A new report released today by Plan International Australia reveals that online false information has left one in five girls feeling physically unsafe.
The biggest ever global survey of its kind, titled The Truth Gap, surveyed over 26,000 girls and young women from 26 countries, showing the ‘real life consequences’ of misinformation and disinformation on girls and young women.
More than a quarter of respondents said they have been led to believe a myth or ‘fake fact’ about COVID-19, and a quarter have questioned whether to get vaccinated against the virus.
Respondents from low and middle-income countries were more likely to be affected by unreliable or false information online, and twice as likely to have questioned whether to get the vaccine than those in high income countries.
One in five say mistruths are so rife that they have distrusted election results, while the same number have stopped engaging in politics or current affairs as a result.
The report also published a number of in-depth interviews carried out by Plan International which suggest that girls are feeling unsafe because online exchanges are increasing social tensions within communities.
Many respondents said they had concerns about fake events advertised on social media placing them at physical risk, or unreliable medical advice that could harm their health or impact their confidence in legitimate medical advice.
The survey found that 67 percent of respondents have never been taught how to spot misinformation at school.
One in three report that false information is affecting their mental health, leaving them feeling stressed, worried and anxious.
In Australia, more than a thousand females aged between 15 – 24 were surveyed, revealing some concerning figures.
95 percent of Australian respondents said they were concerned about misinformation, while 83 percent said they had been exposed to false or misleading information.
More than half said that misinformation, lies and conspiracies about COVID-19 was most prevalent, followed by climate change (38 percent) and racial justice (37 percent).
Seven out of ten respondents claimed to have seen misinformation on social media platforms while 35 percent said they have found misinformation on Wikipedia or other wiki pages and search engines.
Almost two thirds believe that Facebook is the social media platform with the most misinformation, while 34 percent feel that TikTok, Instagram and Twitter are the platforms with the most misinformation.
Alarmingly, almost 70 percent said they have never been taught how to identify misinformation at school, and 75 percent have never been taught by their parents.
Plan International Australia says it is calling on governments to educate children and young people in digital literacy.
Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia said that “the research makes clear that the spread of false information online has real life consequences.”
“It is dangerous, it affects girls’ mental health, and it’s yet another thing holding them back from engaging in public life,” she said in a statement.
“Every day, girls and young women in all their diversity are bombarded online with lies and stereotypes about their bodies, who they are and how they should behave.”
“Images and videos are manipulated to objectify and shame them. Rumours are spread as a form of abuse. And girls have a very real fear that fake events and profiles will lure and trick them into danger offline.”
Plan International is supporting girls around the world with its Girls Get Equal campaign, calling on governments to take immediate action to increase children and young people’s digital literacy, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to identify false information and engage confidently in online environments.