It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, largely because I’m trying to keep up with more responsibilities than I can count at school and home. Nevertheless, I feel a compelling urge to post on a fairly new tool I came across called Formspring.me, which has the potential to be more dangerous to students than most other websites I’ve heard of. Just to give you an idea of it’s prevalence, I took a quick poll of my 8th graders. About 1/3 have a Formspring page. About 3/4 know about Formspring.me.
Usually I like to post tools that could be useful for teachers to use – either to make the administrative side of our jobs easier or to help students learn something better. In this case, however, I want to make those few readers of this blog aware of this site, which is quickly replacing MySpace and facebook as the site du jour for the teenagers I work with.
Formspring.me is a very simple site. Users like my 8th and 9th graders create accounts, which give them a formspring page. If you or I go visit that user’s page, we see a box to type in with a title that reads “Ask me anything.” You fill out this box and it anonymously asks the user any question you can come up with. The user will then post his/her answer, along with the question, for all to see. Simple concept, right?
Here’s the dilemma: anyone who works with young people can quickly point out that anonymity nearly always breeds irresponsibility. This case is no different. While doing a little research, I was (un)fortunate enough to come across a couple of former students’ pages on Formspring.me and can honestly say that I will never look at those students the same way again. After only a couple of minutes browsing around, here are a couple of things I saw that set of alarm bells in my “teacher brain”:
- Conversations on each page quickly degenerated into some general types of questions/comments:
- “I hate you” comments were remarkably prevalent. I saw people calling each other names that I wouldn’t use around my closest friends. Moreover, the frequency of these comments was staggering. In a lot of ways, this site more or less encourages cyber-bullying, and does it in a public space.
- “You’re awesome” comments are much less disturbing, but encourage a pretty self-centered view on life. For example, I saw a few comments such as, “Why are people judging you? You’re so nice!” Not surprisingly, the students in question respond with statements about how they are good people that don’t judge other people but that other people actually judge them.
- Questions/comments about sex. Every question that can be asked about a person’s sexual history, preference, etc. is being discussed in public for the world to see. Like I said – I’ll never look at some kids the same way again.
- This site allows a space for kids to do discuss these things in an uncontrolled environment without talking about issues with parents or teachers or people who may have a little more experience and wisdom.
- Think MySpace encouraged risky behavior? Looking at two pages on Formspring, I saw full names, cities, and cell phone numbers posted for all the world to see. At our school, we try to teach kids what information to put out there and to be responsible citizens of the internet. Apparently our lessons aren’t sticking.
Now, I’m not saying we should sue the website and get it shut down or anything like that. I’m not even necessarily saying the site should be blocked by school web filters. What I am saying, though, is that this is just another site that parents and teachers need to be aware of and, hopefully, talk to their students about using responsibly. I know I will.
Have some experience using Formspring.me? Do your children or students use it? I’d really appreciate hearing your thoughts, comments, and questions on this one.