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Abuse, harassment drive girls off social media

Tanika Godbole
October 5, 2020

A study involving girls from 22 countries found that almost 60% had faced abuse or harassment on social media platforms. Attacks were most common on Facebook, followed by Instagram, Whatsapp, and Snapchat.

A girl uses her phone at a park in Dortmund.
Image: Getty Images/I. Fassbender

Online abuse and harassment are driving girls to quit social media platforms, according to a new global poll. The study said more than 58% of girls had experienced some form of abuse. 

The survey, conducted by Plan International, involved 14,000 girls aged 15-25 in 22 countries, including Brazil, Benin, the US and India. Researchers also conducted a series of in-depth interviews, the organization said on Sunday.

Facebook most abusive

Incidences of attacks were most common on Facebook, where 39% women said they suffered harassment. Instagram (23%), Whatsapp (14%), Snapchat (10%), Twitter (9%)  and TikTok (6%) users also said they had experienced abuse or harassment. 

One in five girls had stopped or severely reduced their usage of social media due to such an attack, research found. One in ten girls had changed the way they express themselves online. 

Some 22% of those surveyed said they, or a friend have been left fearing for their physical safety. 

The most common type of attack was abusive and insulting language, which affected 59% of survey respondents. Purposeful embarrassment affected 41%, whereas body shaming and threats of sexual violence affected 39% each. 

Attacks on ethnic minorities, racial abuse, and harassment of girls belonging to the LGBTIQ+ community were much higher. 

Morocco's #masaktach campaign

Left on their own

"These attacks may not be physical, but they are often threatening, relentless, and limit girls’ freedom of expression," said Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International.

The girls "are being left to deal with online violence on their own, with profound consequences for their confidence and well-being," she added.

Read more: Is Twitter's image-cropping feature racist?

Facebook and Instagram said they were monitoring abuse reports, and used artificial intelligence to look for bullying content.

Twitter said it also used technology to stop abusive content, and enabled tools to improve user experience. 

However, the study found reporting tools to be ineffective in stopping abuse.