Online harassment is an issue for girls and young women across the globe. If they are Black, disabled, or identify as LGBTIQ+, it gets worse. Girls face even more abuse if they state their opinions and speak out politically online.
This International Day of the Girl, influencers from across the world have shared their experiences of harassment on social media, how they manage it, and what must be done to end it so girls are #FreeToBeOnline.
Clauvid Daly, 19, was Miss Dominican Republic and a Miss Universe finalist in 2019. @clauviddaly
"As a public figure, it is common to be exposed to all types of harassment. Problems occur when a line is crossed, and you get death threats and indecent proposals. You don’t have to be in the public eye to get harassed though. It happens to everyone using social media networks.
"For me the harassment and violence intensified as I represented my country in international competitions. Negative, racist comments and death threats affected my emotional health and when it all got too much, I sought support from my parents and I started therapy.
"All social networking sites could do more. Power-holders must sanction accounts when users engage in inappropriate behaviour. Sanctions could include blocking your account for a limited time and permanently removing your login. It depends on the seriousness of the offence. In extreme cases, punishment should carry the weight of the law."
Janet Mbugua is a Kenyan media personality, anchor and actress. @officialjanetmubugua
“I experienced online harassment when I was pregnant with my first born, while still a news anchor on primetime television.
"While there have been few and far moments of online bullying (notably around my opinions on women’s rights and social justice), I’ve had mostly positive feedback and interactions.
"I cope by being authentic, carefully planning my content and staying true to my voice and also being present to the issues that are on people’s minds. I also take social media breaks at least twice a year (sometimes as long as two weeks) to allow myself to be present. That really helps.
"I do think the COVID-19 outbreak has had a negative impact on online harassment. While the pandemic has allowed people to come together and share coping tools to deal with quarantine, job loss and fears, it has also created dark spaces where people vent their frustrations particularly at women, girls and public figures. Many women have been targets of revenge porn, body shaming and threats. This has to be treated seriously.
"There needs to be more effective mechanisms to report harassment and bullying. Perpetrators must also be held accountable and girls and women need safe spaces where they can have conversations online without the threat of harassment and bullying. Girls and women also need allies, people to rally around them when they are faced with bullying and harassment."
Hannah Al-Rashid is an activist, an Indonesian/French/British Actor, TV Presenter, and UN Indonesia Sustainable Development Goals mover for Gender Equality. @hannahalrashid
“If I had to point out an experience that comes to mind, it would be the online reaction to my participation at Jakarta’s Women’s March in 2018. The amount of hate comments, and threats I received was overwhelming.
"I am a feminist, but I’ve had to be very careful when I use that word here in Indonesia because of the negative connotations it has. As a Muslim woman who does not wear a hijab by choice, advocating for women’s issues clashes with most Indonesian people’s expectations of what makes a good, or a bad, Muslim woman. But, we do need to talk about these real issues and misconceptions in our society. They want to silence us but I’m going to keep talking about it.
"People assume that everything that happens in the online space is harmless because it’s digital, but that’s not the case – it is worse. I have felt physically unsafe because of online harassment several times. Radical groups have shared my photos on their social media accounts before, inciting their audiences to come after me, with messages like, “let’s get her so she doesn’t speak up again”. These experiences have been scary, these people feel powerful in their anonymity and I don’t know who they are. How do I advocate in a way that doesn’t threaten them, or put my own safety on the line? I don’t want to be silent.
"If I had to give a message to girls who suffer from online harassment or violence, I would tell them that we have the power to create healthier ecosystems online. Mute, block and unfollow accounts. Avoid giving away your personal details to maintain a sense of privacy. In Indonesia, you can approach organisations for advice on this topic such as the Jakarta Feminist Discussion Group, Hollaback Jakarta, SAFENET and Magdalene. Above all, speak up and share your concerns with people you trust – you are not alone."
Charlotte Weise is a German influencer interested in fashion, natural cosmetics, vegan nutrition, self-love and positive thinking. @charlotte_weise
"I am often told that I am a “chubby woman” or that I am living with my father, even though it is my fiancé who is 14 years older than me.
"Recently someone re-cut my dance videos and uploaded them to a porn website, and I felt completely powerless at first. It took me a few days to think about what I could do about it and then I found a way to report it and it was deleted five minutes later. We should always refuse to accept something like this happening and try to find a way to fight back!
"I definitely think the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an increase of harassment and bullying online in the past months. People seem to have accumulated a lot of stress and fear and there has been a lot more criticism than usual.
"I do believe that a lot more should be done at school in order to prepare and protect young people in particular from the crazy online world.
"Girls, always tell someone about your experiences and never keep it to yourself. Talk to your mother, your teacher or another person of trust. You're not alone! This happens to a lot of people and you can do something about it!"