Young people immersed in the online world are encountering racist and sexist slurs and other name-calling that probably would appall their parents and teachers. And most consider it no big deal, a new poll says.
Teens and twentysomethings say in an Associated Press-MTV poll that people feel freer to use hurtful language when texting on their cellphones or posting to sites like Facebook than they would face to face. Half the young people regularly see discriminatory slang -- including racial taunts and derogatory words -- and the majority say they aren't very offended by it.
Those surveyed are twice as likely to say biased slurs are used for humor as they are to think the user is expressing hateful feelings toward a group of people. Another popular reason: to sound cool.
"They might be really serious, but you take it as a joke," said Kervin Browner II, 20, a junior at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. He's black but says the ugly words he sees are generally aimed at women, not minorities. And though Browner doesn't like it, he doesn't protest when his friends use those words on Twitter. "That's just how it is," he said. "People in their own minds, they think it's cool."
When the question is asked broadly, half of young people say using discriminatory words is wrong. But 54 percent think it's OK to use them within their own circle of friends, because "I know we don't mean it."
Those who use slurs are probably offending more people than they realize, even within their own age range. The poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows a significant minority are upset by some pejoratives they encounter online, especially when they identify with the group being targeted.
"It's so derogatory to women and demeaning, it just makes you feel gross," Lori Pletka, 22, says about vulgar words aimed at women. The Southeast Missouri State University senior said she regularly sees other offensive terms, too -- for black people, Hispanics and gays.
But even the most inflammatory racist slur in the AP-MTV poll -- the "N-word" -- didn't rouse a majority of young people. Only 44 percent said they'd be very or extremely offended if they saw someone using it online or in a text message. Thirty-five percent said it wouldn't bother them much, including fully 26 percent who wouldn't be offended at all.
Among African-American youth, however, 60 percent said they would be offended by seeing the N-word used against someone.
Four in 10 young people overall said they encounter that word being used against other people, with half of those seeing it often.
And 39 percent of those who are gay or know someone who is gay are seriously offended by the use of derogatory slang directed at that group, compared with 23 percent of all others.
Demeaning something with "that's so gay" is so common that two-thirds of young people see it used, and the majority aren't offended at all, despite a public-service ad campaign that tried to stamp out the anti-gay slang.
The AP-MTV poll was conducted Aug. 18-31 and involved online interviews with 1,355 people ages 14 to 24 nationwide. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The poll is part of an MTV campaign, "A Thin Line," aiming to stop the spread of digital abuse.