Most of the respondents believed Facebook contained the highest amount of misinformation and disinformation, the report says
False information online has left one in five girls (20%) feeling physically unsafe, according to a new report by the humanitarian organization Plan International.
Their Truth Gap research includes a landmark survey of over 26,000 girls and young women from 26 countries.
The report found that exposure to lies and mistruths are having a profound impact on how young women engage with issues ranging from Covid-19 to politics.
The organization is calling on governments to educate children and young people in digital literacy.
At least one in three reports says that false information is affecting the young generation’s mental health, leaving them feeling stressed, worried and anxious.
In-depth interviews carried out by Plan International suggest that girls are feeling unsafe because online exchanges are increasing social tensions within communities.
Others reported concerns about bogus events advertised on social media placing them at physical risk or unreliable medical advice that could harm their health.
More than a quarter (28%) of those surveyed have been led to believe a myth or “fake fact” about Covid-19, and one in four (25%) have questioned whether to get vaccinated against the virus.
About one in five (19%) say mistruths are so rife that they have distrusted election results, while one in five (18%) have stopped engaging in politics or current affairs as a result.
Girls and young women from low and middle-income countries were more likely to be affected by unreliable or false information online, and twice as likely to have questioned whether to get the vaccine (31%) than those in high-income countries (16%).
The survey found that Facebook was the social media platform that girls believe to have the most misinformation and disinformation, selected by 65% of respondents, followed by TikTok, WhatsApp and YouTube – all at 27%.
According to Charlotte (name changed), 23, from Wales, the abundance of false information on the internet can leave people “very, very vulnerable”.
Bhagyashri Dengle, executive director of Gender Transformative Policy at Plan International, said: “The internet shapes girls’ opinions about themselves, the issues they care about and the world around them. It is dangerous, it affects girls’ mental health, and it’s yet another thing holding them back from engaging in public life.”
The organization’s survey found that seven out of ten girls and young women (67%) have never been taught how to spot misinformation or disinformation at school.
Mia, 20, from Kenya, said: “We are in a world where everything is being done on the internet. We are doing everything digitally. So I think digital literacy should be taught in schools from...primary schools to secondary schools to universities. So that when we grow up, we have a better view on how to use our digital platforms.”