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Digital Civility: 4 Ideals to Improve Online Interaction

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Today, our conversations and relationships are taking place in a largely digital world. When it comes to maintaining mutual civility and respect, are we making the grade?

Just 9 months ago, we were able to go out to stores, restaurants, sporting events and even our places of work. These days, however, we’re working from home, learning from home, building relationships from home and educating from home.

All of this home-based interaction is being accomplished by using some type of digital device. Knowing how to interact with others on a digital platform is just as important as knowing how to interact with them face to face.

How Do You Define Digital Civility?

What is digital civility, or as it is sometimes called, digital citizenship? The article by Chris Zook titled “What is Digital Citizenship” defines the term very well. Zook defines digital citizenship as the responsible use of technology by anyone who uses computers, the Internet and digital devices to engage with society on any level.

Nowadays, this is all of us, but have we ever really been taught how to use this technology correctly? Just as we were taught how to behave in society or out in public, we need to know how to behave in the digital world.

The Digital Civility Index and the Current State of Civility

The Digital Civility Index (DCI), is a measure of classifying the overall tone of interactions in our evolving digital landscape.

For context, the U.S. Civility Index has increased by 9 points, according to Microsoft, which means we are more digitally uncivil now. The U.S. score is 60% (based out of 100); the higher the score, the lower digital civility is.

What Risks do Digital Platforms Pose?

There are risks associated with using digital platforms. These main risks can be categorized as:

  • Intrusive
  • Behavioral
  • Sexual
  • Reputational

Actions associated with these categories can include:

  • being treated meanly
  • receiving unwanted contact
  • experiencing hoaxes, scams or trolling, or;
  • receiving unwanted sexting.

Seventy-eight percent of individuals polled in a recent survey of online interactions said they experienced a risk 2 or more times, and 88% suffered pain from online risks (up by 8 points, Digital Civility 2019 U.S.).

These pains that individuals are experiencing are real. I am sure you can think of at least one time where someone you knew posted something that caused you pain.

The most painful online risks involve damage to professional reputations, cyberbullying, discrimination, damage to personal reputation and misogyny.

The Impact of Digital Incivility on Our Nation’s Youth

This incivility doesn’t only affect adults: Our teens are affected as well. In the same Microsoft digital civility index, teens were asked about civility and their risks.

Sixty-two percent of teens said they experienced a risk, and 71% said they suffered moderate to unbearable pain from that experience.

There is a positive note here, though — 70% of those teens said they know where to find help.

4 Important Ideals for Improving Digital Civility 

How can we improve our digital civility index score as a society and support each other when using digital platforms?

One way is to take the Digital Civility Challenge by Microsoft. This challenge is designed with 4 ideals in mind:

  • Live the golden rule: Treat people with kindness, empathy and compassion when connecting with others online.
  • Respect differences: Respect other differences and perspectives. Engage thoughtfully and avoid name-calling and personal attacks.
  • Pause before replying: Pause and think before responding to something you do not agree with. Do not post or send anything that could hurt someone or damage their reputation.
  • Stand up for myself and others: Tell someone if you feel unsafe, offer support to those who are targets, and report activity that threatens anyone’s safety.

Digital Civility Requires Your Attention More Than Ever

We must pay attention to what our children are watching and who they are interacting with online. Open a digital dialogue with them. Talk to your child about what he or she does on social media and who he or she is conversing with.

If your child comes to you concerned about a risk or if she feels in danger, do not let that catch you off-guard. Sit and talk with your child and, perhaps most importantly, lead by example with your posts and actions online.

Following some simple ideals, we can work together to improve our digital citizenship as we continue to rely on building relationships in the digital world.


Beauchere, J. (2020). Digital civility at lowest level in 4 years, new Microsoft research shows. [Web log post]. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

Digital Civility Index and Promoting a Safer Internet. (2020). Retrieved November 18, 2020, from

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