Report: Over half of all young people suffer digital abuse

Digital abuse and cyberbullying remain serious problems according to the results of an MTV/Associated Press study released today, with well over half of all teens and young adults reporting that they have been the targets of mean behavior or fake gossip via social networking sites or text messages.

However, the study also reveals that more people are stepping up and saying something when they see online abuse, an encouraging trend that almost certainly stems from increased efforts by schools and other organizations to help stamp out cyberbullying and other forms of digital harassment.

According to the study, 76 percent of 14 to 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 similar 2009 survey.

One in four said they had 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 to 24 year olds polled said they had shared naked photos or videos of themselves, a steep decline from the 29 percent who admitted sexting 2009. Among the respondents who said they had sent a nude photo, nearly half said they felt pressured into doing so.

Of those in relationships, 41percent said they had 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 text; 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 phrases.

People who are overweight and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) are the most frequent subjects of discrimination. 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.

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