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Online harassment is silencing girls online, driving them from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Six in ten girls surveyed in Canada have experienced online abuse and harassment, Plan International Canada research shows.

October 5, 2020, Toronto, ON – Today, international child rights’ organization Plan International Canada released the findings of a global survey of 14,000 girls aged 15–25 in 22 countries including Canada, which showed that more than half (58 per cent), have been harassed or abused online. In Canada, the results are even higher at 62 per cent.

The report, titled Free to be online? Girls’ and young women’s experiences of online harassment shows how significant social media is in young people’s lives and how online abuse disempowers girls by shutting them out of a space widely used for activism, entertainment, learning, and to keep in touch with friends and family.

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“Given how vital the internet has become during this current pandemic, especially as more girls gain access to the internet globally, it’s clear much more is needed to make online spaces safe and empowering for girls,” says Lindsay Glassco, President and CEO of Plan International Canada. “Girls have a right to speak up and take part in public life. These platforms exist so that their voices are heard, not silenced. Online harassment has devastating impacts on the ability of girls to participate in important discussions and their confidence to share their views and ideas on social media platforms, and it creates an environment of fear and anxiety that can lead to self-harm.”

The largest study of its kind, Plan International Canada’s research found that girls in high and low-income countries alike who use social media are routinely subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking and other distressing forms of abuse. The current reporting tools offered by social media platforms are not doing enough to prevent online harassment and abuse.

“Social media companies must commit to doing more to protect girls from online abuse. By doing this, they will be able to ensure that girls have equal access to these valuable platforms,” says Ramandeep, 15-year-old Youth Ambassador for Plan International Canada. “Until no one is abused online, there is still work to be done.”

To deal with online harassment, 19 per cent of the girls surveyed in Canada stated that they would stop posting content that expresses their opinion. Eight per cent said they would quit the social media platform on which the harassment happened. Almost half of those surveyed (48 per cent) would choose to ignore the harassment, while 37 per cent would choose to report/block the harasser or increase their privacy settings. While social media platforms offer some technical solutions, including reporting and escalation mechanisms, and monitor content on their platforms, significant changes must come into effect to protect girls.

Plan International Canada is calling on social media platforms to take action to stop online harassment. This includes developing better and more accessible reporting mechanisms, stronger monitoring measures to identify and respond to cyberbullying and online harassment. Most importantly, Plan International Canada is encouraging these platforms to work with girls and women to co-create policies and technical solutions to online violence. More than half of the girls surveyed in Canada say social media companies should do more to fight such issues on their platforms. 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. Supporters of this call-to-action in Canada are encouraged to read and sign this letter, which will urge social media giants to enact significant changes and make online spaces safer for everyone.

Join Plan International Canada’s International Day of the Girl conversations online:

Hashtag: #DayoftheGirl | #FreetobeOnline
Twitter: @PlanCanada | Facebook: @PlanCanada | Instagram: @PlanCanada

Additional findings from Canada

  • In Canada, 1,002 girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24 answered the survey.
  • About three in every five girls and young women experience online harassment frequently (25 per cent) or very frequently (35 per cent).
  • The types of harassment that most girls are facing in Canada are abusive and insulting language (72 per cent), purposeful embarrassment (64 per cent), body shaming (61 per cent), sexual harassment (55 per cent) and stalking (51 per cent).
  • Overall, 72 per cent said that they had experienced negative effects due to being harassed on social media platforms. The most common negative effects of online harassment are lower self-esteem or loss of confidence and mental or emotional stress, followed by problems at school.

Additional global findings

  • 50 per cent of girls said they face more online harassment than street harassment.
  • Girls report that social media harassment is at its peak between the ages of 14-16, with online harassment beginning for girls at the age of eight.
  • Of the girls who’ve been harassed, 37 per cent who self-identified as a member of an ethnic minority said they get harassed because of their ethnicity or race.
  • 56 per cent of the girls who identified themselves as LGBTIQ+ and had experienced harassment, said that they get harassed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL

In 2009, Plan International Canada led an extensive two-year campaign that engaged thousands of Canadians in a call for an International Day of the Girl as part of Because I am a Girl, a global initiative to end gender inequality and recognize girls' rights as human rights. In December 2011, with unanimous all-party support, the Canadian government led the United Nations to officially declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl.

About Plan International Canada

Plan International Canada is a global organization dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls. We have been building powerful partnerships for children for over 80 years and are now active in more than 70 countries.

Visit plancanada.ca for more information and follow @PlanCanada on social media to join the conversation.

For media inquiries please contact:

Mahmoud Shabeeb
Senior Manager, Media and PR, Plan International Canada,
Mshabeeb@plancanada.ca | 647-674-2456 | Skype: Mahmoud.Shabeeb_1

Jessica Weingarten
PR Manager, Plan International Canada - Paradigm Public Relations
jweingarten@paradigmpr.ca | 416-413-5111