In the wake of the cyberbullying-related suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer, I’ve received a number of questions from parents regarding formspring.me, which was one of the sites peers used to target Jamey online.
So what is Formspring.me?
If you’re like most parents, you may not have even heard of Formspring.me, but it’s a social networking site that allows it’s users to “ask questions, give answers and learn more about your friends.” As educator Rachel Simmons explains, “it lets you open an account and allows your anonymous audience—usually your classmates—to communicate with brutal honesty. By which I mean breathtaking cruelty”.
On the upside, as Tech Crunch writer Jason Kincaid details, the site “lets you invite anyone on the web to ask you questions and gives you a platform to answer them. It’s your own personal information. You invite people to ask you any question they want, and then the next time you log into the site, you’re shown a list of pending questions in your inbox. You select which questions you want to answer and delete the ones you don’t. The result is a stream of questions and answers that let your friends and fans learn about you—think of it as an ongoing interview, where you get to act as both the interview’s subject and moderator.”
The Negatives (My Take)
Last year, I decided to investigate the site, and here is what I found (I should say, I did a similar test this week, and not much has changed). Creating an account is remarkably simple, and connecting with anyone-from friends to strangers is also an easy process. To check out the content on users’ profiles, I entered 50 common names (Amy, Katie, Sam, Kristin, Chris, Jack, Laura, Julie, Tyler, Bob, etc.) and clicked on the first picture profile that came up and that included content in English. Of the fifty profiles I viewed, 16 were not active users (they had not used the site in months), 5 were moderate users (they used the site 1-2 times per week), and 30 were active users (they had recent posts and used the site more than 2 times per week). Unfortunately, I encountered crude behavior, harassment, and content that could easily be interpreted as cyberbullying on both the moderate and active users’ profiles, 25 out of 35 profiles, or 71%.
The majority of users profiles I viewed said they were teenagers (How did I know? Anonymous users asked them how old they were and they replied). Many of the profiles had sexual solicitations or sexual content of some sort (anonymous comments asking what their bra size was, whether they were virgins, whether they could suck body parts, commenting on and critiquing the size of their body parts, gossip about who they have slept with, etc.). Expletives also saturated the site, usually accompanied by some type of bullying or crude sexual comments.
Here are some examples of exchanges:
Bit#$, don’t come and give me hugs anymore, I don’t f*&^ing want them from you.
Wht?! Who is this?
Bitc# u know who this is. F$#% off u skankbag
Well if I knew who this was, I wouldn’t be asking now would i? please stop being a puss# and just say who you are.
You are so fat. Why don’t you take your fat lesbo self to the fu#king mall and buy yourself some shi#y clothes to cover up your stupid fat body.
Everyone is talking about how u r such a fu$#ing WHORE. Why the FU$# did you sleep with alex you SHI$face?!!!! You are such a SLUT and everyone knooooooows everything you did.
Fortunately, some teens did not answer the personal questions or respond to the comments, but unfortunately, many did. From my brief review, the potential dangers and emotional costs seem to far outweigh the benefits of letting your child on this site, and I would recommend blocking this site through your parental controls (we recommend Safe Eyes).
If you do allow your teen to use this site, create your own profile and become familiar with the site’s structure and applications. Understand that users must be 13 years of age to use the site, so if your children are younger, then they shouldn’t be using this site. As a parent, also check your teens profile regularly and review Formspring’s recommended safety tips on their site, which include:
Be smart about the content you share. Never share personal information like phone numbers, email addresses or home addresses on your page. If you make your account Protected, you can control who sees what you post. (I would add that kids should never share sexual information and content online).
Block and report users who break our Terms of Service, and tell an adult if you’re being targeted. Don’t respond to questions that are inappropriate or abusive.
Manage your Settings. Review and update your settings for anonymity and privacy. (I would also add that users are far less likely to be sexually solicited and bullied online if they have a protected account and if they disable the hidden identities feature on the site).