If you’re the parent of a 13-teen old girl who uses Ask.fm, the question-and-answer social media site and app, you may have heard about the cyberbullying, vanity contests and general bad or unhealthy behavior that happens there. On the other hand, if you’re the parent of a 13-year old girl, it’s more likely in our experience that you have no idea whether your daughter uses Ask.fm, and maybe you’ve never heard of it.
We look at teens’ social media activity all the time, and think that there’s no way many parents know exactly what is going on with platforms like Ask.fm. We thought we’d take a look at 2 weeks in the life of a female, 13-year old Ask.fm user in 6th grade and see if we can’t draw some conclusions. (By the way, we know she is 13 and in 6th grade because she states it freely and publicly.)
The young girl will remain nameless, but her Ask.fm activity is in no way that different from much of what we see.
In the last 14 days:
- Number of questions answered: 142
- Number of questions answered per day: 14
- Number of times asked for her phone number: 2
- Number of times she posted her phone number publicly: 2
- Number of times she was asked who her best friend/5 best friends/10 best friends were: 15
- Number of times she answered: 12
- Number of pictures of her and her friends posted: 8
- Number of times someone was offended to be left off the list: 1
- Number of times she was asked about her body weight/type: 17
- Number of weight-related questions meant to be hurtful: 6
- Number of times her popularity was questioned: 9
- Number of popularity-related questions meant to be hurtful: 8
In order to put these in context, allow us to explain some basics of how Ask.fm works:
- All accounts and answers are public, so any time you answer a question, anyone can see it
- Anonymity is optional. Users can be fully anonymous, use their real name or a pseudonym
- Even users registered under their real name can choose to ask any question anonymously
- You don’t have to be “friends” with someone to ask them a question
- “Questions” don’t have to be a question; statements are fine, i.e. “your not popular tbh”. Translation: “You’re not popular, to be honest”
What have we learned?
First, in the case of the cyberbullying above, none of the cruel questions or statements were made by someone using their real name, although this girl may have known who some of them are. Perhaps she is so resilient that none of this bothers her, but we doubt it.
Second, it is very unsafe for a 13-year old to be divulging personal details including her location, cell phone number and photos using a public account on a social media site.
Third, Ask.fm as the 10-13 year old crowd is currently using it is very bad for self-esteem. The obsession with weight and body type and the cliquey nature of constantly asking/listing who your best friends are, and thereby naming who is in and who is out, must be utterly demoralizing for some of these kids.
To some extent, young girls forming cliques, excluding others and exerting peer pressure in any way possible has probably been happening for thousands of years. With social media, the results are publicly displayed for all to see, permanently. When a teen joins Ask.fm, she is opting to join a community where this type of behavior is the norm.
The age limit for Ask.fm is 13, but we seriously doubt that many 13-year olds are mature enough to deal with the type or harassment and angst that routinely occur there. We strongly recommend that parents of 13-year olds wait a couple of years before letting your child have an Ask.fm account.
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