News and Stories - Girls Rights - 15 December 2021

Protecting online privacy

Protecting online privacy

Girls and young people are leading the fight for gender equality and safety through digital activism – but they must be better protected from abuse, lies and harassment in Australia’s new online privacy bill.

Plan International’s 2021 Asia-Pacific Girls Report found that in the wake of COVID-19 and the ongoing restrictions of movement, it is digital media fueling girls’ activism as they fight for gender equality and against violence.

But there’s an urgent need to regulate social media companies. Online gender-based violence and the spread of harmful information creates a hostile environment for girls. Fear, threats and discrimination online cannot be a rite of passage for girls growing up in a digital world. We need the Government and social media companies to do more, to create safer spaces for young people online.

Online Privacy Code

In October 2021, the Australian Government started the process to develop a new Online Privacy Code. The new Code will regulate social media companies such as Facebook and Tik Tok in Australia and help protect the privacy and safety of children and young people on social media platforms.

At the moment, there is a risk that social media companies themselves will have the power to draft the Code to regulate themselves. We know there are too many risks associated with this. There is also no requirement in the Bill that children and young people need to be consulted.

We need to ensure the Bill does not give social media companies this power. We need to make sure this Bill is informed by the experiences and the insights of children and young people.

Thank you to our supporters who made submissions on this new Bill in December 2021. As activists and allies we have important work to do to make sure young people, especially girls and young women in all their diversities, have their voices heard and their rights protected by the Code.

Our research

The reports ‘Future Online’ and ‘The Truth Gap’ from 2021 highlight the ways in which girls and young women in all their diversities face harassment and misinformation online and the real impacts this has on their well-being.

In two of the biggest surveys on online safety worldwide, 65% of Australian girls and young women aged 15-25 have been exposed to a spectrum of online violence (compared to the global figure of 58%), and half of those who have experienced harassment have suffered mental and emotional distress as a result.

One in five girls said that misinformation online had left them feeling physically unsafe.

Our Youth Activists called on the Government and social media companies to do more, to create safer spaces for young people online.

“The Australian government needs to step up and improve education and legislation surrounding online safety. In comparison to other countries, Australia’s online safety legislation is behind the curve. As technology rapidly develops and social media giants create new ways of engaging online, Australian legislation must advance.”
  • – Siena, Youth Activist Series 2021, Freedom Online Report
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