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Girls, Youth and Social Media: Abuse and Bullying drive them away from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

By Plan Internacional

A recent global survey on internet violence shows that one in five girls and youth (19%) have left or significantly reduced the use of a social media platform after being bullied, while one in ten (12%) have changed their way of expressing themselves.

Girls and youth from all over the world are demanding urgent measures from social media companies, after a survey revealed that more than half (58%) have been bullied or abused online. Attacks are more common on Facebook, where 39% is said to have suffered bullying, but they happen in all platforms considered in the world study, including Instagram (23%), WhatsApp (14%), Snapchat (10%), Twitter (9%), and TikTok (6%).

This study, developed by Plan International, an organization focused on the promotion and defense of the rights of girls, is based on a survey done on 14,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 in 22 countries around the world, under a series of in-depth interviews. The biggest study of this kind, it found that girls who use social media in both high- and low- income countries are subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyber-bullying, and other forms of abuse, and that the tools to report them are ineffective in stopping it.

Online violence has made almost one in five (19%) girls that have been bullied quit using or significantly reduce the use of the platform, while one in ten (12%) have changed the way they express themselves. Debora Cobar, Director of Plan International in the Americas Region says: “If before the pandemic young people were using social media, now due to limited mobility they spend more time online and many interactions that before were face to face are now through social media. We need digital platforms to take a step forward in their commitment to protect young women”.

Fifty-nine percent of girls and young people that have been harassed say that the most common kind of attack is abusive and insulting language, followed by actions to intentionally shame them (41%), and by actions to shame them bodily and violently threaten them sexually (both 39%). More than a third (37%) of the girls who belong to an ethnic minority and who have suffered abuses talk about having been targeted because of their ethnic origin, while more than half (56%) of those who are identified as LGBTIQ+ report having been bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The report titled “Free to be online? Experiences of online bullying of girls and young women” found that social media is a significant part of their lives, and that these networks are used for activism, entertainment, to learn and connect with friends and/or family. One in four girls abused online feel like they are in physical danger as a result of a bad experience. Online bullying is silencing the voices of many girls that maybe before could express themselves freely, but who are now quitting out of fear. Nineteen percent of girls bullied very frequently, reported that they use social media less; 12% simply quit using them entirely.

Currently, very little protection is provided for girls and young women in the use of electronic platforms in order to avoid bullying, so it’s important to take measures so that this is no longer a problem. Bullying has a profound effect on their confidence and well-being, such as lower self-esteem, mental and emotional stress; it also causes them problems with interpersonal relationships in daily spaces like school.

In these times the means of communication tend to be more important, mainly social media. It’s important that girls have free and secure access to these forms of communication so that they can express their thoughts and ideas, and even continue their studies online during this pandemic. In the last census it was recorded that 7 in 10 Guatemalans have internet access, and 8 in 10 have a computer or smartphone. However, the use of these technological devices (cellphones, computers and other electronic devices) still aren’t available to the majority of girls for various reasons, among them: gender-based violence, poverty, exclusion, etc. This is truly troubling since it’s a very valuable resource for their education.

It’s necessary to point out that Guatemalan girls who have access to technology (a minimal proportion) are victims of bullying and violence. According to bullyingstatistics, 1 in 3 Guatemalan students is the victim of bullying, half of whom admit that they’ve suffered from this problem and only 10% of them tell an adult about it. Because of this problem, and as part of a campaign against it, girls and young women from all over the world have written an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter in which they ask them to create stronger and more effective ways to denounce abuse and bullying. You can sign and support the letter on: For their part, Plan International Guatemala is asking the government and decision-makers to apply specific laws to address gender violence online and to guarantee that girls who suffer from it have access to justice.

As is mentioned in the same report, freedom of expression is routinely cited as the maximum criteria in terms of how the internet and social media platforms are regulated. In general, nobody is held responsible for false information, abuses and bullying that are part of the online environment. The perpetrators, who outside the internet are subject to laws, remain online with impunity and, generally, anonymity that empowers them. Liberty can be a complicated subject: who’s rights are prioritized? who’s voices are silenced? A system that was designed for everyone, to connect and provide information, is in danger of becoming a platform for those who already have power and a strength that, in the words of Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the world wide web, is now “anti-human”.

To download the report, vist: