After my initial post about Formspring.me, I was pleased to read through comments and see that many people were discovering the same issues with the website that I had noticed – young people asking (what I consider) obscene questions and leaving hateful comments. I was particularly pleased to notice that a couple of young people commented on this, as well, providing some insight into why they used and continue to use Formspring.me.
As comments piled up, however, I noticed that I had several pending comments, most from the same individual: “13yoformsprinmyspacefacebookuser:)”. And after reading several of the comments, I found myself debating whether to approve them or not, as several comments were both hyper-critical and inappropriate. After some debate, I thought I’d share parts of this person’s comments, along with a couple of others I am not willing to approve in full. Assuming that this individual is, in fact, 13, it may provide some insight into the mindset. These are in chronological order (earliest to most recent) and only inappropriate language has been removed:
“hey, i’m a worried mother and i feel formspring is a dangerouse thing. what are u ******* talking about formspring is the best website and i highly recomend it, and cyberbullying this can only be a law in America. such stupid people.” (commenter: A worried mother)
“why would you parents look at your children’s formspring pages? do you know how much trust will be gone when your kids find out? im 13 years old and i found out about my dad and step mom looking at my myspace and i was really mad and annoyed at them and it made me trust them even less. so you should respect your kid’s privacy you dont know how many kids younger than that are “cussing” or using “profanity”…we’re in the NEW GENERATION people! and you cant stop them from doing that so dont try! its just not possible and of course they know about that stuff because of people around them.”
“i agree with you..parents just dont get that TEENS WILL BE TEENS and were used to this stuff and we dont really care.”
“i just asked u a question. SPAMMER“
“ask me anything: http://www.formspring.me/******** :D” (address removed by author)
“and to us teens its actually funny getting mean comments! gives you a chance to be mean back >:)”
“can i ask why you people are going through your childrens computer history… hmmmm” (commenter: Bailey)
There are many things I could say about these comments, but two things stood out to me (apart from the horrendous spelling, grammar, and punctuation that still haunts me in my dreams). The first was the mindset of these commenters: that anyone who disagreed with them is, as one comment put it, “stupid.” Whether on the concept of cyberbullying, profanity, internet privacy, or simply just the ethics of treating people with respect, these comments seem to dismiss anyone who might have other opinions, regardless of how logical or sensible the arguments are. This is pretty evident in the “teens will be teens, so don’t bother trying to change us” argument. Apparently good parenting means letting children do anything they want.
Perhaps what has lingered with me the most, however, is the second-to-last comment: that this site “gives you a chance to be mean back.” Perhaps I’m just naive, but I cannot help but look at the great innovators and leaders in world history, and I can’t think of any who followed this kind of philosophy. I can however, hearken back to Mahatma Gandhi’s famous observation (later borrowed by the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.): “An eye for an eye for an eye for an eye … ends in making everybody blind.”
In any case, I am pleased to see that Formspring.me has finally started to reach mainstream media. Webware, the CNET technology blog, did a good piece on Formspring, centered around the suicide of a 17-year old girl in New York. Of note is that Webware actually posted interview questions on people’s Formspring pages and quoted their answers in the article. I also appreciated their closing point: “What these teens and many other don’t know is that all questions and answers are indexed. A job candidate that uses Formspring has made his or her reputation, opinions, background, and other information available publicly to employers willing Google them.”