A new study from the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) released on Wednesday takes a wide-ranging look at the experiences of LGBT youth online. The study found that LGBT youth experience high levels of bullying and harassment online, at much higher rates than their non-LGBT peers. It also found, however, that the LGBT youth use the Internet at high rates to access resources and support, as well as for increased civic and political engagement.
Here are some of the key findings on cyberbullying:
- Nearly half (42 percent) of LGBT youth reported being harassed or bullied online, three times more than non-LGBT youth. 27 percent reported feeling unsafe online.
- One in four LGBT youth said they had been bullied or harassed online in the past year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. One in five experienced similar harassment via text message.
- A third of LGBT youth had been sexually harassed online, four times as many as their non-LGBT peers.
The study also found that the grades, self-esteem, and mental health of those who had experienced cyberbullying suffered significantly, especially among those who faced both in-person and online bullying. Recent studies have found that cyberbullying is a pervasive and prevalent problem among youth. A 2011 poll found that half of all young people regularly encounter discriminatory language online, and most did not identify biased slurs as being offensive or recognize their impact on LGBT and other marginalized youth.
In addition to findings on cyberbulling, the study also looked at how LGBT youth spend their time online, finding that:
- LGBT youth spent more time online, with an average of 5 hours online per day, 45 minutes more than non-LGBT youth. Half of LBGT youth reported having at least one close online friend, as opposed to 19 percent of thier non-LGBT peers.
- LGBT youth regularly used the Internet as a resource for information. They were five times as likely to have searched for information on sexuality and sexual attraction, nearly twice as likely to have searched for health and medical information, and four times as likely to have searched for information on HIV/AIDS. Transgender youth were more likely to have searched for this kind of information online than other LGB youth.
- LGBT youth engaged with other LGBT people and civic and political causes online: 14 percent reported coming out for the first time online, and 52 percent who were not out to peers had connected to other LGBT people online. Most LGBT youth reported having used the Internet to support a cause, recruit people for an event or activity, and other forms of civic and political engagement, at twice the rate of their non-LGBT peers.
GLSEN’s 2011 school climate survey found that 82 percent of LGBT youth still face verbally harassment. This new study reveals the extent to which LGBT youth are vulnerable not just at school, but also at home, which is where most of their time spent online occurs. However, online resources and connections can also be incredibly valuable, particularly to those in communities without robust support networks or communities. Measures to curb cyberbullying are essential to both ensuring the safety of LGBT youth and helping them access powerful online resources.