News and Stories - Advocacy - 7 October 2021

The Future Online – Keep Us Safe!

The Future Online – Keep Us Safe!

Written by Olivia Causer and Margaret Thanos, two members of Plan International Australia’s Youth Activist Series, supported by The Body Shop.

Together with Youth Activists from Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia, we have a vision for a better online world. One in which social media platforms, governments, and each and every one of us contributes to the creation of a more inclusive, welcoming, and secure environment on the internet.

Significant acts of violence, ranging from trolling to cyberstalking to sexual exploitation, are taking place in a space that should be used for education and communication. These acts of violence are having a debilitating effect on young people all over the world, and they need to be stopped. Girls and gender-diverse people are regularly subjected to online harassment, threats, and abuse that is motivated by their race, gender, sexual orientation, and appearance.

According to the Free to Be Online research conducted by Plan International Australia in 2020, 58 percent of girls from all 22 survey countries had directly experienced some sort of online harassment on social media platforms in the previous year. No one deserves to feel threatened when using the internet.

The line between onlookers and active participants in the online space is often blurred. Most people are unaware that accountability for damaging content online often extends beyond the creator. By simply following, subscribing, or promoting online sources aimed to humiliate or injure someone, you may also be held accountable for bullying or even abusive behaviour.

The Australian Youth Activists had a wonderful experience working with the Youth Activists from Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. We worked together through a series of online workshops led by YLab, to collect data, discuss the issues at hand and get to know each other. After recognising this issue, we conducted research and launched a campaign to effect change.

Our research was focused on the following question: What is required to mobilise and assist people to act as active online bystanders when they observe online gender-based violence aimed towards young people in all of our many cultures and backgrounds?

Online violence and harassment are fuelled by a variety of factors, namely cultural norms and gender stereotypes. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram (to name the main ones), are not doing enough to address the problem. Further, social media influencers can sometimes perpetuate the problem, and contribute to the broader worldwide epidemic of violence and harassment.

All of the Youth Activists were able to share both our individual experiences of feeling unsafe online, and also look at the broader, more collective issue at hand. Hearing stories from young women and non-binary people from these different countries opened our eyes to some of the issues that we might not face as Australians. We heard about how online harassment can reduce safety in real life, particularly when it comes to accessing cities.

Moreover, our research revealed that though everyone has the capacity to be powerful agents of change and can be mobilised to be positive active bystanders, they must first be educated and given the necessary tools and support. Governments, educational institutions, and social media platforms have a large and important role to play in equipping people to have a greater understanding of how we as individuals can be better, and hope to carry that into the world from now on.

Our findings, recommendations and ideas for action demonstrate that change is possible and the responsibility lies with all of us as individuals as well as with social media platforms and our government.


The Future Online

The Future Online is a research project, led and designed by youth activists from Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam,  and coordinated by Plan International Australia’s Youth Activist series with support from The Body Shop. The report uncovers how active bystander intervention and reform of social media platforms can help fight the growing levels of gender-based violence and harassment experienced by young people online.

Through youth-led research and interviews with peers in the region the report found:

  • There are a range of factors that contribute to online violence and harassment including cultural norms and gender stereotypes, social media platforms not doing enough to address the issue, social media influencers who can sometimes perpetuate the problem and more broadly, the global pandemic.
  • Young people are powerful agents of change and can be mobilised to be active bystanders – but they need the education, tools and support to do so. Education systems and social media companies have a big and important role to play in equipping people to be active bystanders.
  • Education and resources for active bystanding will be most effective if they are co-designed with young people and centre the voices of victims/survivors. They must be comprehensive and include – the root causes of gender based violence and harassment, adopt a trauma-informed approach, address the mental health impacts on bystanders and provide a toolkit of what actions we can take as bystanders.

Key recommendations:

  • Ministries of Education to develop and deliver (with young people) comprehensive digital literacy education that addresses online gender based violence and harassment as well as providing mental health support programs to young people experiencing violence and harassment and active bystanders.
  • Social media companies to implement a range of measures including access to bystander information alongside links to region-specific support systems; create safer online spaces for young people with diverse experiences (eg LGBTIQA+ young people, young people of colour, Indigenous young people), take clear and active steps to stamp out gender based violence and harassment on their platforms.


The Future Online Report Cover




What is the Youth Activist Series?

The Youth Activist Series (YAS) is Plan International Australia’s development program for young people of all genders and identities between the ages of 16 and 24, supported by The Body Shop. It’s an opportunity to develop valuable skills, forge lifelong friendships and channel their passion for gender justice campaigning, speaking truth to power to create change. Find out more.

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