What is Formspring.me?
Formspring.me is a new way to communicate and network socially with others and is steadily increasing the number of people it attracts, especially among teenagers. It was started by John Wechsler and Ade Olonoh back in November 2009 with the primary purpose being to “allow anyone to ask anyone absolutely anything.” 1 In fact most of the site activity is based around users asking and answering questions.2
Users can link other accounts to their fromspring account; this means they can connect with and automatically find their friends from other social network like Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook.3 Friends can answer questions and leave comments anonymously.4
For only being on the web a short time, it has become one of the fastest growing sites on the Internet, attracting over 16.3 million unique users in March 2010 alone. 5 More than 28 million people visit the formspring site every month.6
What are the benefits?
Formspring lets people connect and find out new things about each other. Community leaders, business owners, celebrities, and journalists can use formspring to interact with their communities. For example (this user is highlighted on the formspring site), Rabbi Jonathan Blake, a reform Rabbi in New York uses his formspring account to answer questions about the Jewish faith. 7
Formspring also lets users ask questions anonymously this has benefits as well as risks (we'll discuss the risks in the next section). The benefits to anonymity on the site is it allows people ask questions without being embarrassed or apprehensive. 8
What are the risks?
As with many online social networks, some of its users fail to follow the rules they agreed to. Many use formspring.me to leave vulgar comments and suggestions. The site can encourage gossip, as well as threats. 9Formspring has also been linked with cyberbullying. While the site's owners do not promote cyberbullying, many users use the site's anonymous format to leave hateful, critical, sexual, or inappropriate comments and questions.1011 Formspring has even been banned by some highschools.12 It was also one of the many sites that Phoebe Prince was bullied on. 13
Many kids realize that leaving their account open to anonymous questions and comments leaves them vulnerable to criticism and cyberbullying, but this often doesn't lead them to change account settings or leave the site. Some have reported that teens can become obsessive about the site and reading the questions and comments. They want to know what people are saying about them, even if they know it will be mean. 14
Formspring can be used to promote legitmate businesses, however it can also be used to promote services and interests that parents may not want their children exposed to such as online poker and escort companies. 15
How Can I Use Formspring.me safely?
- Formspring lets users decide whether or not they would like to receive anonymous questions(Some people argue that defeats the purpose of the website and asking anonymous questions). Disabling this feature can prevent potential cyberbullying situations. Users can disable this feature by going to their account settings (www.formspring.me/account/settings)and changing the option there. 17
- You can block offensive users. If someone leaves you an offensive question you can block them by hitting a "block" button located to the left of the question. You can also block people by clicking the "Block this person" button at the bottom of their profile page. If you change your mind you can always unblock that user later.18
- You can also report offensive users and community/policy violations to formspring support. 1920
- Review your formspring privacy settings; make sure you are comfortable with all the information you have available to the public.
- Talk to your child about preventing and properly responding to cyberbullying.
Where Can I Learn More?
You can read Formspring.me's suggested safety tips here.