Offensive sexist or racist language on social networking sites is dismissed by many young people as in the "just joking" category, a new Associated Press-MTV poll has found, but a significant minority are hurt by the language, particularly when they are part of the group being targeted.
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."
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