By Ana Veciana-Suarez

Let's just get this over with.

Put down that cup of morning coffee and throw your hands up in the air. Emit a loud, what's-this-world-coming-to sigh. Feel better? Good. Bottle that up because now I'm going to tell you what this world's coming to.

There's a new social networking site called, and if the language in some rap songs offends you, this is not the place to be. Formspring, with 29 million users, is hot-hot-hot among teenagers, especially middle schoolers.

It's easy to use, easy to monitor and much rawer than oh-so-yesterday Facebook. The New York Times called it "the online version of the bathroom wall in school." Actually, it's more than that. In the bathroom one can run out of space and ink. Not so on Formspring.

Here's how it works: Sign up at with a user name and password. Link the account to your Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook or Blogger account. Then wait for someone to ask a question anonymously. If you ignore or delete a question, it never goes public. But if you answer, the exchange leaves your private mailbox.

Sounds relatively innocuous, right? Not quite.

Turns out Formspring is a highly effective way to insult, belittle and spread rumors. Because it affords anonymity, the gossip is raw and mean-spirited.

How bad is it? A few days ago on Yahoo Answers, AliceK asked people to post rude questions so she could prepare for the onslaught of Formspring inquiries when she signs up. People were all too happy to answer: "r u such a whore? y r u so ugly?"""

"Jeopardy!" for the tween set this is not.

What I don't get is why anyone of any age would willingly sign up for such abuse. And why make a nasty question public when you can choose to delete it?

Those of us who survived adolescence know that words have enormous power to wound. Wielded indiscriminately, without filter, they can damage for life. We've seen horrendous outcomes in cyberbullying cases like that of Alexis Pilkington, a 17-year-old Long Island, N.Y., soccer player who committed suicide in March. Even after her death, lewd comments and insensitive images were posted on tribute pages her friends set up on Facebook and Formspring.

Gives me the creeps.

Teens have always been hellishly cruel on each other, but now part of the game includes taking the abuse publicly and dishing it out harder. It proves you can handle it, says Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. On her blog, she wonders, as I do, what in our society encourages teens to share public humiliation and what prompts them to act so provocatively in return.

Several states have outlawed cyberbullying, and federal lawmakers have proposed legislation giving prosecutors the ability to punish those who use technology to harass. While well-intentioned, these efforts address the problem after the fact.

There is, of course, plenty of blame to go around: crude song lyrics, explicit videos, a culture that elevates crassness. And us. As parents, it's time to step back and ask ourselves what it really means to hang tough and fight back, to give as good as you take.

Public stoning, whether in the town square or on the Internet, deserves no place in our world.

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