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MTV & The Associated Press Study Reveals Pervasiveness Of Cyberbullying, Digital Discrimination And Sexting


More than Half of all 14-24 Year Olds Have Experienced Digital Abuse, 1 in 3 Have Sent or Received “Sext” Messages, and 1 in 2 Regularly See Discriminatory Language Used in Social Media

Trending Data Finds the Majority of Young People Now Stepping-In When They See Abuse Online

New York, NY – MTV and The Associated Press today revealed the results of a new study exploring the pervasiveness of digital abuse, how it is affecting America’s youth and how they’re responding to it. According to the study, 76 percent of 14-24 year olds say that digital abuse is a serious problem for people their age. More than half (56 percent) of those surveyed say they have experienced abuse through social and digital media, up from 50 percent reported in the 2009 MTV-AP digital abuse survey. However, compared to 2009, young people in the 2011 study were significantly more likely to intervene, with a majority now saying they would step in if they saw someone “being mean online.”

Looking at sexting and digital dating abuse, one in three have sent or received “sext” messages on their cell phones or online, and 71 percent think that sexting is a serious problem. However, only 15 percent of 14-24 year olds say that they have at some point shared naked photos or videos of themselves. Among those who have sexted, 10 percent have done so with someone they only know online, down significantly from 29 percent in 2009. Among those who have sent a nude photo, roughly half have been pressured to do so. Additionally, 41 percent of those in a relationship have 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.

One in two young people say they often or sometimes see discriminatory language being used against others on social networking sites, with “slut,” “that’s so gay,” “fag” and “retard” ranking among the most commonly used discriminatory words or phrases. The groups most frequently discriminated against online include the overweight and LGBT. Young people surveyed fall into two categories, split roughly down the middle: 51 percent who believe using discriminatory language online is never OK, and 46 percent who believe it’s OK to use it sometimes, so long as you make clear you’re “just kidding.” Fifty-four percent also said it’s OK for them and their friends to use discriminatory language because “I know we don’t mean it.”

The MTV and Associated Press study was released today as part of MTV’s “A THIN LINE” campaign, which has already empowered more than 1 million young people to take action to stop the spread of digital abuse. The insight from this research touches on the storylines in MTV’s latest original movie, (DIS)CONNECTED, which explores the collision of life, love and digital drama. (DIS)CONNECTED will premiere on MTV on Monday, October 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Detailed findings from the August 2011 study include:


A majority of today’s youth have experienced digital abuse, and one in four say it’s happened in the past six months.

• Some of the most frequent forms of digital harassment include 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).
• Young women (82 percent) and non-whites (80 percent) are more apt to see digital abuse as a problem than men (70 percent). Additionally, those 14-17 are more apt to call it a problem (80 percent) than their older peers (73 percent).

In terms of combating digital abuse, asking the person who did it to stop was effective for 47 percent who tried it, although 14 percent said it made things worse and 27 percent said it had no effect. In terms of effectiveness, there are a few techniques that stand out as being particularly helpful, each of which had to do with limiting access:

• 80 percent said changing their passwords made the situation better.
• 67 percent reported that changing their email address, screen name or cell phone number made things better.
• 59 percent said deleting their social networking profile ameliorated the situation.


Overall, one-third of young people say they have sent or received a “sext” message, largely unchanged from 2009. Sending a “sext” is far more prevalent among young adults (19 percent) compared to teens (7 percent). Among those who have had at least one sexting occurrence, 45 percent say it happened within the last six months. Seven in 10 see sexting as a serious problem.

Forty-one percent of those aged 14-24 who are currently in a relationship have experienced some form of dating abuse:

• Nearly three in 10 (27 percent) say their partner has checked up on them multiple times a day online or via mobile – asking where they are, who they’re with or what they’re doing – or read their text messages without permission (27 percent).
• In terms of social networking, 15 percent have been told by a current partner to remove former girlfriends or boyfriends from their social networking friend or follow lists; 13 percent have had a partner ask for their online passwords.
• About a quarter (24 percent) say they always or sometimes feel their partner pressures them to respond to IMs, emails, phone calls or texts
• Five percent each say a partner has spread rumors about them online, or used information found online to harass or embarrass them.


The MTV-AP study reinforced that people can be emboldened to type things they’d never say, as 71 percent of respondents said people are more likely to use slurs online or in text messages than in person. Young people tend to focus more on user’s intent: while 51 percent of respondents felt that using discriminatory language is never OK, 46 percent felt it was OK to use it if they make clear they’re “just kidding.”

The study shows that online discrimination is common and targeted at various groups:

• One in two regularly observes people using discriminatory language in social media.
• The groups most frequently discriminated against are: overweight (54 percent); LGBT (51 percent); African-American (45 percent); women (44 percent); and immigrants (35 percent).
• Those surveyed said discriminatory language toward Muslims, LGBT and overweight people was more often intended to be “hurtful” than similar remarks toward women, African Americans, Latinos or other groups.
• Discriminatory language most-commonly used is: “that’s so gay” (65 percent); “slut” (55 percent); “fag” (53 percent); “retard” (53 percent); and “nigger” (42 percent).


The study also shows that Millennials are increasingly aware of the potential negative impact of what they post online. Trending data from 2009 shows marked improvement in several categories.

Some of the positive gains made from 2009 include:
• A 19-point drop in sending “sexts” to people that respondents only know online (10 percent in 2011 versus 29 percent in 2009).
• Young adults are more likely to intervene if they see someone being mean online than they were in 2009 (56 percent in 2011 versus 47 percent in 2009) and a majority say they would intervene if they saw someone using discriminatory language on social networking sites (51 percent).
• A 14-point jump in respondents who have thought the information they posted online could get them in trouble with a boss (43 percent in 2011 versus 29 percent in 2009).
• A 5-point increase in respondents who have thought the information they posted online could come back to hurt them.

To access the full MTV-AP research findings from 2011 and 2009, please go to

Launched in 2009, MTV’s “A THIN LINE” campaign empowers America’s youth to identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse, which includes all forms of digital bullying, dating abuse and discrimination. MTV is addressing these issues through thought-provoking PSAs, integration into MTV’s top-rated shows, innovative online and mobile tools, and curricula. Additionally, as part of the campaign, MTV will premiere (DIS)CONNECTED on Monday, October 10 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. (DIS)CONNECTED tells the story of four young people whose lives unexpectedly collide online and illustrates how growing up digital can complicate life and love. The film, which was first announced during the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention and will air during National Bullying Prevention Month, is inspired in part by the true, tragic tale of Abraham Biggs, a 19-year-old who battled bipolar disorder and ultimately webcast his suicide after being egged on by a digital mob.

For more information on MTV’s “A THIN LINE” please head to

The Associated Press-MTV poll on digital abuse and online discrimination was conducted online Aug. 18-31, 2011 and is based on 1,355 interviews, including 631 teens ages 14-17 and 724 adults ages 18-24. The national survey was conducted online by Knowledge Networks of Palo Alto, Calif. The margin of sampling error for the poll is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

Knowledge Networks initially contacted people using traditional telephone and mail polling methods and followed with an online interview. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free. By randomly selecting respondents on an equal probability basis and by covering people who otherwise couldn’t access the Internet, the Knowledge Networks online surveys are nationally representative.

About The Associated Press
The Associated Press is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the largest and most trusted source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than half the world’s population sees news from AP. On the Net:

About MTV
MTV is the world’s premier youth entertainment brand. With a global reach of more than a half-billion households, MTV is the cultural home of the millennial generation, music fans and artists, and a pioneer in creating innovative programming for young people. MTV reflects and creates pop culture with its Emmy®, Grammy® and Peabody® award-winning content built around compelling storytelling, music discovery and activism across TV, online and mobile. MTV’s sibling networks MTV2 and mtvU each deliver unparalleled customized content for young males, music fans and college students, and its online hub is the leading destination for music, news and pop culture. MTV is part of MTV Networks, a unit of Viacom (NYSE: VIA, VIA.B), one of the world’s leading creators of programming and content across all media platforms. For more information, go to


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