Youth activists from Australia, Indonesia and Vietnam are calling on governments and social media companies to provide better digital literacy education and safer online spaces for all young people.
The campaign is designed to put a stop to the online harassment experienced by young people, especially girls and gender-diverse people, who are more likely to be physically threatened, racially abused, sexually harassed and body shamed when they share opinions online.
Coordinated by Plan International Australia, youth activists have released a report called The Future Online, uncovering how active bystander intervention, and improved access to digital literacy education can help fight the increasing levels of gender-based violence and harassment experienced by young people on the internet.
18-year-old Olivia, a co-author of the report, said online harassment is having a severe impact on young people internationally.
“In a space that should be safe and used for education and communication, severe acts of violence from trolling, to cyberstalking, to sexual exploitation are occurring and are having a destructive impact on young people all across the world,” Olivia said.
“The concept of bystander intervention is as simple as people helping people. An active bystander acts against online abuse when they witness it.
“This report was created with the goal of increasing active bystanders to combat the toxic surge of online violence, and work toward a safer and more inclusive online space.”
The report, a culmination of youth-led research and interviews with peers in the region, follows other research from Plan International that found 58 per cent of girls across 22 countries said they had experienced some form of online abuse on social media. Since the pandemic, young people are spending more time online than ever before.
The Future Online found that young people can be effective changemakers online, but they need more education, tools and support to do so. It also suggests that new initiatives on education about active bystanding will be most effective if it is co-designed with young people, and victim-survivors.
It is recommended in the report that governments develop new digital literacy programs to help address online harassment and gender-based violence, and provide mental health support programs who have experienced it. Social media companies can help by including information for bystanders and creating safer online spaces with diverse experiences.
Susanne Legena, the CEO of Plan International Australia, said the pandemic has meant people are spending more time online than ever before, and there’s been an increase in gender-based harassment in online spaces.
“Young people are tired of feeling unsafe in online spaces, and tired of social media companies doing nothing about it. At Plan International Australia we believe young people are best placed to create solutions to the problems that directly impact them, and thus this project allows us to tackle online harassment head on, and propose solutions for a new way forward,” Legena said.
“With close to 700 million girls out of school right now it’s more important than ever that they enjoy full and equal access to the opportunities our online spaces have to offer.”
The youth activists behind the report are asking the public to support a pledge to be an active bystander online, you can sign it here.