By Alexandra Blasch
Without all that makeup on you are just another ugly girl. Nothing special. You’re an attention-seeking whore and are so annoying at parties. You have no control of yourself and no one even wants you there. Do the world a favor and kill yourself.”
This post, along with many other obscene comments written on the pages of various teens’ Formspring accounts, concerns me. Students using the Formspring.me website are exposed to this type of cyber bullying on a daily basis. Formspring not only affects students in District 220 but has taken a toll on students across the country.
In one case a 17-year old girl from New York High School committed suicide after allegedly receiving many insulting posts on her Formspring account. This instance brought to my attention the seriousness of online bullying on Formspring.
Formspring.me is a relatively new online question-and-answer website where students can post anonymous questions to those who have Formspring accounts.
“People get Formspring accounts to prove to themselves that they don’t care what people think about them,” said junior Mark Bennett, a current Formspring user. “I’d say I answer on average of ten questions a day. I receive many positive comments, but definitely a lot more negative ones.”
“Users find satisfaction in receiving empty compliments from an anonymous source,” said junior Maggie Lieske, who refuses to create a Formspring.
The anonymity of the posts makes the compliments much less meaningful, especially because most of the compliments are very vague, impersonal compliments: “you are so hot,” “you are so nice,” “you are cool,” etc.
Since this site was founded in November of 2009, Formspring users across the nation have reported countless instances of cyber bullying.
The people receiving negative comments from their peers often take these opinions to heart. Instead of ignoring or deleting the negative comments about their appearance, social lives, or relationships, users usually respond to the posts. They seem to feel obliged to defend themselves, even though negative posts are usually written solely to insult, embarrass, or provoke conflict. “I have seen really mean posts, sometimes racists ones,” said junior John Schneider.
Students say that many of these negative posts usually critique a person’s physical appearance, start false rumors, or reveal humiliating stories about them. “Someone wrote that I think I’m hot and awesome but I’m not really,” said junior Katie Huck.
However, some students with Formspring accounts appreciate the positive confessions they receive from peers, despite the fact that they do not know who the sources of the compliments are.
“It’s a good feeling when someone tells you they think you’re nice or fun to be around,” said sophomore Delaney Crouch. The people who usually receive positive comments on their pages are less aware of the cyber-bulling that occurs daily on Formspring. “I’ve never heard of any Formspring cyber-bullying cases,” said Crouch.
Other students have become fed up with the negative attention that Formspring provides and have chosen to delete their accounts. “I deleted mine because of how public the website was,” said junior Caroline Tilly. “I had people come up to me in the hallways at school and ask me if I was okay after reading posts on my Formspring. This really freaked me out because people posted a lot of information about my private life on the website. I was very uncomfortable.”
Whether or not students are severely affected by the questions, any type of online harassment can be considered cyber-bullying. Students who feel depressed after receiving offensive comments and questions should delete their accounts or not respond to the comments.
When people start to defend themselves on Formspring, it only encourages the bullies to continue harassing the Formspring user. Because the questions can be anonymously asked, people are also more apt to ask rude questions and post harsh comments. The bullies assume that they will not be punished for the posts and probably feel less guilty about what they write since their name is not attached to their comments.
“I have heard many cases of people who were offended by some of the comments and questions they were asked on Formspring but I don’t feel bad – these people are definitely asking for it when they sign up for the site,” said Lieske.
Although many comments that teens post on Formspring are degrading and insulting, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the people who sign up for a Formspring account. Creating a Formspring is a choice and many teens are aware that they are making themselves vulnerable to criticism by agreeing to answer any question when they sign up on the website. I would not suggest making a Formspring, or, at the very least, responding to the negative comments. However, school district involvement to prevent this type of cyber bullying does not seem necessary, or possible since the bullying takes place outside school grounds.
“I think Formspring can be fun it if is used appropriately,” said Bennett. “But it is up to the user of a Formspring page – one must be able to handle it and not worry what other people say about them.”
However, the best way to prevent online harassment and protect teens from the consequences of online bullying is by not creating an account in the first place.