Since its inception, or at least since it caught on with the teen crowd, Ask.fm has been a magnet for cyberbullies and has been blamed for the suicides of at least ten teens.
The question and answer social network has grown quickly, attracting over 180 million members, 42% of which are under 18. The site has revamped its privacy and safety policies at least twice in the last year in an attempt to make the site safer, but those attempts have generally been viewed as unsuccessful. Despite the negative press, Ask.fm was acquired this month by internet giant IAC/Interactive Corp., and as a result of pressure from state regulators the new parent company has vowed to make the cyberbullying on the site less of an issue for young users, but for real this time.
Back in June of 2013, the Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler vowed to take action against Ask.fm’s lax policies. Gansler was joined by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in guiding a new set of policies for Ask.fm around user privacy. As part of the new policies, Ask.fm will remove the founders from the top jobs at the company and:
- Create a Safety Advisory Board
- Hire a Chief Trust and Safety Officer (Catherine Teitelbaum, formerly of Yahoo)
- Create a new online Safety Center
- Prohibit children under 13 from joining the network
- Cooperate with suicide prevention and missing children organizations
They have also undertaken to achieve something that is impossible as far as we know. According to Forbes:
“[Ask.fm] will also remove users that have been the subject of three complaints and take “reasonable steps to block those users from creating new accounts under different user names.”
If you’ve ever joined a social network, you know that in most cases the only verifiable piece of identification that you need to open an account is an email address, and those are free and very easy to create. The idea that they can effectively prevent to worst bullies from joining anonymously or under another alias is a promise that is not possible to deliver on, even if they do take “reasonable steps”.
Until they have proven that the service is truly different, we continue to urge the parents of young teens to stay off Ask.fm.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.