Most girls and young women using social media have experienced abuse that has driven them offline and left them traumatised, according to a new global survey. More than half of the 14,000 15- to 25-year-olds interviewed by Plan International said they had been cyberstalked, sent explicit messages and images, or abused online.
Plan said it is a global problem and that social media companies had left girls to deal with online violence on their own. The interviewees, from 22 countries, said no action was taken when they reported abuse.
The research found about 20% of girls had been forced off social media and another 12% had changed how they used it after receiving online violence.
Almost 40% said they had been attacked on Facebook, but interviewees also spoke about similar problems on all other platforms, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok.
The survey showed that many of the girls were targeted because of their race or identity. More than a third of interviewees who received abuse were from an ethnic minority and 56% identified as LGBTQ+.
Attacks consisted of abusive language, threats of sexual violence and body shaming. A quarter felt physically unsafe as a result.
Plan’s report said abusers often get around punishments by creating new accounts.
In 2018, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women called for governments to create new laws that protect women in online spaces, based on rights to expression, privacy and freedom from violence.
Plan, which promotes girls’ rights, echoed the call, urging governments to create laws that hold social media companies to account for abuses on their platforms, as well as ensuring their own harassment laws are enforced against online violence.