Free To Be Online

Social media companies are listening

Girls around the world are physically threatened, racially abused, sexually harassed and body shamed online. And it gets worse when they raise their voices and share their opinions. Online violence is serious, it causes real harm, and it’s silencing girls’ voices.


With the support of more than 60,000 people around the globe, girl activists have taken their demands to the social media companies, and they are being heard!

Following the launch of our #FreeToBeOnline campaign, Instagram agreed to team up with young activists from around the world to address online harassment.

A series of Girls Get Equal Listening Sessions followed, bringing together 15 inspiring girl and young women activists in direct conversation with Instagram, along with Facebook and WhatsApp to discuss solutions for girls’ online safety. The listening sessions have given girls a say in how to make online safety a reality – which means stronger reporting mechanisms for violence that meet their needs and hold perpetrators to account. After all, they have first-hand experience of the problems.

Online violence is serious. It silences girls’ voices – and it causes real and lasting harm.

How did the listening sessions work?

A diverse group of 15 change-makers, activists and advocates brought together their collective expertise and experience, and crowd-sourced the views of hundreds of girls in their networks.

During the Girls Get Equal Listening Sessions, staff from Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp joined Plan International to hear directly from the young women activists.

The platforms shared what they are already doing to tackle online abuse, and together they discussed ideas, solutions and priorities.

Meet the Activists

Ten girls and young women aged 15 – 22, and five young women civil society leaders, are engaging with Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp.

This diverse group of 15 change-makers, activists and advocates are bringing together their collective expertise and experience, and collecting the views of hundreds of girls in their networks.

The activists are sharing their insights and requests for concrete changes with the platforms to help make them safer for girls everywhere. The girls and young women are joined by powerful allies from civil society organisations, bringing experience and expertise in advocating for safety online to the Girls Get Equal Listening Sessions.

“The whole experience of the Girls Get Equal listening sessions left me feeling very hopeful. Despite the hurdles we’re facing, we really can create change.”
– Ayumi, 17, Japan


“What I really valued most about the listening sessions is that we go to work together with Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook as equal partners, challenging gender norms online and creating a new vision of freedom online together.
– Kim, 21, Germany


‘‘It ceases to be a far-fetched dream and now it’s really happening. More can be done, but as long as we’ve already set pace then we’ll get there.”
– Stephany, 20, Kenya

Free to Be Online

The Research

For this report we spoke to 14,000 girls across 32 countries around the world about their experiences online. This is the largest ever survey of its type. We learnt that more than half have been harassed and abused on social media.

In all 32 countries, girls had been exposed to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking and other distressing forms of abuse.

Most commonly girls were targeted with abusive and insulting language, reported by more than half (59%) of girls, followed by deliberate embarrassment (41%), body shaming and threats of sexual violence (both 39%).

The social media platforms designed to connect us as a global community, are drastically failing girls and young women. Inadequate reporting mechanisms are allowing harmful abuse slip through the cracks.
Girls in all of their diversity, need to know that when they’re abused and threatened online, they can report it. That they’ll be listened to. That action will be taken, and that perpetrators will be held accountable.

Support girls and women worldwide

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