Huffpost Impact

The Palin Sisters: Cyberbullies Or Typical Teens?

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In the wake of Willow Palin's controversial Facebook slurs, commentators on all sides of the debate have weighed in on the impact of the 16-year-old's gaff.

Willow and her sister Bristol -- a public advocate for teen pregnancy prevention and Dancing With The Stars finalist -- got in a war of words with classmates on Facebook Sunday night during the premiere of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

A classmate, Tre, updated his status to "Sarah Palin's Alaska, is failing so hard right now," and from there, the rants snowballed. Both sisters jumped to their family's defense via wall posts -- and used homophobic slurs to do it, calling their critic a "faggot" and "so gay."

Slate's Emily Bazelon, who's written astutely for months about school bullying and cyberbullying, put it bluntly in a Wednesday post:

The language, however typical of adolescent taunts, is shameful, especially in light of the recent cluster of suicides by gay kids. But what's also striking about the thread is that it has all the hallmarks of a typical teenage Facebook flame war.

Bazelon went on to analyze the scrutiny that comes with being Sarah Palin's daughters, and called the lack of self control part of the "burden of adolescence."

Like Bazelon, Andrew Sullivan challenged the harshness of Tre's initial post on The Daily Dish:

It's a criticism of a TV program, not an attack on a family.

In a New York Magazine blog post titled "Breaking: 16-Year-Old Willow Palin Has the Maturity Level of a 16-Year-Old," Dan Amira argued that Willow is just as "immature" and "insensitive" as most high schoolers in America.

But Sullivan argues there is a clear distinction between teenage jargon and hateful disparagement:

Using the word gay to mean lame as an adjective is a different thing than calling a young man a "faggot". Willow is 16 years' old. Who taught her to use language like that? And the excuse from the Palins? Not disciplining or an apology - but a defense: A source connected to the Palin family tells TMZ that Willow doesn't usually use this kind of language, but she felt like she and her family were being attacked.

Bristol apologized in a post Wednesday that looked nothing like the cruel words she used just days before.

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams summed up the controversy, painting the clash as a sign of today's times:

It's a letter from America's youth, a stunning example of shortsighted thinking, easily inflamed emotions, and appalling grammar.

Were Palin's insults an immature defense or a testament to the homophobia that is plaguing gay teens today?

According to American Medical News, cyberbullying is on the rise. More than 43 percent of teenagers reported being cyberbullied last year, resulting in anxiety, depression and sometimes suicide among those who were harassed.

Weigh in on the issue:

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Do Willow's Words Constitute Bullying?

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To learn more about how to prevent cyberbullying, go to A Thin Line.