SINGAPORE – People in Singapore had fewer negative online experiences, such as unwanted sexual contact, last year amid the Covid-19 pandemic. This helped the country jump four places to No. 4 in an annual study of how digitally civil societies are.

It follows a general trend for 32 territories globally, according to the study by American tech giant Microsoft released last Wednesday (Feb 10).

The Netherlands was tops in online civility, followed by Britain and the United States.

No. 5 was Taiwan, which was newly added to the study.

The study, called the Digital Civility Index, polled 16,000 teens and adults globally from April to May last year, including 500 people online in Singapore. Each territory was rated on a scale of zero to 100, with a lower score indicating lower exposure to online risks and a higher perceived level of online civility.

Singapore’s score was 59 per cent last year, an improvement over 2019’s 63 per cent. The global score of 67 per cent last year improved from 70 per cent in 2019.

People in Singapore reported a sharp fall in online sexual risks experienced, from 30 per cent in 2019 to 15 per cent last year. Such risks include getting unwanted sexually explicit messages and images, online sexual advances and receiving unwelcome sexual teasing, jokes or flirting online or electronically.

Associate Professor Edson Tandoc Jr from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said that it could be possible that online sexual and reputation risks fell here because of family intervention.

The study was done during Singapore’s circuit breaker period last year when many people had to study and work from home with their families, noted Prof Tandoc, who is director of NTU’s Centre for Information Integrity and the Internet. 

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There could have been “increased parental mediation of digital media use, which could have mitigated exposure to and the effects of negative digital content”, he said, adding that further studies are needed to draw a conclusion. 

There was also a drop in online risks to one’s reputation, from 18 per cent in 2019 to 13 per cent last year. These risks include getting doxxed and having one’s personal and professional reputation tarred online.

Two other major online risks measured, defined as being intrusive and behavioural in nature, remained unchanged at 52 per cent and 35 per cent respectively for Singapore.

Intrusive online risks include being contacted online without permission or consent, receiving hate speech and getting hoaxes, scams and fraudulent content.

Some examples of behavioural online risks are being treated meanly, getting trolled, being cyberbullied and getting harassed online.

In Singapore, 19 per cent, said online civility was better during the Covid-19 pandemic, which some attributed to a greater sense of community and how more people came together to deal with the crisis.

On the flip side, 31 per cent said online civility was worse during the outbreak because more false and misleading information was spread and people vented their frustrations online.

The top three online risks for Singapore were unwanted contact with people; getting hoaxes, scams and fraudulent content; and being treated meanly.

Still, the pandemic has “brought the best out of many ordinary people”, said Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement.

He noted that there were many positive ground-up initiatives last year, such as the Sure Anot campaign by Nanyang Technological University students to help senior citizens combat fake news.

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Migrant worker support group ItsRainingRaincoats launched an initiative to teach migrant workers English online by matching volunteers to workers stuck indoors due to the outbreak.

But a survey commissioned by the Kindness Movement and released last year found that many people here consider making insensitive or inappropriate jokes the most ungracious behaviour online.

This was followed by shaming others, using inappropriate language and spreading misinformation.

Dr Wan advised people to be mindful, considerate and kind online. They should not post, share or forward anything without pausing first to ask if it is true, fair, positive, helpful, offensive to others and whether it will contribute to a harmonious relationship, he said.

“The golden rule applies here: Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you,” he said.

This year, the Kindness Movement is also trying to encourage good neighbourly relations among the elderly, such as during the pandemic, with a three-part vernacular online series called Be Kind, Be Happy.

Hosted by Dr Wan and veteran actor Moses Lim, the online talk show started on Feb 8 on the Movement’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Dr Wan said the topic of neighbourliness is very relevant “as Singaporeans spend most of the time working from home in the current new normal”.

“There are also many elderly citizens who live alone. Thus it is important that we look out for them,” he added. “We hope that this Web series will encourage more interactions between neighbours, and foster healthy and constructive relationships. As the saying goes, neighbours by chance, friends by choice.”

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