Education Matters/Opinion: An alarming social networking site

By Marsha Sutton

Free speech and First Amendment rights are top on my list of sacred democratic principles, but a new social networking site called Formspring is testing my tolerance level.

Offering the ability to pose anonymous questions and comments to anyone, Formspring has become a depository for hateful and pornographic conversations that sink to unimagined levels of depravity.

Even more alarming is that middle school kids are finding Formspring in record numbers and are using the site in the worst possible ways.

Freedom of speech be damned – authorities should shut this down. What comes to mind is the famous quote by former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who said that hard-core pornography was hard to define, but “I know it when I see it.”

Formspring venture capitalists should be prosecuted for investing in a site that contains pruriently explicit pornography read by children. The site will certainly become a magnet for sexual predators, a pedophile paradise – if it’s not already. It’s clearly an obsession for gossipy children, many of whom take pleasure in demeaning others, revealing drug and alcohol abuse, and boasting about sexual conquests, real or imagined.

Parents, these are our children. I found kids on the site who attend Carmel Valley Middle School and Earl Warren Middle School. High schools too are represented, but the users (at least the ones I’ve found) seem to be mostly in ninth grade, giving me hope that kids really do get smarter as they grow older. Even if your children do not have an account, they may be mentioned on other kids’ pages, and not always in the nicest of ways.

Whether these 12-, 13- and 14-year-old children are really engaging in oral sex behind the Highlands movie theater (believable), or having full-on sexual intercourse on the beach (less believable), the point is they’re talking about it in the most vulgar of terms, and naming their partners.

The questions have quickly progressed from the innocuous “What is your favorite color?” and “Which movie star do you admire most?” to “Which boys have you serviced?” [not the expression used on the site] and “Rate these girls and say which ones you’ve done.”

If sex is the number one topic, hate is a close second. Kids throw vicious insults around as freely as confetti at a parade, calling one another fat, ugly, stupid, bitch, whore and other names even more, um, colorful – with careless abandon. The F-word? That’s tame, compared to the rest of the language used.

How it works

Formspring accounts are easy to get, but you don’t need an account to browse around and see what’s there. All you need is a way into one account and then you can see their list of followers whose accounts can be easily accessed.

Account holders receive questions and comments from others, some of them anonymous, and it’s this anonymity that gives the protection abusers need. It’s up to the account holders, though, whether to reply and make the comments public, leading many adults to wonder why kids post what they do when people write such hurtful or depraved things about them.

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