06/19/2014 03:12 EDT | Updated 08/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Racist And Sexist Information Available To Kids Incredibly Prevalent

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TORONTO - More than one in three Canadian kids said they read racist or sexist content online on a daily or weekly basis, according to a new study.

But few would admit to posting offensive material themselves, says MediaSmarts, an Ottawa-based digital literacy organization that conducted a wide-ranging survey with thousands of students in each province and territory.

Nearly 80 per cent of the students polled in grades 4 through 11 said they had encountered racist or sexist content on the web at least once. For the oldest kids in the study, they said it was a frequent occurrence. More than half of the Grade 11 students said they read such content on a weekly or daily basis.

While a majority of the kids polled admitted to calling other students names online (82 per cent of girls and 74 per cent of boys) not many said they made racist or sexist slurs.

Only five per cent of the girls surveyed and 17 per cent of the boys said they had made fun of someone's race, ethnicity or religion online. Three per cent of the girls and 10 per cent of the boys said they had joked about someone's sexual orientation, and two per cent of the girls and six per cent of the boys said they sexually harassed someone online.

While nearly 80 per cent of all the kids polled agreed that it's important to speak out against racism and sexism, they were split on how they would actually react if put in a position to challenge someone.

About 57 per cent said they wouldn't say anything because most of the time "people are just joking around," and 45 per cent said they felt it was not their place to say something.

Despite the low numbers of kids admitting to posting racist or sexist comments themselves, 44 per cent agreed with the statement "my friends and I say racist and sexist things to each other online, but we don't mean anything by it."

MediaSmarts conducted its poll — with the co-operation of parents and teachers — with 5,436 students in grades 4 through 11 last year. Questions on racism and sexism were only posed to the older students in grades 7 through 11.

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