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Reclaiming the internet for girls

Because every girl has a right to be online.

Read the report

Reclaiming the internet for girls

Because every girl has a right to be online.

Read the report

The online world can be an inspiring and empowering place for young people. And with the majority of girls and boys having at least one social media account, and spending around five hours using it every day, platforms like Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are increasingly at the heart of their social lives.

But the internet is far from gender-neutral. Compared to their male peers, girls are feeling increasingly under pressure and facing harassment and abuse online. The result? They’re censoring their posts and even leaving social media altogether, losing their voice in the digital space. That’s why we need to act now, to reclaim the internet for girls.

We need to act together, to make online communities inclusive and respectful. We need to make sure the new relationships and sex education curriculum empowers young people, especially girls, to navigate digital spaces. And we need to make sure the guidance given on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is updated, to reflect the reality of young lives lived online.

Girls' rights in the digital world

Read about the pressures girls face online

Phone with dislike icon

of girls have received

abusive comments on a status or photo they’ve posted, compared to 18% of boys

A girl in target

of girls have felt

harassed by someone contacting them regularly on social media, compared to 13% of boys

A girl in the frame of smartphone screen

of girls say

social media makes them feel they have to look or act a certain way, compared to 29% of boys


A generation of girls under pressure

While many young people struggle with the pressures of social media, girls are facing more abuse, more harassment and more issues specifically to do with gender. They’re also more likely to be pressured into sending photos which are then shared – and to find themselves criticised, rather than those who post the images without their consent.

“It’s not really the girl's fault if she posts a photograph [and gets harassed online], it’s the people who comment the mean stuff or the negative or horrible stuff. Because what’s a girl posting a picture? It’s not harming me, it’s not harming you. It’s not the girl’s fault, it’s the person who’s bullying the girl.”
– Aisha, 17

A girl with red cross on her mouth

of girls hold back

their opinions on social media because they’re afraid of being criticised

A girl with blocked sign

of girls have stopped

going on social media to avoid negative responses

Book and pencil

of girls believe

they should be taught how to cope with sexist, racist or other discriminatory behaviour

Protecting girls' voices online

Put together, these pressures are having a huge impact on girls. They’re censoring what they say online because they’re afraid of being criticised, and in some cases they’re removing themselves from the digital space altogether – either by their own choice, or because their parents and teachers believe it’s the best option for them to stay safe.  

“I used to have a feminist account with my friends and often you’d get quite violent spam from trolls online. It was very much about your gender as opposed to what you are saying. The general advice is to come off social media and not let it get to you. It’s not done in an unkind way – it’s just the only way people know how to deal with it.” – Ambrin, 15

Ambrin is from Plan International UK's Youth Advisory Panel
Ambrin is from Plan International UK's Youth Advisory Panel

All statistics are from a survey conducted by Opinium for Plan UK, who asked 1,002 11-18 year olds across the UK about their experiences of social media.

If you're a young person who's been affected by these issues and you need someone to talk to, you can call Childline on 0800 1111. The NSPCC also have advice for parents and teachers about online safety on their website.

Find out more about girls' rights