Australia

Girls around the world are being harassed online: this is what it feels like

OPINION: Almost half of girls and young women around the world have faced abuse for sharing their opinions online, a new report has found, with figures even higher in Australia. It’s time others called it out, writes 21-year-old youth activist Madhuraa Prakash.

Trolling and nastiness online is something practically every person with a social media account will encounter at some point. It’s just an unfortunate part of the modern-day experience. 

But for me, it’s a daily fact of life.

You see, I am a queer young female activist with an active presence on social media. And while social media can be a blessing, it is also a place where cruel and mean-spirited people lurk, waiting to attack minorities.

Social media is a hugely important place for queer people like me because we are a minority and, especially for young people, we don’t always have physical places to congregate.

I have met most of my queer friends online and some I have never even met in person, but our shared experience of being queer bonds us in ways that I haven’t experienced with other friendships.

The online community has encouraged so many of us to embrace who we are and to be proud of ourselves. Through the LGBTQIA+ community online we teach each other what the history books don’t cover and we give each other love where unaccepting families don’t. It truly is a beautiful thing.

Madhuraa Prakash
'The online community has encouraged so many of us to embrace who we are.'
Plan International Australia

This is why it hurts even more when young women in the queer and trans communities face hate and vitriol online. As we share positive messages about being proud of our identity, we also see people who invalidate us every day.

We see the religious fanatics who tell us that being gay is wrong. We see grown men who sexualise us in an uncomfortable way, telling us that they think queer women are for their enjoyment or that they can change us.

Young trans women face an upsetting amount of hate from people invalidating their identities and saying awful things that no child or young person should have to read.

Plan International’s Free to Be Online survey of more than 14,000 girls across 32 countries worldwide, released on Monday, found 42 per cent of girls who identify as LGBTQIA+ have been singled out and harassed because of this identity. The research, conducted in April and May this year, also heard from 1,000 Australian girls and young women between the ages of 15 and 24. 

One in four girls and young women who faced abuse online said they felt physically unsafe as a result. This is absolutely true for queer and trans girls and young women online as simply being themselves tends to enrage certain people to fire off hurtful comments, including death and rape threats.

Plan International
Plan International

LGBTQ+ youth already suffer from increased mental health issues in comparison to other cisgender, heterosexual youth. The hateful messages, especially as they accumulate, take a major toll on the mental health of queer youth, who are already suffering.

I have seen too many friends on Tiktok and Instagram have to take a break from the community because the hate has driven them to depression and other mental illness. 

Another facet of the hate I see queer and trans girls and young women face online is the targeted harassment of those speaking out against homophobia and transphobia.

The problem is that this further inflames trolls and homophobes who spit their hate-filled bile at anyone brave enough to speak up in an attempt to silence them.

In Plan International’s report, 47 per cent of girls and young women said they had been attacked for sharing their opinions online, and for many of them it was a disincentive to continue speaking up. In Australia, the overall rates were higher than the global average, with two-thirds (65 per cent) of girls and young women having experienced some form of online harassment on a social media platform.

The fact that online abuse is not only hurting, but also silencing girls and young women in the queer and trans community is a major concern. Clearly this is an issue that needs action.

Plan International
Plan International

I believe major social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok have a duty to protect vulnerable LGBTQIA+ youth from the inevitable hate speech they receive simply as a result of expressing themselves.

These companies need to create more accessible and effective reporting mechanisms, reassess their community guidelines and make sure these guidelines fit the needs of queer and trans girls.

These companies need to be more transparent in their dealings with the public and share information about the harassment young girls face every day, in order to help raise awareness of the problems. 

It is also up to the online community more generally to take action. Please don’t stand by when you see this abuse occurring. Report the trolls who attack these girls or to try to educate them if you can.

I encourage people to support queer and trans girls online so the love outweighs the hate we receive every time we log on. 

For young women like me, the solution is so much more complex than ‘just turn the internet off’. Doing that separates queer girls and young women from a life-saving and affirming community. 

I truly don’t know what I would do without my queer friends. LGBTQ+ girls and young women deserve to feel safe online and to celebrate and learn about their identity in peace and with respect.

Madhuraa Prakash is a Plan International Australia youth activist based in Sydney. 

Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au

LGBTIQ+ Australians seeking support with mental health can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.auReachOut.com also has a list of support services.

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

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