Nothing Good Can Come of Formspring, Cyber Bullying's Newest Venue

About the best thing I can say for it is it provides parents with a teachable moment.

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

From the New York Times, an article on the newest innovation in cyber-bullying for teens: a website called Formspring.me, which allows users (meaning teens) to ask open-ended questions about themselves and “friends” can answer “honestly,” which really means “anonymously.” For someone my age, it would be the equivalent of asking, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” and having all my fellow moms, neighbors and carpool drivers answer anonymously. That’s a nightmare for everyone involved. Here’s what the Times is reporting:

Formspring.me, a relatively new social networking site, has become a magnet for comments, many of them nasty and sexual, among the Facebook generation.

While Formspring is still under the radar of many parents and guidance counselors, over the last two months it has become an obsession for thousands of teenagers nationwide, a place to trade comments and questions like: Are you still friends with julia? Why wasn’t sam invited to lauren’s party? You’re not as hot as u think u are. Do you wear a d cup? You talk too much. You look stupid when you laugh.

By setting up a free Formspring account and linking it to their Tumblr or Twitter or Facebook accounts, young people invite their hundreds of online friends to ask questions or post comments, without having to identify themselves.

In part, Formspring is just the latest place to hang out and exchange gossip, as teenagers have always done. But because of the anonymity, the banter is unvarnished.

“Unvarnished” is a polite way of saying “cruel.” Formspring sounds similar to the “honesty box” on Facebook, which has caused a lot of trouble among our teenage friends. I knew a woman once who used to preface terrible comments about people by saying first, “I’m sorry I just have to be honest here ...” No, you really don’t have to be “honest” if it means being hurtful or mean. Especially if you’re doing it anonymously.

Nothing good can come from a website like this one. About the best thing I can say for it is it provides parents with a teachable moment about empathy, kindness and the true nature of friendship.

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