It’s hard to deny that we are living in a digital era. Now more than ever we are using social media to stay connected and living out our lives online. For many people, this is a liberating experience. But not for everyone. To a huge number of young girls worldwide, having an online presence means becoming targets for online bullying, harassment, and abuse.
Sunday the eleventh of October is International Day of the Girl (IDG) and it is being celebrated this year by Plan International, a global development organisation, active in over 70 countries with a focus on the rights of girls. IDG is an annual event that gives girls an opportunity to amplify their voices and speak up on issues of importance to them. This year, Plan International Ireland is focusing on the pertinent theme of Equal Freedom for Girls Online.
The internet is a scary place for girls today. Research from Plan shows that more than half of the 14,000 girls surveyed around the globe have experienced some form of harassment online, and the rates are even higher in Ireland at 68%. One in five girls is left feeling physically unsafe after being targeted online. In a qualitative interview, one respondent said: “Mainly [the harassment] just gives me disappointment in humanity.”
The research also found that this harassment starts young, with some girls reporting experiences of abuse from as young as 8 years old. Social media harassment was found to peak between the ages of 12-18. Plan has heard from girls who have been body shamed, racially abused, threatened, and sexually harassed. And it only gets worse when they use their voices and share their opinions.
Most worrying of all is that this online violence is serious, causing real harm, and silencing girls’ voices. Just over a fifth of the girls surveyed said that they had limited their use of social media platforms or stopped using social media altogether as a direct result of the harassment that they face. But this is simply unfair, especially in the middle of a pandemic that sees us all moving more and more online. Girls should not have to silence themselves to exist in the online sphere. With our growing reliance as a society on the internet and social media, these girls are at risk more than ever.
Girls deserve better. They deserve to know that there is a place for them online. They deserve to know that if they are abused or harassed, they can report it and be listened to- that perpetrators will be held accountable for their actions. Because, right now, this just isn’t the case.
Everyone has a part to play in this fight for freedom online- governments, families, friends, and communities. But especially the social media companies themselves. The power lies with them to stop the abuse that girls are subjected to each day. Girls from around the world have written an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, calling on them to create ways to report abuse and harassment that work for girls. The power is in our hands to create a safer internet for our girls.
Plan Ireland will be launching the Freedom for Girls Online Report on Thursday the 8th of October. To attend this virtual launch and panel discussion, you can register here: https://www.plan.ie/join-us-as-we-mark-international-day-of-the-girl-2020/