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Formspring: The 'vicious' new tween obsession
What is the online trash-talk phenomenon, Formspring.me — and why are attention-hungry kids seeking out its anonymous insults?
 
Formspring, a new social media site, is especially popular among young teens.
Formspring, a new social media site, is especially popular among young teens.

The New York Times calls it the "online version of the school bathroom wall." Others say it preys on teens' and tweens' need to feel included, even if the acknowledgement is an insult. Parents and school administrators are alarmed by the rise of Formspring.me, a social networking site that lets people ask each other nasty, anonymous "questions." This "obsession" has already been linked to one cyber-bullying suicide. Here's a concise guide: (Watch an introduction on how to use Formspring)

How does it work?
It's a question-and-answer site that lets you encourage others to "interview" you. As Techcrunch says, it "taps into
one of the most fundamentally appealing qualities of social sites like Twitter and Facebook...the notion that people actually care what you’re doing or sharing." Questions are often posed anonymously; only those you answer are posted to your account. Each month, some 28 million people visit the site (which launched in November), half of them in the U.S. (See a helpful example of a Formspring user page.)

If you control the content, where's the risk?
The mystery of Formspring is that young people are answering and posting even the most abusive questions. “In seventh grade, especially, it’s a lot of ‘Everyone knows you’re a slut,’ or ‘You’re ugly,’ says Linwood, NJ, middle school counselor Christine Rush, as quoted in The New York Times. "It seems like even when it’s inappropriate and vicious, the kids want the attention." 

Are all the comments nasty?
No, but "nice stuff is not why you get it," says high school freshman Ariane Barrie-Stern, also in the Times. "It’s [more] interesting to find out what people really think... [but] don’t have the guts to say to you."

Who created Formspring?
Indianapolis residents John Wechsler and Ade Olonoh, whom Wechsler describes as "a couple of married guys from the suburbs." They've since raised $2.5 million and moved to San Francisco. Wescher says that he and his partner are "
disappointed to see the depths people will go when they misuse our system."

Are people getting hurt?
Yes. Formspring garnered unwanted national attention from the cyber-bullying case of Long Island, NY, teenager Alexis Pilkington, who killed herself in March after being targeted with lots of nasty messages through the site. "Nothing good can come from a website like this," says Mary Kate Cary in U.S. News, calling Formspring "the newest innovation in cyber-bullying for teens."

Is this a new idea?
Not really. It's similar to a Facebook add-on called "Honest Box" and the now-defunct college gossip clearinghouse Juicy Campus. After Juicy Campus folded in February, amid controversy and state investigations, other sites, like CollegeACB, arose to take its place. "If the site disappears...something else [will just replace it]," says Cary Anderson, vice president for student life at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where CollegeACB is both widely used and widely criticized as "a Mean Girls-style 'burn book.'"

Sources: New York Times, U.S. News, St. Joseph Hawk

 

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