Flatter.me

Formspring.me perpetuates narcissism and cyber harrassment through online anonymous commenting

Formspring.me is a site where users can have anonymous people ask them questions and give constructive criticism and is the latest craze in the world of social networking. Advertising itself to be a smart way for businesses and organizations to collect information, Formspring claims to provide the venue where "anyone can build all types of web forms, collect data online and do it simply and efficiently." In addition to the services that the site offers to businesses and organizations to collect candid information from clients, there is also Formspring.me: a division that allows the average person to collect "constructive" information from anonymous people. After receiving this "constructive" information, they are then allowed to respond to questions and comments they received anonymously and post the question and response on their site. Formspring.me accounts allow cyber harassment to continue and provide users a venue to participate in narcissistic practices.

Knowing what Formspring.me is about, I cannot comprehend why people create accounts. All anonymous online comments and honesty boxes do is to grant people who normally would not have the courage to say what they think in person the opportunity to do so. I am not sure how much consideration is put toward the creation of these sites when people create these anonymous accounts. It seems to me that when Formspring.me users receive these negative comments, they are shocked that someone would have the audacity to write such a comment. On the other hand, some people receive highly sexualized or personal questions or comments posted about them; there seems to be no consideration of the ability of strangers and future employers to access the site as well. The worst part about these simple comments is that they are dignified with a response from the user and posted in the public domain. It seems as though the users that post personal information or highly negative information about themselves do not take into account the fact that Formspring.me is accessible to strangers.

But the most significant problem with Formspring is the fact that it perpetuates cyber harassment. Cyber harassment as defined by "Cybercrime" author H. Thomas Milhorn as "unwanted behavior that demeans, threatens, or offends a victim and results in a hostile environment for him or her. The harassment can be sexual, racial, religious, or others. Cyber-harassers target their victims through chat rooms, message boards, discussion forums, and e-mails. The hostile environment can be created through persistent misbehavior or a single incident." Forums like Formspring.me give people the space to say thoughts that would normally be weeded out through a sort of Darwinian thought process. This is confirmed also by Stephen Northcutt in his book "IT Ethics Handbook: Right and Wrong for IT Professionals." He writes, "There is something about e-mail that can make otherwise timid and shy people very aggressive and threatening. This is especially true if there is a perception of anonymity on the part of the abusive party," and the same holds especially true to Formspring.

In addition to users of Formspring.me subjecting themselves to cyberharrassment, social networking sites have an air of a concept known as "New Narcissism," a concept introduced to describe our generation. The New Narcissism deals with how social networking affects society. The truly sad part about sites that allow students to form essentially shrines to honor themselves and that they have indeed made us a more narcissistic culture. In a survey conducted in 2007 by professors at San Diego State University, "Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society ... narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others."

Though one cannot stop places from Formspring.me from existing, users should exercise a sense of caveat emptor, or "let the buyer beware:" Participants should realize that they are subjecting themselves to emotional pain or degradation of their social skills by engaging in narcissistic Internet practices. Only through the realization of the potential highs and lows that this site has to offer the average member can someone make an informed decision to join formspring.me. It is naive to think that anonymous posters would want to say strictly positive and neutral things about them.

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