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Ask.fm might well have seemed like a cool idea at the time. In a sense, it is quite a cool idea. Users post questions, and people respond. However, in recent months, a great deal of controversy has sprung up around the website, which has since had to change its safety processes as a result. Working with WebHostingBlueBook.com, we explored this sensitive issue.
First launched in June 2010 as a rival to Formspring (it has since overtaken it’s rival in terms of traffic), Ask.fm is essentially a social networking site which (as mentioned above) allows users to ask other people on the site questions, with anonymity an option for those that want it. Currently, the website boasts around 52 million registered users and around 20 million visitors each day.
Unfortunately, the layout of the site has been used by some as a playground for cyber-bullying. Indeed, by 2013, several cases of young people committing suicide as a result of bullying on the site have been made public, all of them (so far) being based in the UK.
One of the most recent cases was that of Hannah Smith, a 14 year old girl from Lutterworth, Leicestershire, who was found hanged. Hannah’s father, Dave Smith, wrote on Facebook that he had discovered various posts on his daughter’s Ask.fm account telling her to die. The posts were believed to have been made anonymously. Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said:
“This is a tragic case where Hannah felt like she had no other option but to end her life.
“The cruel nature of cyber-bullying allows perpetrators to remain anonymous and hide behind their screens.”
Daniel Perry Another significantly referenced case was that of Daniel Perry, a 17 year old boy who killed himself as a result of bullying and – perhaps even more seriously – blackmail being carried out through the site. It’s believed that Mr Perry had been involved in a scam where victims were befriended and then tricked into making explicit webcam recordings which were then used to blackmail the users. Several messages were sent to Daniel in the months before he took his own life, including ones that read “kill yourself mate” and “you need to let a blade meet your throat”.
The two cases occurring within such proximity led to reaction from politicians. Scotland’s minister for young people, Aileen Campbell said that young people needed to “know where to turn for advice and who will support them if they take action”. Prime Minister David Cameron, meanwhile, called for a boycott of sites that granted bullies access to young people, and said that those posting abuse online were not above the law.
Ask.fm themselves condemned the death of Hannah Smith as a ‘true tragedy’ and made a statement noting that they actively encouraged users and their parents to report any incidences of bullying immediately, either through the site’s ‘report’ button or through the contact page, and said that all reports would be read by moderators in order to ensure that real concerns were acted upon immediately.
The site previously stated that they would work with the police as part of any investigations that are carried out following these tragedies. However, they have already begun to lose advertisers as a result of the controversy. Whether the site will continue to operate or fall foul of what’s taken place is something that remains to be seen.