National News

Two-thirds of Aus girls are abused online

Young Australian women cop more online harassment and abuse than the global average, a new report has found.

Two thirds of Australian girls have been abused or harassed online, and one in five have feared for their physical safety as a result, according to a study by girls' equality charity Plan International.

Student and activist Imogen Senior is one of them - although she calls herself "lucky" to have only received a small amount of abuse.

"Being a gay woman online, you do see incredibly hateful language... and it feels incredibly personal even if it is not directed at you," she told AAP.

The 18-year-old says she's learned from her friend's experiences of being vilified and threatened online, and actively self-censors out of fear of reaction.

But Ms Senior says she still worries about the abuse her little sisters, who are more active on social media, will "inevitably" receive.

"It is terrifying that people who don't even know a single thing about you feel comfortable enough to insult you," she said.

"That one in five of us fear for our physical safety because of online threats shows that this is not just an issue of girls not being safe online, but actually it extends into our everyday lives."

She is among a group of young women around the globe pressuring social media companies to do more to protect them online, following Plan International's shocking report.

Over 14,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 25 from 22 countries were surveyed for their Free to Be Online report - almost half said they'd been exposed to online violence of some description.

Among the 1000 Australian respondents, that jumped to 65 per cent. Many of them started to experience harassment on social media as young as 12.

More than a third of Australian girls - 38 per cent - said they had been harassed by anonymous social media users.

One in five have experienced feeling physically unsafe as a result of online harassment, while more than half had lower self-esteem and had experienced mental or emotional stress.

Globally, abusive and insulting language was the most common type of harassment, but body shaming and threats of sexual violence were also common, reported by 39 per cent.

Facebook was the most common place for the attacks, followed by Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter and TikTok.

Plan International chief executive Susanne Legena said the report is proof that social media is the new frontier for gendered violence, and that current reporting systems on social media are ineffective.

"Girls tell us that when they report, often clearly quite horrific offensive content is inexplicably deemed as acceptable and even when their attackers are banned, they're back at it days later and often under the protection of anonymity," Ms Legena said.

"The system is broken and something needs to change."

Ms Senior says social media companies have shown it's possible for them to remove harmful content, and is calling for them to actually do so.

"For you to point out experiences where social media companies have clearly have not had it covered - where you do not feel cared for, you do not feel safe - and then for them to say, 'Well this is enough. This is all we've got'... it feels like a lack of care or just giving up," she said.

"You've got the hurt and shock at receiving abuse, and then on the other hand, you've got a complete sense that you're alone in that and that it is not something that will ever be dealt with."

© AAP 2020