Digital civility for Gen Z is all about respect and safety

Photo by world-apart

For several years, Microsoft has been producing some interesting data on what it calls ‘digital civility’ (see Teens and adults hope for more civil online discourse in new decade). Although most of the latest tranche of this research will be released on 11 February 2020, Microsoft published a snapshot which revealed the top three words that respondents hoped would define their online experience in 2020:

  • respect (66%)
  • safety (57%)
  • freedom (33%) and civility (32%).

As can be seen, the most common needs expressed are to feel safe and respected. However, while this is important to young people, they do not want this to be at the expense of their freedom – creating something of a dilemma.

More than half (60%) of respondents rated the current situation as “poor” in terms of being contacted online without their permission or consent; being bullied, harassed or abused (51%); or being solicited with unwanted relationship requests or sexual advances (51%). Almost half (46%) say people’s reputations are at risk online.

Microsoft says that 39% of respondents fear that unwanted online contact, bullying and unwelcome sexual attention will worsen in 2020. While 35% fear reputational damage (both professional and personal) will continue to be attacked online.

As more of our home and working lives move online, and as businesses engage using social networks, these feelings about online civility bear thinking about. Not only should businesses consider training staff in online civility and introducing codes of conduct, but they should also look at how to support the victims of online bullying. It has become common to assess potential recruits by looking at social profiles, with the assumption that these are accurate. However, it’s increasingly the case that young people – and women in particular – may have been the targets of unwarranted abuse, untrue accusations and unfair rumours.

Employers must consider how they sift potential recruits in future, support young workers who may be subject to online abuse, and promote civility in their workforces. A related problem is how troll accounts and activists attack businesses – potentially ruining the reputation of smaller SMEs who simply don’t have the resources to counter such attacks. All of this points to the problematic issue of online identity, with trolls hiding behind fake names and accounts, making it almost impossible to hold those responsible to account.

B2B service providers should consider how they could utilise their own expertise to deploy services to support their SME customers in this area as well as promote internet security. For example by helping customers keep personal information safe and secure, and deploying tools and policies to promote digital civility.

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