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Monday, December 6, 2010

Formspring social network: focus of cyberbullying

This weekend I received a worrying email from the principal of my daughter's New York City public middle school.

The principal wanted to make parents aware of a year-old social networking site used by several of the students at school called 'Formspring'. Through a conversational 'Question and Answer' format, the intent of Formspring is to let you express yourself and learn more about people. All questions and responses are completely public on Formspring. Additionally, Formspring also allows people to post comments anonymously.

My daughter's principal reported doing some investigation on our students' Formspring accounts; and was shocked by what she found.

The amount of harsh comments, bullying and abuse was extreme. Comments ranged from insults on a child's personal appearance to use of slurs and offensive language.

The principal was particularly interested in making parents aware of this social network, because she had spent most of the past few weeks working with students and mediating specific incidents involving cyberbullying.

I decided to go have a look at Formspring for myself and was surprised to see that with nothing more than the name of my daughter's school and the search term 'formspring' I was able to pull up account after account, many containing completely public and unfiltered insults. It doesn't do justice to describe much of content I read: you have to see it for yourself for a sense of its general vindictiveness. Given that the Formspring accounts I looked at are completely public, I feel I can share this one example here (by no means was this atypical of what I saw).

Looking at these Formspring accounts provided an opportunity for me to have a frank conversation with my daughter on social networking, and this social network in particular. After speaking to my daughter, I was relieved to hear that she did not have a Formspring account, but I urge other parents and educators to start this discussion with the adolescents in your life.

On first look, Formspring looks like trolling by another name.

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