An estimated 58% of young women worldwide have suffered from abuse and harassment on social media platforms.
This is according to a survey by Plan International which reveals that 39% of the respondents have been victims on Facebook, 23% on Instagram, 14% on WhatsApp, 10% on Snapchat, 9% on Twitter and 6% on TikTok.
Plan International has now demanded urgent action to protect girls and young women on social media platforms.
The survey was carried out in 22 countries among them Kenya, Brazil, Benin, the USA and India where 14,000 girls aged 15 to 25 were engaged on a series of in-depth interviews.
The study indicates that girls who use social media in high and low-income Countries are routinely subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyber stalking and other distressing forms of abuse, yet reporting tools are ineffective in stopping it.
Plan International Country Director Kate Maina Vorley, says, “It is paramount that online safety is prioritised. We must also be cognisant of the fact that online abuse dis-empowers girls and young women by shutting them out of a space which plays a huge part in young people’s lives to advocate for their rights and share their opinions.”
According to the report, online violence is a complex problem that all power holders have a role in tackling, with family members, community leaders and civil societies urged to be active allies for girls and young women experiencing online harassment.
“Kenya has legislation in place and reporting mechanisms on how to report cases of online harassment including ways in which girls and young women can identify and preserve evidence. Yet the majority of online users do not have this information. The government together with other stakeholders must develop and implement initiatives that support awareness creation on digital citizenship, information on available help lines for victims as well as collecting and publishing dis-aggregated data on online gender-based violence,” Kate Maina-Vorley said.
The data provides that one out five who have been harassed online early stops or significantly reduces their use of the platform on which it happened, while another one in ten (12%) have changed the way they express themselves.
The most common type of attack is abusive and insulting language, reported by 59% of the girls who have been harassed, followed by purposeful embarrassment (41%), body shaming and threats of sexual violence (both 39%).
“When I completed high school, I thought of sharing my experiences through YouTube as a content creator. However, I gained weight and used to be trolled and body shamed because of the weight gain. I do remember a number of people telling me I have gained weight because I use contraceptives, yet that was not the case. I just added weight naturally, maybe from resting after the pressure that comes with school,” said 23-year-old Sarah from Huruma estate in Nairobi.
Harassment takes a profound toll on girls’ confidence and well being, with 39% of those surveyed saying it lowers self-esteem, 38% saying it creates mental and emotional stress and 18% saying it can cause problems at school.
Kate says, “Online harassment and abuse restrict girls’ and women’s freedom online. It is an injustice and a barrier to them leading the drive for gender equality. It reinforces sexism tendencies and causes emotional and psychological harm. It also prevents girls from accessing relevant information and forming their own identities online while expressing their opinions.”