Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth experience nearly three times as much bullying and harassment online as non-LGBT youth, but also find greater peer support, access to health information and opportunities to be civically engaged, according to a new report released by GLSEN. The study, Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet, is based on national surveys of 5,680 students in 6-12th grade.
“The Internet impacts almost all aspects of our lives, but is particularly entrenched in the lives of youth, who are the most connected people online in our society,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director. “LGBT youth continue to face extraordinary obstacles in their day-to-day lives whether at school or online, but the Internet can be a valuable source of information and support when they have no one or nowhere else left to turn to. As social media evolve, so must our efforts to serve LGBT youth to ensure their safety, health and well-being.”
Out Online reveals that LGBT youth were more likely than non-LGBT youth to be bullied or harassed online (42% vs. 15%) and twice as likely to say they had been bullied via text message (27% vs. 13%). Survey respondents also reported they were as likely to report not feeling safe online (27%) as they were at school (30%) and while traveling to and from school (29%). Online victimization contributed to negative self-esteem and higher depression Youth who experienced bullying and harassment both in person as well as online or via text message reported lower grade point averages, lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression than youth who were bullied only in person, only online or via text message, or not at all.
“The Internet does not serve to simply reinforce the negative dynamics found offline regarding bullying and harassment,” said Dr. Michele Ybarra, President and Research Director of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research. “Rather, this technology also offers LGBT youth critical tools for coping with these negative experiences, including access to understanding and accepting friends, and exposure to health information that is unavailable elsewhere.”
“This research adds to the growing literature documenting increased risk for victimization among LGBT youth, finding that this increased risk extends to the Internet and text messaging,” said Dr. Kimberly Mitchell, Research Associate Professor at the Crimes against Children Research Center. Effective prevention efforts need to target not just face-to-face interactions, but online and text messaging-based scenarios as well.”
Despite experiences of bullying and harassment online, LGBT youth indicated the Internet is also a space that offers safer opportunities to express who they are, find peer support and gain access to resources not necessarily available in person. LGBT youth were more likely to have searched for health and medical information compared to non-LGBT youth (81% vs. 46%), and half (50%) reported having at least one close online friend, compared to only 19% of non-LGBT youth.
LGBT youth reported high rates of civic engagement online as well. A majority of LGBT youth reported having taken part in an online community that supports a cause or issue (77%), promoted a cause or issue (76%), written a blog or posted comments on another blog about a cause or issue (68%), and used the Internet to participate in or recruit people for an event or activity (51%) in the past year.
The surveys were conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of GLSEN, the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR) and the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire during August 2010 and January 2011. Funding for this study was generously supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Key Findings on Bullying/Harassment and Safety
LGBT youth were nearly three times as likely as non-LGBT youth to say they had been bullied or harassed online (42% vs. 15%) and twice as likely to say they had been bullied via text message (27% vs 13%).
1 in 4 LGBT youth (26%) said they had been bullied online specifically because of their sexual orientation or gender expression in the past year, and 1 in 5 (18%) said they had experienced bullying and harassment for these reasons via text message.
1 in 3 (32%) LGBT respondents said they had been sexually harassed online in the past year. 1 in 4 LGBT youth (25%) said they had been sexually harassed via text message.
LGBT youth were four times as likely as non-LGBT youth to say they had been sexually harassed online (32% vs. 8%) and three times as likely to say they had been sexually harassed via text message (25% vs. 8%).
Key Findings on LGBT Resources and Information-Seeking Online
LGBT youth were five times as likely as non-LGBT youth to have searched for information online on sexuality or sexual attraction as non-LGBT youth (62% vs. 12%).
LGBT youth were also more likely to have searched for health and medical information compared to non-LGBT youth (81% vs. 46%).
Key Findings on Peer Supports
50% of LGBT youth reported having at least one close online friend, compared to only 19% of non-LGBT youth.
LGBT youth rated their online friends as more supportive than non-LGBT youth rated their online friends.
Two-thirds of LGBT youth (62%) had used the Internet to connect with other LGBT people in the past year.
More than 1 in 10 LGBT youth (14%) said that they had first disclosed their LGBT identity to someone online.
1 in 4 LGBT youth (29%) said they were more out online than in person.
More than half (52%) of LGBT youth who were not out to peers in person had used the Internet with other LGBT people.
Key Findings on Civic Participation
LGBT youth reported high rates of civic engagement online, including having taken part in an online community that supports a cause or issues (77%), gotten the word out about a cause or an issue (76%), written a blog post or posted comments on another blog about a cause or an issue (68%) and used the Internet to participate in or recruit people for an event or activity (51%).
More than half (54%) of LGBT youth had used text messages in the past year to support or get the word out about an issue or a cause and just under half (42%) had participated in or encouraged others to participate in an in-person activity or event.
The overwhelming majority of LGBT youth in this study (68%) had engaged in volunteering as well as online/text-based civic activities in the past year.
One in five LGBT youth (22%) said they had only been engaged civically online or via text message in the past year, suggesting that Internet technologies may serve as an important resource and foster civic participation for some LGBT youth.
Key Findings on Differences by Individual and Contextual Factors
– Transgender youth were more likely than other LGB youth to have searched for health and medical information.
– LGBT youth in rural areas experienced substantially higher levels of victimization online and via text message compared to LGBT youth in suburban and urban areas.
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