Frances Haugen’s testimony underlines what girls and young women have been telling Plan International for a long time. Whether it’s the spread of dangerous lies or abusive or threatening content, social media companies, particularly Facebook, must do more to prevent and limit the harms their platforms can cause.
We know that one in five girls has stopped or significantly reduced their use of social media because of harassment or abuse. Misinformation and disinformation is yet another risk they face – the spread of lies, mistruths and inaccuracies can have profound consequences for girls’ mental and physical health, and their safety and wellbeing. Our research has found that 65% of girls think Facebook is the social media platform which has the most misinformation and disinformation.
All social media companies have a responsibility to the people who use their platforms. They must ensure that content published and promoted as a result of their algorithms and decision-making do not place children and girls at risk. They have a responsibility to prevent the spread of online abuse and disinformation – and they are falling short.
Online platforms must be transparent and accountable on initiatives to address false information and harmful content, while also protecting users’ data privacy. Regulation is a key part of the solution – from recent revelations, it’s clear that self-regulation isn’t working effectively to protect girls' and all children’s rights. Governments have a duty to protect children from all forms of violence, including holding businesses who fail to ensure this to account. As pressure builds on lawmakers to act, we want to see girls and young women meaningfully brought into these discussions, to ensure policies and measures are informed by their experiences.
However, regulation takes time and this is an issue which requires urgent action now. Another key approach to prevent the spread of false information online is to equip people with critical digital literacy competencies that will help them to identify it. That’s why we are also asking governments to improve education in digital literacy for all children.
Girls need to be able to tell what is true from what is false to stay safe online. And all young people need to be able to question information and check facts before they believe and share it. It’s a vital step to tackle the spread of false information online.