People’s digital interactions and responses to online risks appear to be improving around the world — although many of those targeted for abuse online say their perpetrators came from their immediate families and social circles.
These are among the findings of Microsoft’s latest study, which also reveals that almost two in three respondents (61%) had some familiarity with their online abusers. More than a third (36%) said they knew the perpetrator personally: 17% responded that the perpetrator was a friend or a family member, while nearly one in five (19%) said the perpetrator was an acquaintance.

One quarter of those surveyed said the offender was someone they knew only online, and 37% said their online risk exposure came from a stranger.

Family and friends accounted for a high percentage of perpetrators among those who said they were bullied online (41%) or discriminated against (36%).

The Microsoft study, “Civility, Safety and Interactions Online — 2017”, measured the perceptions of teens and adults about the online risks they face and how their interactions affect their lives. Jacqueline Beauchere, chief online safety officer at Microsoft, unpacks the findings.

For the second year in a row, unwanted contact surfaced as the leading online risk that people experienced (among the 20 evaluated) — with 41% of respondents reporting being contacted online by someone they did not wish to hear from. This is down 2 percentage points from 43% the previous year.

The next closest-ranked risk was hoaxes, fraud and scams as a collective with 27% of respondents reporting exposure during their lifetime. This is the first year this risk was included in this survey.

Additional highlights from our report include:

* More than half (53%) of people said they’d met their perpetrator in real life, about the same as last year. Within that group, 76% said they knew the offender before the online abuse happened.

* One respondent in 10 said they confronted the perpetrator, down 11 percentage points from the previous year, while retaliation dropped to 9% from 17% previously.

* Also, on the plus side, 66% strongly or somewhat agreed that overall, they were treated in a safe and civil manner online. Conversely, those who felt attacked (12%) suffered much higher rates of online risks and consequences.

* The Microsoft Digital Civility Challenge tenets rose toward the top of the actions taken in response to online risks. Three of the five suggested challenge steps were in the top 10 of those taken in response to exposure to online abuse: “stood up for themselves” ranked third, “paused before replying” ranked fourth and, “defended someone else” ranked sixth.

Last year’s research indicated that a large portion of respondents (63%) either did not know, or were unsure, where to go for help if they encountered an online risk. Thankfully, that picture has improved with this latest round of research. Now, 45% of respondents, an improvement of 8%, said they know where to find help in managing online risks, and 46% said they are extremely or very confident in their ability to handle online risks.