Ask.fm and the Rise of #TBH

If you’re a parent, you’re probably not a user of social network and app Ask.fm. If your kids are between 10 and 17, there’s a very good chance they are.

ask-fm-logoIf you’re not familiar with it, Ask.fm operates on a questions and answers framework. Anyone can ask any other user a question, and that user can answer the question if she wants. We’ll use the pronoun “she” but we see plenty of teen boys on the site as well. Ask.fm has unfortunately been linked to countless cyberbullying attacks and some teen suicides.

The first time one logs onto Ask.fm, it’s a bit confusing to figure out what is going on – for two reasons. The first is that “identity” is a fuzzy concept. Users can be fully anonymous, use their real name or a synonym. Ask doesn’t care who you are. Questions can be asked using your real user name or anonymously (even if your account lists your real name), so it’s often not clear who is talking to whom.

The second reason is that there is a developing array of acronyms that can be baffling to parents. One that we are seeing a lot these days is “TBH”.

TBH, as you might assume, stands for “to be honest”, but on Ask it is frequently used as a question. If someone posts TBH directed at you, you are expected to respond by saying what you think of that person. “You’re the best” or “so pretty” would be the type of response that the asker is seeking. “You’re ugly” or “I never liked you” are not. Yes, it is narcissistic, but teens often are self-absorbed.

Obviously, when an exchange like the one above goes well, it’s no big deal. The asker gets to feel better about herself, and the answerer has spread some cheer for a brief moment, perhaps publicly for the world to see.

Actually, though, it can be a big deal. Answers can be tinged with petty jealously or can be downright hurtful personal attacks. No teen would ask to be cyberbullied, but that can be the result. The teen who posts TBH is unwittingly looking for trouble, and once encountered, the damage is done.

Friendly online Q&A sessions can be fun, but teens should understand that when you ask for praise you could wind up getting the opposite.

 

 

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