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Majority of youth report bullying

A new Associated Press-MTV poll of youth in their teens and early 20s finds that most of them -- 56 percent -- have been the target of some type of online taunting, harassment or bullying, a slight increase over just two years ago.

Three-fourths of the young people said they consider these darker aspects of the online world, sometimes broadly called "digital abuse," a serious problem.

They're not the only ones.

President Obama brought students, parents and experts together at the White House in March to try to confront "cyberbullying." The Education Department sponsors an annual conference to help schools deal with it.

Teen suicides linked to vicious online bullying have caused increasing worry in communities across the country, including Western New York, which is still mourning the loss of suicide and bullying victim Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, a freshman at Williamsville North High School.

Conduct that rises to the point of bullying is hard to define, but the AP-MTV poll of youth ages 14 to 24 showed plenty of rotten behavior online, and a perception that it's increasing. The share of young people who frequently see people being mean to each other on social networking sites jumped to 55 percent, from 45 percent in 2009.

That may be partly because young people are spending more time than ever communicating electronically: 7 in 10 had logged into a social networking site in the previous week, and 8 in 10 had texted a friend.

The Internet didn't create the turmoil of the teen years and young adulthood -- romantic breakups, bitter fights among best friends, jealous rivalries, teasing and bullying. But it does amplify it. Hurtful words that might have been shouted in the cafeteria, within earshot of a dozen people, now can be blasted to hundreds on Facebook.

"It's worse online, because everybody sees it," said Tiffany Lyons, 24, of Layton, Utah. "And once anything gets online you can't get rid of it."

Plus, 75 percent of youth think people do or say things online that they wouldn't do or say face-to-face.

The most common complaints were people spreading false rumors on Internet pages or by text message, or being downright mean online; more than a fifth of young people said each of those things had happened to them. Twenty percent saw someone take their electronic messages and share them without permission, and 16 percent said someone posted embarrassing pictures or video of them without their permission.

Some of these are one-time incidents; others cross into repeated harassment or bullying.

Sameer Hinduja, a cyberbullying researcher, said numerous recent studies taken together suggest a cyberbullying victimization rate of 20 percent to 25 percent for middle and high school students. Many of these same victims also suffer from in-person abuse. Likewise, many online aggressors are also real-world bullies.

"We are seeing offenders who are just jerks to people online and offline," said Hinduja, an associate professor of criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Meanwhile, a third say they've been involved in "sexting," the sharing of naked photos or videos of sexual activity. And among those in a relationship, 4 out of 10 say their partners have used computers or cellphones to abuse or control them.

The AP-MTV poll involved online interviews with 1,355 people ages 14-24 nationwide. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.