Education

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David Goldman/AP
Mourners gather outside the funeral for 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington, March 25, 2010, in Babylon, N.Y.

Is FormSpring.me Another Platform for Cyber Bullying?

March 31, 2010 04:20 PM
by Colleen Brondou
With more teen suicides linked to cyber bullying, some wonder whether FormSpring.me, an application that allows users to ask each other questions anonymously, is a cause for concern.

Cyber Bullying on the Rise

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The headlines have been full of the high-profile bullying case of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after months of harassment by her peers. Nine teens involved in the case were indicted on Monday.

But while Prince’s tormentors bullied her the old-fashioned way—in person, mostly on school grounds, during school hours—other teens have been victims of cyber bullying. According to a New York Daily News story, a Department of Justice study released in early March found that cyber bullying is “at an all-time high, with more than 43% of teenagers reporting being victims of bullying by phone or Internet.”

Last week, Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old girl in West Islip, N.Y., committed suicide. According to the Daily News, police are investigating whether cyber bullying played a role in the girl’s death. Pilkington’s parents deny that cyber bullying was the main reason she committed suicide, but the girl’s friends “blame insulting comments posted on Formspring.me, and vowed to boycott the social-network site,” the Daily News reports.

Opinion & Analysis: Formspring.me

Formspring.me is a new social network that allows users to ask questions of other users anonymously. 

Jolie O’Dell, writing for ReadWriteWeb, says Formspring.me “encourages the behaviors users love to indulge,” namely, talking about themselves. The teaser question for the site is “Ask me anything.” Who doesn’t love to talk about their hopes and dreams, innermost thoughts, what they ate for breakfast? According to O’Dell, “the power of a Q&A site” combined with “the magic of an anonymous commenting system” and “the addictive qualities” of talking about yourself while the world (or at least other users on Formspring.me) listen, makes Formspring.me “the social web app of the year just waiting to happen.”

Foster Kamer, writing for the Gawker blog Valleywag, also sees Formspring.me as addictive and fun, yet focuses on the application’s “evil” aspect. “The opportunity to say unbecoming [stuff] is simply endless,” he writes. And because the site is so addictive, even if you “endlessly bomb someone’s Formspring with hate mail, or affection, or subversive questions,” Kamer writes, “you know they’ll read it all, because they’re using Formspring, and they’re not going to turn the box off, because they’re trying to get to the good stuff: the questions they want to answer.”

Related Topic: Missouri takes aggressive steps to combat teen bullying

After the 2006 case of Lori Drew, a woman who bullied 13-year-old Megan Meier through a fake MySpace profile, resulting in Meier committing suicide, Missouri has become one of the more aggressive states campaigning against teen bullying, particularly on the Web.

In 2009, a ninth-grade high school student was arrested for creating a Web site that featured photos of a classmate and anonymous, insulting comments. Although schools have the authority to punish cases of cyber bullying, there is no federal law in existence that would deem such offences to be criminal. As a result, in 2008, Missouri updated a state statute against harassment to include digital communication that is threatening or harassing. By law, these actions can now be charged as misdemeanors or felonies.
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