If you’ve experienced terrible pain after negative experiences online, you’re not alone. New research from Microsoft suggests that such agony is widespread, with over a third of global internet users reporting “moderate or severe pain” from online experiences, including 5 percent of survey respondents who said they suffered “unbearable pain.”
The results were released yesterday as part of Microsoft’s third annual “Civility, Safety and Interactions Online” report. The company surveyed over 11,000 global internet users in May of 2018 to measure the general level of civility across the internet. That number, however, has stayed fairly consistent each year, as Microsoft’s chief online safety officer admitted in an accompanying blog post.
Microsoft says its global Digital Civility Index—which measures how frequently internet users encounter “online risks” like doxing, trolling, and hate speech—fell by two points to 66 percent in 2018. More telling is how respondents answered new questions about the pain of such encounters.
Millennials and teen girls reported some of the highest rates of both exposure to risks and subsequent suffering, with 44 and 42 percent of all respondents from those groups, respectively, saying they experienced moderate or severe pain after bad online experiences. Boomers were the least likely to report such pain among the different age groups (24 percent), and Gen Xers and teen boys fell somewhere in-between (32 percent each).
Disturbingly, when asked to choose how much pain they suffered from bad experiences online, a full 5 percent of global respondents selected level 10, which the survey defined as “unbearable pain that was mentally and physically disabling.”
Those who still think of the internet as a virtual playground might respond to this self-reported global suffering with surprise or contempt. But the millions who (by habit or necessity) live much of their lives online will likely be nodding their heads.
One bright spot from the 2018 survey highlighted by Microsoft was that 42 percent of teens said they asked for help from a parent with an online issue, up from just 10 percent in 2017. The kids, at least, seem to be learning that digital problems can be all too real.