Fake news puts girls, young women under attack – report

Fake news puts girls, young women under attack – report
The Plan International Advocacy and Communication Manager Stella Drate reads out the report during its release in Juba on Tuesday, October 05, 2021 (photo credit: Alex Bullen/The City Review)

Misinformation and disinformation online have negative ramifications on 87 percent of girls and young women, a new report by Plan International on The Truth Gap reveals.

During the launch of the report, Plan International Advocacy and Communication Manager Stella Drate revealed that girls have become vulnerable thanks to misinformation and disinformation online.

The research includes a landmark survey of over 26,000 girls and young women from 26 countries.

She said the report also found that exposure to lies and mistruths are having a profound impact on how they engage with issues ranging from COVID-19 to politics.

The study comes after a previous one by Plan International which unearthed the consequences of fake news on girls and called on the government to educate children and young people in digital literacy.

The report revealed that one in three of the victims confessed that false information was affecting their mental health, leaving them feeling stressed, worried, and anxious.

According to the findings, girls are feeling unsafe because online exchanges are increasing social tensions within communities.

Major concerns 

The study also reveals that some sampled participants expressed concerns about ‘bogus events’ advertised on social media, placing them at physical risk, or unreliable medical advice that could harm their health. 

They said more than a ‘‘quarter (28 percent) of those surveyed have been led to believe a myth or ‘fake news’ about COVID-19, and one in four (25 percent) have questioned whether to get vaccinated against the virus or not.”

‘‘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,’’ the report states. 

Another finding was that ‘‘girls and young women from low and middle-income countries were more likely to be affected by unreliable or false information online’’, and that they were ‘‘twice as likely to question whether to get the vaccine (31 percent) than those in high-income countries (16%)’’.

The report states that there was no online source that the majority of those surveyed trusted to provide reliable information globally. 

The most trusted source was mainstream news media, selected by 48 percent, above educational institutions, family members, and national governments as per the survey.

Misinformation on Facebook

Facebook was the social media platform that girls were believed to have the most misinformation and disinformation, followed by TikTok, WhatsApp, and YouTube.

The Country Director of Plan International South Sudan George Otim said, “the global report has raised alarming issues around misinformation and disinformation that is hindering girls from realizing their full potential, in fact, this would bring so many issues to them causing mental health and blocking them to engage in public life.”

“In South Sudan, internet accessibility is still a big issue despite a number of other challenges girls are facing. It is high time to think and provide access and increase digital literacy for girls’ empowerment. We cannot wait until girls have internet access to think about making online space safe,” he further added.  

He called on the government and other stakeholders to invest in digital literacy so that they can inculcate skills in young people and secure the online space.

Otim said this was necessary as the survey had revealed that ‘‘seven out of 10 girls and young women have never been taught how to spot misinformation or disinformation at school’’.