November 24, 2013

Editorial: Self-censorship is the only way


---- — Here’s encouraging news: A recent poll says young people these days are using fewer slurs and insults on social media. And most of them now believe the use of such speech is wrong, even if the writer was just kidding.

A poll conducted by the Associated Press and MTV indicates that people age 14 to 24 are more disapproving of using slurs online than respondents were in a poll two years ago.

The most commonly used slurs concern the target’s weight. After that, it’s sexual orientation and race.

Even though many of the writers insist they are just joking when they use those references, most young people now say they find such talk offensive.

Nearly six out of 10 say using discriminatory words or images isn’t all right, even as a joke. Only about half of them thought that in 2011.

Now, a bare majority say it’s wrong to use slurs even among friends who know you don’t mean it. In the previous poll, most young people said that was OK.

But the share of those surveyed who say they come across slurs online has held steady. More than half of young users of YouTube, Facebook and gaming communities such as Xbox Live and Steam say they sometimes or often encounter biased messages on those platforms.

Such dialogue cannot be censored, of course. Some people are going to be injured at the price of unlimited freedom of speech.

Why do most of those remarks show up in social media? Good, clean fun — which is neither good nor clean, to most reasonably sensitive people. Most of the respondents in the poll said the insults were not meant to be harmful but instead were intended to get a laugh.

But the average person who might wind up as a target of those remarks would be hard-pressed to find amusement in them. In fact, most would be upset, embarrassed or angry.

Thus, the insults shouldn’t be used, and, according to the poll, a growing number of people are agreeing.

Perhaps more people are experiencing the pain and frustration of being a target themselves. But, more likely, the topic has been brought to the attention of the general public. That is the result of school efforts to encourage courtesy and public discourse about bullying and the many forms it can take.

In that way, more people are being challenged to assess the effect that public insults have on the individual and realize the intended result — humor —comes at the expense of wounded feelings.

At any rate, take comfort in the fact that the new poll indicates a shift in how young people are viewing slurs across the Internet.

They are censoring themselves, and that is how it should be.