Formspring restrains cyberbullies

October 18, 2010 — by Ashley Tang and Kyumin Shim

When was the last time you exercised? Please start ASAP.
Why are you going after him? Fat chance.
Do you get your clothes from the local dumpster?
Nobody likes you. Get a life.

Such questions are examples of cyberbullying that appear on the popular site, Formspring.
Formspring is a bulletin-style website where one can create an account and anyone with access to Internet can ask the user questions. Anonymity is a key factor that makes this website both appealing and harmful. Originally, Formspring was created to provide a means of honest questioning for curious friends and coworkers who wanted to avoid awkward situations. Now, people are abusing the privilege of anonymity to harass and bully their peers.

Many students use this popular website, both to ask and receive questions. Because Formspring enables people to ask questions without giving up names, bullies have the possibility to impersonate others without suffering any consequences.

“[The cyberbullies] pretend to be someone else and then insult another person,” said sophomore Sarah Kuo. “They feel protected behind a computer screen.”

Formspring’s open, easily accessible format acts as a perfect site for cyberbullying to spawn. When concerns were raised about bullying, Formspring created a list of safety tips for its users and community rules to try to prevent harrassment.

“We count on users to be smart and safe on Formspring,” said Sarahjane Sacchetti, the director of communications at Formspring, in a press release. “This includes checking and maintaining the safety and privacy settings that work best for them, as well as blocking and reporting users who may cross the line.”

Sachetti says that Formspring follows up on all the reports that they receive and they have the ability to block or suspend users. While they will never reveal an anonymous user to another, they reserve the power to give user information to local law enforcement.

Although cyberbullying is rampant on Formspring, the privacy settings give its users the choice to allow or block anonymous questions. If the company took away the function of anonymity, cyberbullying would decrease; however, the appeal of the website would decline along with it.

“If Formspring wasn’t anonymous, it would render the site completely useless, because nobody would use it,” said junior Sankash Shankar. “It would be just like posting on someone’s Facebook wall, so you might as well do it on Facebook.”

Senior Yuning Yang has received numerous offensive questions on her Formspring, but she brushes them off and has even answered them in honest and witty ways.

“I really don’t mind the anonymous questioning at all,” said Yang. “I get excited when I see new questions for me to answer and I find [even offensive questions] funny and reply back.”

While cyberbullying can taint the experience of Formspring, it can be avoided. Some students believe that it is the victim’s responsibility to take action in order to prevent the annoyance from reoccurring.

“When you decide to create a Formspring account, there is an unspoken acknowledgment that you will receive both positive and negative comments,” said senior Victor Zhang. “You should either edit your privacy settings or be prepared for the worst.”

Whether or not users are ready to face harassment, cyberbullying can be dangerous and hurtful, especially because Formspring allows anonymous questioning. If the situation worsens, authorities recommend re-enforcing privacy settings or to simply deleting the Formspring account entirely.

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