Ask.fm Blamed for Teen Suicides – What Can Parents Do?

You might not have heard of Ask.fm. It’s a seemingly harmless social question and answer site launched a couple of years ago, and has gradually been growing in popularity with teens. Recently though, Ask.fm has been blamed as a contributing factor to the suicide of at least 4 teens. Parents looking for a quick solution to make sure their teens are safe are likely to be disappointed.

According to the Mail Online:

This week, the Mail was contacted by a mother who caught her 14-year-old daughter taking an overdose after being bullied on ask.fm. In one of the final messages sent to her before her suicide attempt last October, one tormentor wrote: ‘Dribk (sic) bleach, drownd (sic) your self, hang your self, cut your throat open, nobody wats (sic) you hear (sic) at all, just die.’ If that message wasn’t clear, another followed: ‘Please die.’

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 2.29.35 PMAs a parent, what do you need to know about the site? First of all, the signup process is almost too easy. New users are asked for a name (can be fake), email address and date of birth. Users are supposed to be at least 13 years old, but as with most social sites, there is no penalty for lying and you won’t get found out.

New users can sign up using their Facebook or Twitter account and their friends on those networks will be informed that you have joined.

Healthy questions and answers among friends, and possibly even strangers, shouldn’t be a problem. What is occurring though is that the site has become a forum for teens to attack one another, often over physical looks or sexuality, both of which can be devastating for fragile teenagers. Many of the tormenters are people who know their victim in real life.

While the site has a privacy policy, it does not allow users to set their account to private. What the site does have is a section in its Terms of Service, the first I’ve seen like this, outlining its policy on monitoring disputes between users.

One of the site’s founders, Mark Terebin addressed one of the suicides himself  on his own Ask.fm page:

Mass media is knocking on wrong door. It is necessary to go deeper and to find a root of a problem. Its not about the site, the problem is about education, about moral values that were devaluated lately. Ask.fm is just a tool which helps people to communicate with each other, same as any other social network, same as phone, same as piece of paper and pen. Don’t blame a tool, but try to make changes… start with yourself… be more polite, more kind, more tolerant of others… cultivate these values in families, in schools.

Suicide is not something to encourage via mass media. The more you promote suicide, the more it happen. Do you think mass media cares? They want scandals, they want sensations and finally they want money. Sorry, but we do not want to participate in it.

What happened is a true tragedy and we give our deepest condolences to the victim’s family and relatives.

What can parents do? If you are at all concerned about your teen’s self esteem, we would encourage you to keep them off Ask.fm. If you are inclined to let them use the site, you might have your work cut out for you. We at ThirdParent are not fans of demanding that your teen give you their social passwords, but you might want to in this case. Bullying can happen fast and can also escalate quickly. We’re not sure what it is about this particular network that spawns so many hateful exchanges, but beware. It is happening.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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