The Founders of Ask.fm Make Their Case on Cyberbullying

We have written a few times in the past about semi-anonymous Q&A social media network Ask.fm, and most of what we’ve written has been negative, including the following:

Ask.fm IconThe problems with Ask.fm, as we see it, are the optional anonymity and the behavior of some users. In short, the “good” kids tend to use their real names and ask questions genuinely looking for feedback. The “bad” kids tend to remain anonymous and lash out viciously at targets, for no apparent reason other than to entertain themselves or get laughs. The abuse is really quite shocking, and multiple users are known to pile on victims.

The company is not all that accessible to the media. They are located in Latvia, and tend to keep a low profile. I was surprised to see that the Ask.fm founders, Ilja and Mark Terebin, granted an extensive interview to Time magazine, which was published this week.

The interviewer spent a good deal of time asking about the teen suicides that have been blamed on cyberbullying on Ask.fm, and the founders were quick to defend themselves.

“I know of no case of suicide because of bullying on Ask.fm. The Hannah Smith case, the Izzy Dix case—we gave the inquests all the logs, all the information. And we were not found responsible in either case.”

On the question of whether Ask.fm should be shut down because of the rampant cyberbullying:

“This website, if you close it down, you will not have stopped bullying. It’s everywhere. It’s offline. It’s in schools. The bullying is by SMS, too, other social networks. And of course it happens on Ask.fm as well. But you can’t just close everything. Even if you close everything, you take down the Internet, you take down mobile phones—if the child is going to school, there still will be the problem of bullying.

And people say anonymity is a problem. But don’t forget about the people who need anonymity. Teenagers, especially, are afraid that their opinions will be judged by others. It’s sometimes important that they can ask questions anonymously.”

We agree that anonymity can sometimes enable positive freedom of speech and expression that might not occur when a real identity is attached, however, our company dedicated to helping parents make good decisions about their family’s online activity. We choose to stand firm on our cautious stance. The article states that 42% of the site’s 120 million users are under the age of 17. Regardless of whether the founders acknowledge a link between the site and teen suicides, the fact of the matter is that a lot of cyberbullying happens there. As a parent, if you knew there was a park in town where kids were constantly fighting, you probably wouldn’t allow your teens to hang out there. We strongly recommend that parents prohibit teens from joining Ask.fm, as long as the culture is as toxic as is the case currently.

 

 

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