LOL? Young people see online slurs as just joking, says new poll
Is it ever OK to tweet that a girl’s a “slut”? How about using an offensive name for gays on Facebook? Or texting a racial slur? Most young people think it’s all right when friends are joking around with each other, according to a new poll.
Jaded by the Internet free-for-all, teens and 20-somethings shrug off offensive words and name-calling that would probably appall their parents, teachers or bosses. And an Associated Press-MTV poll shows they don’t worry much about whether the things they tap into their cellphones and laptops could reach a wider audience and get them into trouble.
Seventy-one percent say people are more likely to use slurs online or in text messages than in person, and only about half say they are likely to ask someone using such language online to stop.
“On Twitter, everybody’s getting hit hard. Nobody really cares about nobody’s feelings,” said Kervin Browner II, 20, a junior at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. “You never know how bad it hurts people because they don’t say anything.”
But young people who use racist or sexist language are probably offending more people than they realize, even in their own age range. The poll of 14- to 24-year-olds shows a significant minority are upset by some pejoratives, 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 “slut” and more vulgar words aimed at women. The Southeast Missouri State University senior said other terms regularly offend her online, too - slurs for black people, Hispanics, and gays or lesbians.
Fifty-five percent of those surveyed say they see people being mean to others on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. And 51 percent encounter discriminatory words or images on those sites.
But they mostly write off the slurs as jokes or attempts to act cool. Fifty-seven percent say “trying to be funny” is a big reason people use discriminatory language online. About half that many say a big reason is that people “really hold hateful feelings about the group.”
That may be why 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 black youth, however, 60 percent said they would be offended by seeing the N-word used against other people.
Four in 10 young people overall said they encounter that word being used against other people, with half of those seeing it often.
Other derogatory expressions are more common and accepted. Majorities see “slut” and “fag” used against others, and only about a third consider them seriously offensive.
But 41 percent of women deem “slut” deeply offensive (jumping to 65 percent if it’s used against them specifically), compared with only 28 percent of men. And 39 percent of those who are gay or know someone who is gay are seriously offended by the use of “fag,” 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.
A similar effort to persuade kids not to use “retard” hasn’t hit home with half of those surveyed, who don’t find the word even moderately bothersome. Twenty-seven percent are seriously offended, however.