More than half of the respondents to an MTV/Associated Press study revealed they have been the targets of mean behavior or fake gossip on social-networking sites or text messages. The pervasiveness of digital abuse and cyberbullying in the study confirms a disturbing trend in which young people are using the Internet and wireless devices to harass each other, but also reveals that more are stepping up and saying something when they see abuse online.
According to the study, 76 percent of 14-24 year olds say digital abuse is a serious problem for people their age, with 56 percent reporting that they have experienced abuse through social and digital media. That figure is up from the 50 percent who reported suffering digital abuse in a 2009 MTV/AP survey.
One in four said they'd experienced digital abuse in the past six months, which typically included people writing things online that aren't true (26 percent), people writing things online that are mean (24 percent) and forwarding an IM or message that was intended to stay private (20 percent).
The good news is that, compared to 2009, more young people in the 2011 study said they are likely to intervene when they see such behavior and step in if they see someone "being mean online."
Among the other findings: One-third have sent or received "sext" messages on their phones or online, with 71 percent describing sexting as a serious problem. Only 15 percent of the 14-24 year olds polled said they have shared naked photos or videos of themselves, with 10 percent saying they did it with someone they only know online (a steep decline from the 29 percent who said that in 2009). Among the respondents who said they'd sent a nude photo, nearly half said they felt pressure to do so.
Of those in relationships, 41percent said they'd experienced some form of digital dating abuse, with nearly three in 10 saying their partner has checked up on them multiple times a day online or via mobile; 27 percent say a partner has read their text messages without permission.
In addition to sexting and harassment, 50 percent said they often or sometimes see discriminatory language being used against others on social-networking sites, with terms such as "slut," "That's so gay," "fag" and "retard" ranking among the most commonly used discriminatory words or phrase. People who are overweight and LGBT are the most frequent subjects of discrimination, and among the young people surveyed, 51 percent believe using discriminatory language online is never OK, and 46 percent think it's OK to use such language as long as it's clear that it's in jest.
There are some good strategies for combating digital abuse, with 47 percent reporting that simply asking the person to stop was effective, though 14 percent say doing so made things worse. Among the most effective techniques: changing passwords (80 percent); changing email address, screen name or cell phone number (67 percent); and deleting their social-network profile (59 percent).
The MTV/AP study was released Tuesday (September 27) as part of MTV's ongoing A Thin Line campaign, which has already empowered more than 1 million young people to take action to stop the spread of digital abuse. To access the full MTV/AP research findings from 2011 and 2009, visit A Thin Line.
The data gleaned from the research informs the story lines in MTV's upcoming original movie "(DIS)CONNECTED," which explores the collision of life, love and digital drama. "(DIS)CONNECTED" will premiere Monday, October 10, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.