoft has not yet disclosed what those 17 risks are but will in the final report, due next February.

That figure grows to 78 percent when respondents also considered the online experiences of their friends and families. Half of those surveyed reported being "extremely or very" worried about online risks generally, with the most common concerns being unwanted contact (43 percent) and various forms of harassment (39 percent).

Young people said they were more likely to suffer social and academic losses following some sort of online conflict. Twenty percent said they lost a friend or their scholastic performance suffered as a result, while 13 percent said they intentionally spent less time at school due to online conflicts.

That's really the tip of the iceberg. The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center reports 14 percent of high school students surveyed considered suicide after cyberbullying and seven percent have attempted it. It seems hardly a month goes by without another story in the media about a teen committing suicide over cyberbullying.

Both adults and teens said they became less trusting of others in the real world after a negative interaction online at about an even rate. For adults it was 31 percent, for teens 29 percent. However, consequences to adults outpaced those to teens, such as becoming less trusting of people online and a reluctance to participate in blogs and other online forums.

On a positive note, 29 percent of adults said they tried to be more constructive in their criticism of others after a negative online situation, compared with 25 percent of teens.

These are just the preliminary results of a full report Microsoft plans to make available on International Safer Internet Day 2017 on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017.

"We’ve chosen to make this preliminary release, featuring some adult data, following the conclusion of the U.S. presidential election and in conjunction with World Kindness Day on Sunday, Nov. 13," wrote Jacqueline Beauchere, chief online safety officer at Microsoft in a blog posting.

The months leading up to the new year and Safer Internet Day 2017 represent an opportunity for a "digital reset," as she put it, a time to take stock of online habits and practices "to ensure we’re putting our best digital foot forward … Digital civility is everyone’s responsibility, and Microsoft can help put you and your family on a path to good digital citizenship."

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