Free to Be Online

Stand with girls against online harassment and abuse.

Every day, everywhere, girls are physically threatened, racially abused, sexually harassed, and body shamed online. With COVID-19 driving lockdowns around the globe, girls are spending more time online. This has increased their risk of online abuse and harassment.

 

This year for International Day of the Girl, we along with girls around the world, are calling on social media companies to improve their ways of reporting abuse and harassment in a way that actually works for girls.

Will you stand with girls against online harassment and abuse?

Add your name to their open letter and make sure their demands are heard.

  • Dear Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Twitter,

    We represent the 14,000 girls from 22 countries who spoke to Plan International about online abuse. We are urgently asking you to work with us to end online harassment on your platforms.

    We love your platforms, they’re a huge part of our daily lives. We use them not just to connect with friends, but to lead and create change. But they are not safe for us. We get harassed and abused on them. Every. Single. Day.

    We are physically threatened, racially abused, sexually harassed and body shamed. Online violence is serious. It causes real harm and it’s silencing our voices.

    As this global pandemic moves our lives online, we are more at risk than ever.

    Did you know that 50% of us face more online harassment than street harassment? And 42% of us lose self-esteem or confidence as a result of it?

    Online violence shapes our identity while telling us what’s wrong with our identity: Of the girls who’ve been harassed, 37% from an ethnic minority said they get harassed because of their ethnicity or race. And 56% of the girls who are LGBTIQ+ and have experienced harassment, said that they get harassed because of it.

    We are told ‘if we can’t handle the harassment, we shouldn’t be on social media’. That’s messed up. We shouldn’t have to cope and shrink ourselves in an unfair system. The world needs to stop normalising online violence.

    We know that many of you are taking steps to make your platforms safer – that’s awesome, thank you!

    But right now, it’s not enough.

    Girls, in all our diversity, need to know that when we’re abused and threatened online, we can report it and you’ll take action.

    Our practical solution? Be our allies! Speak to us! Listen to our experiences! Work with us to create stronger reporting mechanisms for violence that meet girls’ needs and hold perpetrators to account.

    The time to act is now so girls are #FreeToBeOnline.

    We’ll be waiting for your call…

    Yours sincerely,

    Zahra, 17, Finland
    Madjidath, 20, Benin
    Yande, 16, Zambia
    Neha, 18, Nepal
    Deisy, 18, Colombia
    Sessi, 22, Benin

Online violence is serious. It silences girls’ voices – and it causes real and lasting harm. It robs girls of their self-esteem and causes mental and emotional stress. Nearly a quarter of girls we surveyed reported it can leave them feeling physically unsafe, with others having problems at school, with friends or family and in finding or keeping a job.

Girls are opting out of expressing themselves and their opinions for fear of retribution, and sometimes removing themselves from these platforms altogether. Once again, as we’ve seen with street harassment, perpetrators are using their perceived power to silence girls and to force them out of spaces where they have just as much right to be as anyone else.

As the charity for girls’ equality, Plan International Australia is declaring that enough is enough.

Having a guy just send me a naked photo of himself… is really freaky.…They just go into your inbox: ‘Hey babe,’ and then I open this message and I freak out, ’What the hell is happening?’… They are sending you things without your consent, which is just disrespectful.
  • Young woman, 23, Malawi
For my friends who experienced bodyshaming, they became more determined to change who they are just to please others and conform to societal standards.
  • Girl, 17, Philippines
It breaks my heart because, obviously the stories that we’re telling are a very difficult experience for the woman. And you can read how much suffering she went through with all this. But anyway, these people come, and say things like, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’ How can they comment without seeing the suffering?
  • Young woman, 22, Chile

Will you stand with girls around the world?

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.

Will you stand with girls around the world?