Poll Finds Young People Aren’t Bothered by Slurs Used Online

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It’s often easy to forget that behind the other side of the computer screen sits a real person with thoughts and feelings. According to a recent Associated Press-MTV poll, most young people between the ages of 14 and 24 think it’s okay to use slurs and derogatory terms as long as it’s done online.

Some slurs like “slut” and “retard” vary in their perceived offensiveness to those polled, but also include some incredibly offensive words like the “N-word.” Curiously, when the respondents were surveyed broadly about offensive terms, half said they wouldn’t use them. However, 54% said they would be okay using such terms around friends.

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There’s also something about the Internet providing a crutch for others. About 61% of those polled said that they wouldn’t be bothered very much or at all if they saw someone using the “N-word” online or in a text message. That doesn’t change the fact that about 60% of African-American kids included in the survey would still be offended if they saw that word used against someone, according to the poll results.

So what’s the reasoning behind it all? According to the AP, “Those surveyed are twice as likely to say biased 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.”

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Still, insults and online bullying can very often have real-life consequences. There’s no reason why things should sound less mean online, and just because people can remain anonymous doesn’t lessen the pain of hurtful words thrown around. It seems like the old adage should extend one step further: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say (or write) it at all.

[via Associated Press]

Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.