Thursday, December 30, 2010

Online Threat or Fun? Formspring and Tweens

Your tween may or may not be aware of a social networking site called Formspring. It's a website that enables users to ask each other questions, but it allows for users to be anonymous. Answers are posted in each user's profile as a timeline, a lot like a Twitter feed. Formspring just celebrated it's first birthday, and it has about 20 million users. (Full disclosure: MsTwixt has a Formspring account and has for about a year now.)
Whether or not your tween participates, with 20 million users, chances are awfully high that she knows someone who does. Formspring is not the only site of its kind, but it does seem to be most popular with tween and teen girls. Said one 15-year old Formspring user from Massachusettes: "I feel like it's definitely a site geared towards girls," admits Christy. "They're looking to have things said about them. I mean, it's why most girls do most things."
CNN Money had a nice write-up on the site and some negative experiences folks have had on it - because users can ask each other questions anonymously, Formspring is often used a tool in cyberbullying. Often times girls will ask other girls prying questions, and questions are often framed in an accusatory manner (e.g. "I hear your mean to other girls - so are you?" - and far worse).
It's too bad that a forum that really could be used to help bridge gaps and open doors is used in such a hurtful way. Our friend Rachel Simmons has done some good research on this topic, and she writes strongly about Formspring as the latest "cyberscourge". We really LOVE Rachel's video chat on Formspring in which she gives tweens options for opting out.
What's been your experience with Formspring? Has it been positive or negative? Should schools actively montior it as part of anti-bullying policies? How have you coached your tween about Formspring?

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