A new global study by Plan International, found that nearly 60 percent of girls and women have suffered abuse on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This online abuse is driving many of them to quit these social media platforms.
The survey showed that every 1 in 5 women had either left or cut down their time spent on social media platforms due to online harassment and abuse. Some of the women reported that they were as young as 8 years old when they started facing this harassment.
The Study Is Being Shared With The Social Media Companies, Calling For Them To Make Their Platforms A Safer Space For Women
The study surveyed 14,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 25 across 22 countries including India, Brazil, Spain, Nigeria, and the United States.
39 percent of the girls polled said that they most commonly faced the abuse on Facebook. Instagram was next, followed by Whatsapp, Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok.
“Girls are being silenced by a toxic level of harassment,” said the Plan International’s chief executive, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen.
The group has said that they intend to share the study findings with the social media companies and legislators globally.
Their study shows that the reporting tools the social media platforms use are ineffective in preventing the online abuse, be it inappropriate messages, cyberstalking, or sharing unsolicited pornographic images.
“It is time for this to stop. Girls should not have to put up with behaviour online which would be criminal on the streets,” the report said.
Almost half of the girls had been harassed with threats of physical or sexual violence online. Most of the girls and women said that the abuse took a toll on their mental health, and a quarter of them reported feeling physically unsafe after facing online attacks.
The group is calling on social media companies to address the issue and legislators to pass laws against online harassment. It emphasised that change is needed in how girls’ voices are invariably being suppressed online, especially now during the pandemic when the online communication has become even more important.
Social Media Platforms Have Not Been Taking Abusive Content Against Women Seriously
This isn’t the first time social media platforms have been targeted for failing to ensure their platforms are safer for all genders.
Recently, in light of people wishing death to President Trump after his Covid-19 diagnosis, Twitter posted about its policy against online abuse of this kind.
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A Twitter spokesperson tweeted, “tweets that wish or hope for death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease against *anyone* are not allowed and will need to be removed.”
Four Democratic congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley – now commonly referred to as “The Squad” – expressed their surprise at Twitter speaking up against online abuse now.
They have all spoken about the many threats they receive on social media, especially Twitter, and how the platform has not taken threats made against them seriously.
“Seriously though, this is messed up. The death threats towards us should have been taking more seriously by [Twitter],” Rashida Tlaib tweeted.
These women have often been subjected to ruthless online attacks, many of which include death wishes.
“I hope you both hang for TREASON!” one user tweeted in reference to Tlaib and Omar.
Albrectsen of Plan International, has also talked about how activists were targeted especially brutally online, with death wishes and threats to their families.
While Twitter does have policies against these online attacks, as highlighted by them when Trump faced the online attacks, tweets that go against their policies are often not dealt with by the company. A large volume of these tweets that violate their rules are against women. Wishing someone “death, serious bodily harm or fatal disease” will not result in automatic permanent suspension from Twitter, according to their policies.
We Cannot Have Girls Being Driven Out Of Online Spaces In This Increasingly Digital World
Recently a new algorithm was developed by researchers to identify misogynistic content with 75 per cent accuracy. They hope that this algorithm will be made into a platform level policy to make Twitter a safe space for women.
More such changes are imperative. Especially now, as people’s work, networks, and entertainment sources become increasingly digital, girls being driven out of these digital spaces can be hugely discriminating and disempowering.
With the pandemic moving our entire lives online, changes need to be implemented by these online platforms urgently to ensure they become safe spaces for women to voice themselves, work, grow and be.
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