Majority of girls and young women in Canada are negatively impacted by online misinformation

October 5, 2021 – Exposure to false information online is taking its toll on girls and young women in Canada and worldwide according to The Truth Gap, a new report by girls' rights organization Plan International Canada, in collaboration with IBM Canada.

This first-of-its-kind global research includes a landmark survey of more than 26,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 24 from 26 countries, which revealed that exposure to lies and mistruths have a profound impact on how they engage with issues ranging from COVID-19 to politics. The Truth Gap is the latest in the research series that builds on Plan International’s global work to tackle online gender-based violence and advocate for safe spaces for girls.

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Some of the findings are:

  • In Canada, of 1,000 surveyed girls and young women:
    • 94 per cent are concerned about misinformation and/or disinformation online, with more than eight out of ten (86 per cent) saying that it has a negative effect on them.
    • 51 per cent have either felt sad, depressed, stressed, worried or anxious as a result of exposure to false information online.
  • Globally, of the total 26,000 surveyed girls and young women:
    • 20 per cent feel physically unsafe because of false information online.
    • 87 per cent said misinformation and disinformation has had a negative impact on their lives.
    • 67 per cent have never been taught how to spot misinformation or disinformation.
    • One in three reported false information is affecting their mental health, leaving them stressed, worried, and anxious. Others reported concerns about fake events advertised on social media that could place them at physical risk and about unreliable medical advice that could harm their health.
    • One out of five stop engaging in politics or current affairs due to their experiences with false information online.
    • 28 per cent have been led to believe a myth or ‘fake fact’ about COVID-19.
    • 25 per cent have questioned whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
    • Globally, there is no online source that the majority of those surveyed trusted to provide reliable information.

“These findings demonstrate the consequences of false information on girls and young women, as the pandemic has shifted most of our interactions online. They are bombarded with lies that fuel discrimination, proliferate harmful stereotypes, and derail their pathways to leadership and realizing their rights. This impacts their self-esteem and mental and physical health,” says Saadya Hamdani, Director of Gender Equality at Plan International Canada.

“Young people – particularly girls – must be protected from online abuse and harassment as well as given the skills and knowledge to navigate the internet safely, find accurate information, and use their voices freely.”

Digital literacy is an indispensable tool for girls’ participation in civic life, particularly as it relates to fields where they are underrepresented.

Plan International Canada’s partner for this report, IBM Canada, is invested in creating avenues that broaden girls’ participation in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). As part of our youth leadership program Girls Belong Here, we teamed up with IBM Canada this year to host an interactive roundtable with youth ambassadors who engaged in meaningful dialogue around girls in STEM with Claude Guay, President and General Manager, IBM Canada. They provided ideas and solutions about enhancing girls’ and young women’s participation in STEM fields. IBM has been steadfast in its mission to advance women in STEM by driving innovative programs to help close the gender gap and build an inclusive workforce.

“Increasing women’s representation in STEM is a priority for IBM. We have programs around the globe to help girls earn a strong STEM foundation, and initiatives to help women enter or return to the tech sector,” said Jen Roynon, IBM Canada CSR Leader.

“We need to create an ecosystem where organisations, teachers, parents, and industry experts collaborate to increase girls’ digital literacy, encourage girls to embrace STEM, and provide enablement opportunities throughout their journey.”

IBM is focused on building skills for the future and for this new digital era. It is encouraging girls to embark on education and career pathways in STEM to bring about a change in the outlook of communities and the world as a whole.

Research citation:

Plan International Canada. The Truth Gap – how information and disinformation online affect the lives, learning and leadership of girls and young women. October 2021.

  • Research for The Truth Gap report was carried out in 33 countries. This includes a survey of over 26,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 24 in 26 countries, conducted by Ipsos and GeoPoll on behalf of Plan International between 5 February to 19 March 2021, and an additional series of 22 in-depth interviews across 18 countries.
  • Ipsos and GeoPoll surveyed girls in Brazil, Canada, Colombia U.S.A., United Kingdom, France, Germany, Finland, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, Jordan, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Togo and Zambia.
  • In Canada: 1,000 girls and young women participated in the survey, residing in the following regions: Ontario (42 per cent), Quebec (23 per cent), British Columbia (11 per cent), Alberta (10 per cent), Manitoba (4 per cent), Saskatchewan (3 per cent), New Brunswick (2 per cent), Nova Scotia (2 per cent), and Newfoundland and Labrador (1 per cent). Age: The surveyed girls and young women are between 15 and 24 years old. The majority (58 per cent) are aged 20 to 24 years and 42 per cent are aged 15 to 19 years.

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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 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 75 countries.

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

About IBM Canada

For more information about IBM Canada, visit: http://www.ibm.com/ca-en