Study: Slurs still litter social websites, but such language is increasingly unacceptable

Some people's attitudes toward hurtful language online might be changing

Discriminatory language is as pervasive on sites like Facebook and Twitter as it was a couple of years ago, but fewer teens and young adults seem to be OK with that, a recent survey found.

About half of young people reported seeing discriminatory language or images posted on social networking sites, according to the results of a survey released Wednesday by the Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV. Roughly the same findings were made in a 2011 survey.

The language might include misogynistic and homophobic words and phrases such as "that's so gay." Many young people use such language, the survey found, to try to be funny or because they think it's cool.

But that thinking might be changing. Compared to 2011, nearly 20 percent fewer teenagers and people in their early 20s said it was OK for them and their friends to use discriminatory language around each other, even when they know they don't mean it, the survey found.

Also, nearly 80 percent of young people said it's important for people who use slurs or discriminatory language online to be held accountable for their actions, according to the survey.

The AP-NORC center's survey was conducted to get a better look at discrimination and bullying trends online, and to see how teenagers and young adults respond to it. Some of the groups most frequently targeted by discriminatory language are people who are overweight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, those who question their gender identity, blacks and women, the survey found. The most popular sites for hurtful language were YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and gaming networks like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.

However, it's unclear from the survey results whether teenagers and young adults would really do anything to stop the use of such language, based on the survey results. Less than half said they would intervene if they saw someone using discriminatory language or images on social media, a 15 percent decline from 2011, the survey found.

Sixty percent said they would take action if the language were used in person. But whether it's online or in the real world, many said they wouldn't intervene because they wouldn't feel comfortable doing so.

Tumblr, Snapchat and Reddit had less discriminatory language than other social media sites, according to the survey.

The survey included more than 1,200 people ages 14-24 who were interviewed in September and October.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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