Ask.fm Launches New Safety Initiative

We wrote back in August 2013 about how social Q&A site Ask.fm had adopted safer policies in response to public outcry and pressure from advertisers. Ask.fm has been a controversial site from day one – a home to rampant cyberbullying and the reported catalyst behind at least 9 teen suicides in recent memory.

ask-fm-cyberbullyingAccording to the company in a press release issued yesterday, Ask.fm now boasts more than 100 million users from 150 countries, and users post 35 million questions per day. The press release was occasioned by the Latvian company upping the ante on safety and rolling out its new Safety Centre, where parents, caregivers, teachers and users can get help with safety tips and an explanation of the site’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

According to Ask.fm’s CEO Ilja Terebin:

“The safety and protection of our users, especially younger ones, is of paramount importance to us and we now have a place where people can learn more about this crucial topic. We will constantly review how risks to users change and will update guidance in order to ensure they remain alert to changing behaviours online.”

As a parent, you may be wondering if Safety Centre will make the site is any safer than it has been in the past. The main problem with the site is that anonymity is optional, and that will probably continue to be the problem. The fact of the matter is that bullies act more harshly when they are not at risk of being found out.

On Ask.fm, since users can opt to be anonymous or use real names, it is not surprising that the “good” kids tend to use their real names and the “bad” kids tend to hide behind anonymity. That has not changed. Unfortunately, from what we’ve seen, some kids who would not otherwise be inclined toward cyberbullying tend to join in when the bullies are getting a big reaction from the crowd.

To its credit, the company does claim to have taken some steps to increase the safety of the site – the site has increased the number of moderators who respond to user reports of inappropriate content, and moderators also review all photo and video content as it is posted, and remove it if necessary.

Is your youngster likely to be a victim of cyberbullying on Ask.fm? If that is the case, are you more likely to be able to learn the identity of the perpetrator? Let’s take a look at some excerpts from the Ask.fm Safety Centre.

On a positive note:

If someone says something mean or horrible to you, you can use the block button to stop them asking you any more questions, even if they haven’t told you who they are

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You can also use the report button to tell us about someone who is being unkind, bullying you or bothering you and we will look into it (and no-one will know that you reported it except us

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You can turn off anonymous questions in your Privacy Settings – this way nobody will be able to ask you anything unless you can see their profile

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If you see someone else being bullied or being asked unkind or horrible questions, do the right thing and report it to us – no-one will know that you reported it except us

 

Not so positive:

Remember that anything you post on your ask.fm profile is automatically public!

 

So, all users’ posts are public, and any other user can respond unless that user has been blocked. Regarding revealing the identity of cyberbullies – Ask.fm will not reveal their identity unless they have breached the site’s Terms of Use.

Also, a parental request to take down a child’s account will not be honored, regardless of the age of the child. You’ll have to get your child to agree to do it.

In summary, the information found in Ask.fm’s new Safety Centre makes it easier to understand the Terms of Service, how the site works and what the risks are, but there are still risks to be sure. As a matter of fact, the most serious risks are the same as they always have been. The stated age limit is 13, but we caution parents of kids under 18 to keep them off Ask.fm or risk them being subject to harassment and cyberbullying.

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

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