If you’re like me, you hadn’t paid too much attention to social networking site formspring.me until high school soccer star, Alexis Pilkington, 17, took her life in what could be another cyberbullying-related tragedy. Although Alexis’ parents have downplayed the role the Internet played in the suicide, the vicious nature of the comments on Alexis’ formspring.me account have led police to dig deeper.
So what is Formspring.me?
Formspring.me, is a new social networking site that allows you to “ask questions, give answers and learn more about your friends.” The site also allows you to create anonymous question boxes for all of your social networks, similar in form and function to the Honesty Box feature on MySpace and Facebook.
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.”
So that sounds kinda cool, right?
The Negatives (My Review)
I decided to investigate. 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, Donna, Lillian, 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.
One girl added a status to her profile that said: “R.I.P. Alexis Pilkington; Live free”, and in response, users posted vicious posts like the following:
Alexis Pilkington’s suicide was fu%$ing hilarious. I’m glad that piece of sh#t killed herself. REST IN PIECE, WHORE!
You are so fat. Why don’t you take your fat lesbo self to the fu#king mall and buy yourself some shi#y clothes to cover up your stupid fat body.
Everyone is talking about how u r such a fu$#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 (see our listing here). Although this is a fairly simple site, it does not have many of the privacy settings that are on other social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.
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 use our Internet Safety 101 Rules ‘N Tools® to protect your children.
Instruct your teen to:
- Limit personally identifiable information, including your profile picture, your username and your location.
- Disallow anonymous questions.
- Avoid answering or asking questions that are personal or inappropriate.
- Block users who are asking questions of posting statements that are personal or inappropriate.
- Treat others as they would like to be treated.