Formspring's Flame Burns Out
The real-life consequences of letting teens ask their classmates anonymous questions.
Internet Nostalgia explores eras of the world wide web and the way they impacted our day-to-day lives, psychology, and overall perceptions of the world around us.
It’s summer 2011. You’re in middle school. You’re learning about top eyeliner for the first time. You just went through your first breakup, with the relationship lasting a whole 27 days. You are fighting for your life every day in school. You are at your most vulnerable and insecure. And then, a Silicon Valley leader launches a site allowing your classmates to ask you questions anonymously. Your life changes forever.
Formspring was made with the extremely unrealistic goal of bringing people together. What would you say to someone you couldn’t say to their face? Maybe someone will profess their love to you! Maybe someone will tell you how funny they think you are! If you experienced even one minute on Formspring, you know none of these utopian outcomes came to be.
Instead, teens overpopulated the site and absolutely obliterated their classmates to smithereens. Formspring questions from teens combined a mix of innocence about the world, hormones, and a sense of pure angst.
I joined the site hoping that my questions might be different, and if they weren’t, I was willing to take that risk. We all were. If we knew we would get a compliment from a boy (and assume it was Jacob from social studies), we would risk being trash-talked by someone (probably our best friend on our soccer team).
Formspring allowed teens to be the most evil, inverted versions of themselves. “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it,” turned into “If you have something nice to say that’s boring, think of something awful they will remember for years to come, then say it.”
There was one comment I received that I remembered for years to come, and at this point, I believe I will remember forever, which was, “You think you are so cool when you wear your neon skinny jeans.” That one cut so deep I couldn’t even respond to it. The comments you remember are the ones that are so reality-shifting you begin to question everything. “Wait, my neon skinny jeans aren’t cool? What the fuck? Then why do people at school always say how much they like them? Oh, they are liars, huh? Got it.” I turned into the Joker for a week. I wore my neon skinny jeans every day, looked at everyone, and tried to read people’s minds to see if they were the ones to leave that comment. It didn’t work, and I threw out the jeans.
Most people I spoke to who remember Formspring all have a similar experience: They vividly remember one reality-shifting comment.
Lucy from Brooklyn remembers receiving “U R a Prude!” and thinking, “Holy shit, is that what I am? How do I give off prude vibes? They don’t even know how horny I am.”
Tom from LA remembers receiving, “Do you even shower every day?” and thinking, “Oh fuck. I am so fucked.”
Some people I spoke to used Formspring’s anonymity to their advantage. They sent themselves compliments, asked themselves out, and it actually worked out for them! Jess, from Brooklyn, said she would send herself “are you gay???” questions so she could casually come out of the closet. This is genius. Who needs a massive emotional Facebook post when you can easily answer, “yeah i’m gay, so wot?”
The anonymous comments that punctured your soul didn’t always go unpunished; a dark side to this new social media emerged. A tale as old as time.
My best friend received a comment that said, “Kill yourself, no one likes you, ” which shocked her to her core. Did the teen who wrote the question not realize the looming real-life consequences? My best friend told her mom, and suddenly the cops were involved. They arrived at the culprit’s door, threatening the commenter with legal ramifications should this happen again. Holy shit. I found out this violent criminal who got in trouble with the cops was the quiet girl on my basketball team who once ate lunch with me when I was alone. What was going ON?!
And this wasn’t just at my school. Teens everywhere, leaving evil comments, were being met with cops at their door. Gabby, from Pennsylvania, was also told to kill herself. When she told her mom, the mother secretly got the cops involved, scaring the living shit out of this kid. Gabby didn’t find out until ten years later. This delinquent was the nerd kid from math class who never danced at the school dances. The kids are NOT ALL RIGHT!
Formspring shut down after mountains of controversies like these stories. But luckily, a few years later, a copycat site called ask.fm popped up! And since we’d all learned our lesson, teens treated ask.fm much differently. Just kidding. I joined, and someone told me I looked like a couch. We did it all over again. But why? Is it because we refused to acknowledge human nature or because we were starving for attention in any way possible?
If we had Formspring today, I would tell all my friends I love them and say, “from Caroline.” And then they’d say, “Ok, this isn’t really the point of this, but thanks I guess, we already knew that. Stop wearing those neon skinny jeans.”