The misinformation machine is hurting girls, and there are no signs of it stopping

By Sirena Cordova
October 13, 2021

We live in a time when information about nearly everything is at our fingertips. Want to learn how to build a computer or start your own business? Maybe you’re interested in recent legislation the government passed, or how to get help for anxiety. All of the answers are just a few clicks away.

At least, we think it’s that easy.

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the abundance of YouTube videos, Instagram posts and search results on every topic one could think of, the chances of coming across false information on any search is almost guaranteed. For girls online, this is having a devastating impact.

Every day, girls are bombarded with lies, stereotypes and heavily edited photos dictating to them how they should feel, look and behave. They’re lied to about the severity of COVID-19 and how to protect themselves. They’re deceived by politicians, pundits and online personalities about how the government is or isn’t helping them. And, as we’ve seen time and time again, girls and young women are misled about what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

Over the past year, Plan International spoke to 26,000 girls and young women across 33 countries and found an alarming trend.

Young people were already spending a significant amount of their time online before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but more than half of girls and young women in the report say they now spend seven or more hours per day online.

For many, it has helped them engage with like-minded individuals on important topics, but for others, it has only led to frustration and confusion 一 to the point where some have disengaged completely from politics and activism in their communities.

Overwhelmingly, girls and young women identified seeing misinformation and disinformation on social media and video sharing platforms. Left unchecked, these sites actively harm young people, and the companies who run them have known it all along 一 just look at Facebook. With millions of users posting to these sites every day, it can be hard to figure out what’s true and what’s not all on our own.

“The one thing I am really afraid of is that, maybe, I will get manipulated without me noticing it. And then I will share misinformation.” Nabila, 18, Germany

“When we see women playing secondary roles, young women can think it’s normal life to play a secondary role and lose ambition.” Young woman, 23, Senegal

“One of the problems I think with online outlets — there’s such a push to get people’s attention instantly, because there’s so much you could be reading and consuming online — that there’s a risk that things are presented very inaccurately.” Charlotte, 23, Wales

“You have to read so many articles and … that’s when you get to understand the information much better. And then there are also people who share the information so that they can mislead others. And then there are other people who share the information so that you can have a better view on something. So, I think it’s not easy. It takes a lot of reading and passion.” Mia, 20, Kenya

This International Day of the Girl, girls are calling on President Biden to fulfill one of his campaign promises to convene a National Task Force on Online Harassment and Abuse to study rampant mis/disinformation and online violence, and its impacts. They’ll also be in charge of developing strategies with federal and state governments, social media companies, schools and other public and private entities to keep girls safe.

Sign the petition and get involved so that girls are #FreeToBeOnline.