Formspring.me: Social Networking Site for Teens Gets Ugly
It's Facebook ... with an attitude. A very, very bad attitude.
Formspring.me is a social networking site thousands of teens are using to post truly nasty comments about people's looks, friends and sexual habits.
Teenagers (well, anyone, actually) can set up a free Formspring account and link it to their Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook account. Then they can invite countless online friends to post questions and comments -- anonymously.
As anyone who reads anonymous comments online knows, anonymity breeds contempt. People say the nastiest, most vulgar things when they don't have to stand behind their words. Add to this the indiscretion of youth, and many parents, teachers and counselors are worried.
"In seventh grade, especially, it's a lot of 'Everyone knows you're a slut,' or 'You're ugly,'" Christine Ruth, a middle school counselor in Linwood, N.J., tells The New York Times. "It seems like even when it's inappropriate and vicious, the kids want the attention, so they post it."
Formspring.me users can choose which anonymous comments they share with the rest of the world. So there may be even nastier comments that people never see.
"Who knows what they're getting that's so devastating that they don't post it?" Ruth tells The Times.
Users also can choose not to accept anonymous questions and comments, according to The Times, but most young people apparently ignore that option.
"Nice stuff is not why you get it," Ariane Barrie-Stern, a freshman at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School in New York City with more than 100 posts on her site, tells The Times. "I think it's interesting to find out what people really think that they don't have the guts to say to you. If it's hurtful, you have to remind yourself that it doesn't really mean anything."
Her father, Larry Stern, didn't even know about Formspring.me until he was contacted by The Times for a comment. Neither, according to the paper, did any of the other parents interviewed.
"It's just shocking that kids have access to all these things on the Internet, and we don't even know about it," Stern tells The Times. "And it's disturbing that what goes on there will influence how somebody behaves. How do you block it? How do you monitor it?"
It's tough. Even users without Formspring accounts can see if they're mentioned in friends' accounts.
Formspring.me has been around since late November, and, according to The Times, more than 28 million people visit the site every month.
Created by John Wechsler and Ade Olonoh of Indianapolis, the company headquarters are now in San Francisco. It follows the trail blazed by Honesty Box, a Facebook feature, which also allows anonymous comments.
Then there is the case of Juicy Campus. A college gossip site that also lets people fire anonymous salvos, it got so nasty, in fact, that some college officials blocked it. Several states began consumer-protection investigations in reaction to the website, which shut down last year.
Some educators worry Formspring.me will degenerate into nothing more than a venue for cyberbullying.
"There's nothing positive on there, absolutely nothing, but the kids don't seem to be able to stop reading, even if people are saying terrible things about them," Maggie Dock, a middle school counselor in Kinnelon, N.J., tells The Times. "I asked one girl, 'If someone was throwing rocks at you, what would you do?' She said she'd run, she'd move away. But she won't stop reading what people say about her."
Then again, it could all be just a passing fad.
"We all got Formspring about two months ago, when it began showing in people's Facebook status," a 14-year-old from a New York City private school tells The Times. "It's actually gone down a little bit in the past few weeks, at least in my grade, because a lot of people realized it wasn't a good thing, that people were getting hurt or posting awful comments."
Related: Half of Youth Who ID as LGBT Say They're Bullied Online
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.