Largest ever global survey on online violence shows that one in five girls (19%) have left or significantly reduced use of a social media platform after being harassed, while another one in ten (12%) have changed the way they express themselves.
Girls and young women worldwide are demanding urgent action from social media companies after a landmark survey has revealed more than half (58%) have been harassed or abused online.
Attacks are most common on Facebook, where 39% say they have suffered harassment, but occur on every platform included in the global study including Instagram (23%), WhatsApp (14%), Snapchat (10%), Twitter (9%) and TikTok (6%).
Our latest research is based on a survey of 14,000 girls aged 15-25 in 22 countries, including Brazil, Benin, the USA and India, and a series of in-depth interviews.
Girls receive explicit messages
The largest study of its kind, it found girls who use social media in high and low-income countries alike are routinely subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking and other distressing forms of abuse, and reporting tools are ineffective in stopping it.
Online violence has led to nearly one in five (19%) of those who have been harassed stopping or significantly reducing their use of the platform on which it happened, while another one in ten (12%) have changed the way they express themselves.
Abuse also damages girls’ lives offline, with one in five (22%) of those surveyed saying they or a friend have been left fearing for their physical safety, while 44% say social media companies need to do more to protect them.
Social media is a significant part of girls’ lives
The most common type of attack is abusive and insulting language, reported by 59% of girls who have been harassed, followed by purposeful embarrassment (41%), body shaming and threats of sexual violence (both 39%).
More than a third (37%) of girls who are from an ethnic minority and have suffered abuse say they are targeted because of their race or ethnicity, while more than half (56%) of those who identify as LGBTIQ+ say they are harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
The report – titled Free to be online? Girls’ and young women’s experiences of online harassment – found that social media is a significant part of young people’s lives and is widely used for activism, entertainment, to learn and to keep in touch with friends and family.
Three-quarters (74%) of those surveyed say they post frequently or very frequently, while interviews suggest that COVID-19 has made being online even more important.
However, this leaves girls vulnerable to new forms of abuse, with 50% saying online harassment is more common than street harassment.
Girls are calling for action to end online abuse
The research was carried out as part of Girls Get Equal, Plan International’s global campaign for a world where girls and young women have the power to be leaders and shape the world around them.
As part of the campaign, girls around the world have written an open letter(*) to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter calling on them to create stronger and more effective ways to report abuse and harassment.
Plan International is also asking governments worldwide to implement specific laws to deal with online gender-based violence and ensure girls who suffer it have access to justice.
Part of a longer press release at https://plan-international.org/news/2020-10-05-abuse-and-harassment-driving-girls-facebook-instagram-and-twitter
(*) You can sign the open letter at https://plan-international.org/sign-the-letter