Formspring, Cyberbullying, and Alexis Pilkington

default_cyberbullying, launched in November 2009, is a user-to-user question and answer web site. If you sign up, the site presents visitors to your page with the ability to anonymously ask you anything via a web form.  You can then post your answer, along with the question, for all to see.  A benefit of Formspring is that allows youth to field questions from their peers and others who are thereby (by submitting such questions) demonstrating interest in them.  We all want others to demonstrate interest in us.  This meets an inherent social need.  It also gives adolescents a platform from which they can assert their viewpoints and opinions, as elicited by the questions that are asked of them.

The negatives of Formspring, however, may outweigh this positive.  First, there tends to be many questions asked about sex and sexuality – and done so in an disgusting, perverted manner.  Second, the site appears to foster the open sharing of hateful, profanity- and obscenity-laced statements – against the page owner, against peers (ostensibly from school), and against others who have asked questions.  Some even include clear encouragements for others to kill themselves and thereby make the world a better place.  These statements circulate in a whirlwind of middle-school and high-school drama that kids can easily get swept up in – to a point where it consumes their life.  Third, I have seen personal information such as full names and even cell phone numbers of youth being posted on Formspring pages – a phenomenon we’ve extensively studied in our MySpace research (summarized here and here).  Finally, it may be further contributing to a culture of teens who are tremendously self-involved and always obsessed about what their friends and acquaintances are saying about them (and consequently how they feel about them), and what is being said about their friends and acquaintances.  This may be a problem if it leads youth to become what others want them to be, instead of staying true to themselves.

The biggest story related to Formspring has to due with the suicide of 17-year-old Alexis Pilkington from Long Island, New York.  It has been said that apart from being harassed at and around school, Alexis was bullied on Facebook and also on Formspring, although my colleagues and I have yet to see actual proof of this.  If you can clarify the extent to which Formspring played a role in her death, please let us know, as it would not be far-fetched to believe that comments on the site *partially* contributed to this tragedy.  Regardless of whether the site played a role, it has brought increased scrutiny to how adolescents are interacting in that environment.  However, it remains unfortunate that it keeps taking stories involving the loss of life to spur many to action in paying attention to the painful peer conflict situations that youth wrestle with on a continual basis.


  1. Cyber bullying is an incredibly unfortunate phenomenon that is affects the youth in a real and literal way. Unfortunately, the adults truly responsible for monitoring it and disciplining it are not educators, but rather, parents. When we as an educational system take so much responsibility that was once held by parents and “take it on” as a public institution, it is much harder to “give it back”. In the world of education, there is a great divide between parents that feel they do play a role and have a responsibility for their child and the parents that say “now he is school-age, you fix him/her.” This problem is then perpetuated when bullying reaches a new level of inappropriateness and then we as those public officials have to step in. Bullying is an extension of behavior, character and integrity. At one time, these were values taught in the home. However, in the last 50 years, education has changed greatly and roles have shifted drastically. Character education and behavioral intervention/instruction are common place in American schools. Therefore, cyber bullying falls under the responsibility of the public school system and is something that needs to be addressed.

    Despite my personal feelings on where the responsibility lies, I understand that this is not an ideal world and that often parents of children who bully aren’t going to take responsibility for their children and guiding them as they should. Ultimately, it is the children that truly matter. As a teacher, I am faced with this conundrum all the time: Yes, it is the parent’s responsibility, but they aren’t going to do it, and if I don’t, who suffers? The child! And how is that fair??! They did not ask to be raised by parents who aren’t involved or engaged in a way that guides their behavior. If their parents won’t help them become a positive, contributing member of our society, then I feel someone must. And that someone is me. I do believe that educators need to take a stand on this issue, especially for the children being bullied. There is real hurt and pain going on that is being inflicted with malice by other children. We cannot allow this to exist. Such practices becoming common and tolerated are a determent to any society. Moreover, this is children we are talking about; the future of our nation. If we allow these behaviors to be viewed as acceptable, what will become of our country when these children grow up and are supposed to work together as adults?? One person’s rights end when another person’s start. That is the way I see it. For this reason, cyber bullying that impacts the learning environment of a school needs to be addressed. Reactively, discipline should be giving when it is having a significant affect on school learning. Also, proactively, this kind of bullying needs to be addressed through proactive programs and student counseling. It is a daunting task to curb this, but it is one worth taking on. Why? For the betterment of each individual child affected, for the continued safety and security of our public schools, for the preservation of American values and human decency, we cannot sit by and watch these things happen.

  2. i am a 13 year old female and it really does suck. i made an account to answer qustions but it turned out i was getting bullied 🙁 its not fun i thought of suicide but i also have an idea of who it was bulllying me and its bad to find out it was someone you thought you were in love with or even if it was one of there firends. to me its disgusting. its horrable people think its fun to sext or harrass some one because there overweight or to smart or to dumb. people are people ant thats one thing most others dont accept, that every ones different. that no ones gonna be the prettiest nor ugliest, but just because there different does that mean you can be crule to them? does that mean you can shy what ever you want, even if it can posibaly lead that person to death? yes i have a formspring and i abosoultly hate it ive gotten nothing but hate mail or sexual stuff such as "tour so ugly how can you get people" or "your just a faggot" or "fat ass" when im not well like yea im not the most beautifal person or the skinniest. people can be harsh now of days. they dishh out what they personaly cant take then expect there friends to back them up when they get to far deep. some days i dont want to live because how people treat me at school im friends with everyone but then there are more out in the world and some hate me some r vocal about it. i havee seen many girls or boys my age drink there feelings away because its the only way to get rid of how people are most cant take it like thoes girls who commited suicide. im alive because i fear death other wise i wouldnt be here anymore. i feel worthless. empty. alone. unloved. hated. fear. pain. all because of the disrepect people have. some may say its harsh critizam but it really isnt.

  3. heyy im also 13 and im researching cyber bullying and I have realiazed its effect I honestly hope my fellow students understand… formspring is horrible and i have one … all i get is hate comments i only made it for my project uhh i hate cyberbullying

  4. My 14 year old daughter has been victim of cyber-bullying this year in 8th grade. all accounts were from her fellow"teammates" on her cheer team and softball team. all bullying was done on Despite my attempts to get my daughter to stop making Formspring pages,she was obssessed with what people where saying abour her; good and bad. The fact that her teammates, people she thought liked and supported her, made these disgusting, mean and hurtful comments, was devastating to her. FORMSPRING is an very very detrimental site, it has no redeaming quality, there is no reason any teenager should be one this site. It is a Nasty Forum for teens to cowardly be mean and hateful to their peers without any accountability. I reported my daughter's problem to her coaches and school guidance counselor. Because we could not prove who it was, the girls only got "a talking to" and the Guidance counselor told my daughter there was nothing they could do, she would just have to suck it up. I realize it is my reponsibility as a parent to deal with this issue, but when it affects my daughter at school, and during her sports activitis, I feel the public school, coahces and/or administrators, need to take some action. I also would like to know if there is a way to block these sites from being used on your child comcputers??

  5. well yeah being a teenager is hard work i am on myspace and formspring but its hate everywhere there are ways but there are ways around the blocking lol

    if ud like to get talking just comment ill comment back on this blog thing just make sure you put like gracegirl or something so i kno to reply to you

  6. I am in complete agreement with the comment by Anonymous. The site has no redeeming social value. Yes you can block the site. One way to block it if you have a router in your house to serve multiple computers is to go into the router software and block the site there. Another way is to install a program like NetNanny on your children's computers. A significant problem with the site is that it allows anonymous postings and they do NOT track the IP addresses of the posters. Incredible. My daughter and three others at her school were mentioned as targets of someone who was making a hit list and going to bring a gun to school to kill them. Needless to say, when we found out about this, we contacted the police who issued a subpoena to Formspring. Formspring's response was that they had deleted all history of the traffic at the time of the posting – just two days ago! How irresponsible is that. We as parents need to constantly talk to our children and teens about their online behavior and the risks that they run when they participate on sites like this and fail to exercise good judgement. Being the typical internet startup that they are, it is impossible to find a phone number of anyone to talk to there. You have to send them emails and wait for someone to respond. I will be contacting the Venture Capitalists that are funding this company and try to persuade them to make some changes or they will be facing LOTS of bad press very soon. Please help me encourage Formspring to eliminate the ability for people to post anonymously.

  7. Honestly, kid's these days need to just suck it up. Yes, it's hurtful, blablablabla. If you feel hurt, either block them or stop going on the site. If you don't know how to deal with the dangers of the ocean, you shouldn't be in the ocean. Exactly the same thing on the internet. 75% of people on social networking sites shouldn't be on the internet.

  8. as a follower of this website I restrain for you to continue this cyber bullying instantly.

    Teens are sometimes immature, cyberbullying or harassing students by posting rumors or hurtful comments about them in a way that might show up in a search.

    please stop now.

  9. Formspring should be shut down! No – kids should not SUCK IT UP! My daughter is being discussed on formspring day in and day out and being name called/harrassed/bullied and yes, threats are even made. Please help me to eliminate formspring

  10. Well since someone deleted my comment that I just posted I guess we can't have a fair discussion.

    This clearly proves that all discussion and reasearch on cyberbullying is misguided and biased. Good day now.

    • Comments that include profanity are immediately deleted. We appreciate a dialogue about these issues but insist that it is done in a respectful and appropriate way. Thanks.

  11. And does your daughter have to have a formspring account? No. She made it herself. The only way she can receive these comments from people is if she continues to keep her account active and use it. Your daughter is getting what she's asking for.

  12. Truthfully, Formspring is a really bad site and is doing nothing but fueling the Cyber Bullying Age.

    But to take the site down because of hateful comments isn't necessary, people need to realize life is not always going to be good, There will be some things people say about you that are hateful and mean-spirited but there's a little tactic a lot of people need to learn how to use and that's IGNORING. people are going to say the meanest stuff to try and get your feelings hurt, but it's up to the person being bullied to reject it. I am not saying that cyber bullies are doing a good thing but nothing they say should really matter if the victim has enough common sense and confidence to brush it away. I understand there are some concerned parents out there that wonder if they're child is vulnerable to this. Which they are, but most of the time some victims do some kind of instigating of their own to be subjected to some type of bullying, whether it be indirect or direct they usually have done something.

    And Formspring is a website people sign up for, if she made the Formspring she was asking for people to ask anonymous questions and she would have had to have the idea that people would use that to a malicious advantage. If she feels bullied, take the Formspring down, there's your best solution

  13. I am in middle school and I have a formspring too. Yeah i get nice things and I also get mean things. If your young and you want a formspring its only for people that don't care. I personally don't care what others have to say about me. Yes I am curious though thats why I have one. If your the kinda person that cares what others have to say about you then formspring is not for you. I enjoy it, answering the questions. I have answered over 1000's of questions. I have been fine. It all depends on your personality.

  14. I think any kind of bullying is stupid and pointless. It really disgust me that people would sometimes go to the extreme to hurt another. Everyone is different and that's what makes us unique and beautiful, and we shouldnt change because others say so. We are who we- because God made us that way and for a purpose. My heart goes out to all those who are victimes of bullying. I will pray for you and I hope God gives you the strength to stay strong and overcome the obstacles life has! For those who thing bullying is ok, it's not. It doesn't get you anywhere but being responsible for someone life. Stop be insecure and hurting others just to make yourselves look mighter. I'll pray for you as well that God will give you a change of heart.

  15. Seenow my child does not have a formspring, yes they have a facebook, which i monitor daily, have passowrds too….but when the BULLYS decide to then TRANSFER the info from FORMSPRING onto FB then they have no choice but to see it…so yeah it is done out of cruelty.

    and my reply to~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anon says:

    June 15th, 2010 at 4:41 pm And does your daughter have to have a formspring account? No. She made it herself. The only way she can receive these comments from people is if she continues to keep her account active and use it. Your daughter is getting what she’s asking for.

    Do You HEAR yourself? She is asking for it? Do You honestly believe that? because if you do, I will be Praying for you that GOD would open your eyes and Herat with at least the begining of comapassion

  16. “Your ugly with your bigass forehead” and “I told you he gonna hurt you and now look, you a big hoe and everybody knows it.” Grammatically correct? No. Cruel? Yes. These are two actual Formspring entries which both showed up on my sister’s Facebook wall this past week. My sister has always been a well-behaved, good student with lots of friends. Since breaking up with her boyfriend, things have gone from bad to worse. Earlier this week, she decided it was too stressful to go to school and cut an entire day. This is completely out of character! She called me halfway through the day and just cried about all the nasty texts, Formspring and Facebook messages she was getting. She thought that if she didn’t go to school, she wouldn’t have to deal with mean kids from school. No such luck.

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