It isn’t all technology’s fault. While the internet may facilitate negative behaviors, it does not cause them. Behind every inflammatory, mean-spirited, threatening, or illegal online action or comment is a human being. Some are cybercriminals. Others are trolls: internet users who intentionally agitate or harass people online—without necessarily breaking the law—for amusement, personal gain, or no reason at all.
If you’ve spent any time online, you know how prevalent these behaviors can be. Trolls and cybercriminals lurk anywhere there’s an internet connection. In fact, according to a recent Microsoft report, there’s a 9% chance you share a workplace with one.
The finding comes from “Civility, Safety and Interactions Online – 2018” [PPT], which surveyed over 11,000 people in 22 countries about their experiences on the internet. Respondents were asked to describe the kinds the risks they’ve encountered online, the pain and consequences they suffered from those risks, and any actions they’d taken as a result. Microsoft then compiled and analyzed the data to come up with its “Digital Civility Index,” a handy measurement of how nice (or not so nice) the internet is right now.
The company published the first DCI in 2016. As Jacqueline Beauchere, Microsoft’s Chief Online Safety Officer, wrote in a recent blog post, the index is like a golf score: “the lower the value (on a scale from zero to 100), the lower the respondents’ risk exposure and the higher the perceived level of online civility among people in that country.”
But the DCI doesn’t tell the whole story. While the most recent index fell 2 points from the previous year, online risks continue to take a serious toll:
“It should come as no surprise that the pain and suffering from online risks is real, as these latest data confirm. Indeed, following online risk exposure, people became less trusting of others both online and off. They said their lives became more stressful; they lost sleep and they were less likely to participate in social media, blogs and online forums. Each of these—the top five consequences from the latest study—posted 3- or 4-point increases over the previous year.”
Microsoft’s data also reveal that users’ social circles have become riskier. Take a look at the comparison chart, which shows the differences between the DCI’s 2017 and 2018 results.
Yes, nearly 40% of the time, people who experience online risks know the perpetrator. And there’s a new, not-insignificant chance it’s a co-worker or colleague.
I’m not sharing this information with you to sow distrust in your workplace—that’s something a troll would do. Rather, the point here is that employers need to recognize the risks of harassment, discrimination, cyberbullying, and other negative online interactions between co-workers.
Fortunately, through an approach that uses both technology and people-centric training, we can all make the internet a safer, nicer place. Find cyber security tools and best practices here.