WASHINGTON - 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 words like "slut," "fag" and "retard" - and the majority say they aren't very offended by it.
Those surveyed are twice as likely to say slurs are used to be funny as they are to think that 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 although 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."
And 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.
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, said about "slut" and more 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 youths, however, 60 percent said they would be offended by seeing the N-word used against someone.