Story at a glance
- A significant amount of girls and young women are reducing their use of social media or leaving platforms entirely as a result of online harassment.
- A new survey found that harassment took many forms and had serious effects on the mental health of victims.
- Plan International, a girls' rights organization, is calling on social media platforms to do more.
Girls and young women are being chased off of social media platforms because of online abuse, according to a new survey, and Facebook is the worst offender.
One in five girls have left or significantly reduced their use of a social media platform after being harassed and 1 in 10 have changed the way they express themselves, reported Plan International, a girls' rights organization that surveyed 14,000 girls and young women between ages 15 and 25 in 22 countries, including the United States.
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“These attacks may not be physical, but they are often threatening, relentless, and limit girls’ freedom of expression. Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders," said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, in a release.
One in five of those surveyed said they or a friend feared for their physical safety after being harassed with abusive and insulting language — the most common type of attack — embarrassed, body-shamed or threatened with sexual violence. More than half of those who are LGBT or from an ethnic minority said they've been targeted for their identity.
“I used to get a lot of messages from boys asking me to send nudes or blackmailing me about a picture that I posted that they're going share it or edit it in a bad way and share it with everyone if I don't do this or that,” a woman from Sudan, now 20, said in an interview. “Or just generally talking, like saying bad words to me. At that young age it was, honestly, horrible. So, it was the worst time in my life, using social media. Between the age of 9 and 14.”
More girls said they were harassed on Facebook than any other platform, with 23 percent reporting harassment on Instagram, 14 percent on WhatsApp, 10 percent on Snapchat, 9 percent on Twitter and 6 percent on TikTok. And 44 percent said social media companies need to do more to protect them.
“I would block [him], but he would create more profiles and keep sending me pictures,” said a 17-year-old girl from Ecuador, who was interviewed for the study.
In an increasingly online world, three-quarters of girls surveyed said they post frequently or very frequently. The coronavirus pandemic has made many people more reliant on social media for connection as they are isolated in their homes. But 39 percent said harassment lowered their self-esteem and another 38 percent said it creates mental and emotional stress, while 18 percent said it could even cause problems at school.
“Disappointingly, they are being left to deal with online violence on their own, with profound consequences for their confidence and wellbeing. With COVID-19 driving more of our lives online and with internet access around the world improving, it is time for digital platforms to step up and protect their users," said Albrectsen. “Social media companies have the power to make change.”
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