In Cyber Safety, Internet Safety Trends, Social Media

Understanding the Reasons Behind Ask.fm Bullying

Ask.fm and Cyber Bullying

Ask.fm: a notorious question-and-answer social networking site that has enjoyed an explosion in popularity among young teenagers all over the world during the past two years, learn more on ask.fm bullying.

A brief background on ask.fm bullying:

Founded on June 16th, 2010, Ask.fm is the brainchild of Russian brothers Ilya and Mark Terebin, the sons of a wealthy former Soviet Red Army serviceman. Both graduates of the Riga International School of Economics and Business Administration in the capital of Latvia, where they grew up, they began their careers setting up a furniture business. However, they soon realized that the Internet offered a more lucrative path for business and money-making. Using the American question-and-answer website “Formspring” as a mode, Ask.fm was launched, and it rapidly expanded. In November 2012, it had twenty one million users, a figure which has doubled since then. The website, available in thirty one languages, makes £16,000 a day out of advertising revenue, as well as allowing companies to pay for questions which can be targeted at users. Most of the ads are targeted depending on user demographics, such as age and location; such advertisers include Nespresso and clothing company Isme.

So… what about Ask.fm Cyber Bullying?

Unlike sites such as Facebook and Twitter, ask.fm bullying is easier for the bullies as the website has no privacy settings and so allows users, who may be naïve, susceptible teenagers and adolescents with little sense and more curiosity, to pose questions to each other anonymously. Because the website has become so popular, with over forty million users worldwide, the element of anonymity has allowed Ask.fm to become a haven for cyber bullies, who have the ability to target their victims online without the fear of ever being discovered. Most of the victims actually know their tormentors, who are usually frustrated schoolmates who are often online ‘friends’ with their victims on other sites such as Facebook, but reveal a more villain-ish side when on Ask.fm, where the option to conceal their identities is available. Bullied adolescents and teenagers are left hurt and agonised, not knowing which of their ‘friends’ has turned against them.

The site also allows users to put up video answers, meaning their identities can be revealed. For the past few months, children’s protect charities as well as online safety experts, school administrators and education chiefs have been warning about the dangers of ask.fm cyberbullying, especially after the suicide incidents of several teenagers which have been linked to the ask.fm bullying.

‘It is almost a stalker’s paradise. In cases like this young people need protection from those who exploit internet anonymity to intimidate, isolate and bully.’ Richard Piggin, deputy chief executive of the charity BeatBullying, said: ‘The tool that enables it to be anonymous can facilitate young people to say things that they might not say face to face or if their names were attached to it. So it releases their inhibitions, which can be very dangerous. Sites like Ask.fm lack even the most basic child safety mechanisms. They are of huge concern to us and the young people we work with.’

According to the Daily Mail, many experts have suggested that some methods of tracking those who persistently use social media sites to abuse others should be brought forward so that criminal charges could be brought against the perpetrators. However, it is not believed that closing the website would be of benefit, as an alternative would soon replace it.

What are the rules related to Ask.fm Bullying?

Children must be at least 13 years old to sign up to the site, but there’s nothing to stop them lying when registering — which takes seconds. The site asks only for a name, email address and date of birth. Most sign up via their Facebook pages, automatically notifying their ‘Facebook friends’ that they’ve joined Ask.fm.

Governed by Latvian law, the site’s ‘terms of service’ include an extensive disclaimer which explains: “You understand that in using the ask.fm service you may encounter content that may be deemed objectionable, obscene or in poor taste, which content may or may not be identified as having explicit language. The ask.fm service allows for anonymous content which ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the ask.fm service at your own risk and that ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste.”

“By way of example, and not as a limitation, you will not, directly or indirectly:

Transmit any pornographic, obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal or otherwise objectionable material or content.

Transmit or encourage the transmission of unlawful, harassing, libelous, abusive, threatening, harmful, vulgar, obscene or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature.”

What have the owners done about Ask.fm bullying?

Until now, the Terebin brothers have refused to take responsibility for the kind of vicious behaviour that has become prevalent on their own cyber doorstep and haven’t commented on ask.fm bullying.

While they mostly refuse to comment on the suicide and bullying tragedies, this is what Mark Terebin said once:  “Of course there is a problem with cyber bullying in social media. But as far as we can see we only have this problem in Ireland and in the United Kingdom most of all, trust me. There are no complaints regarding cyber bullying from parents, children or other sources in other countries. It seems that children are crueler in these countries (Ireland and the United Kingdom).”

A month later, when one of his website’s users asked why he wouldn’t comment on the suicides, he wrote back: ‘It’s not about the site; the problem is about education, about moral values that were devalued 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.’

While refusing to admit their site presents a threat to youngsters, in recent weeks, ask.fm has introduced a ‘report’ button, enabling users to notify the site of abuse they receive. But they’ve refused to disable the ‘anonymous’ function which experts say lies at the heart of the problem.

More on Ask.fm Cyber Bullying

One unfortunte feature related to Ask.fm cyber bullying is the ability of users of the site to “hack” the site to ascertain the identities of anomyous users of the site to continue the “conversation.” There are actually items in the Google Search listing for acquiring this capability. This can be done regardless of whether or not the anonymous individual wished to remain anonymous. Because this practice has been involved in bullying incidents, cyber security has been increased to combat this practice. As a result of this being an easy sigue into bullying and so hard to detect, not all of it may have been stopped yet. At one point in the hacking practice’s history, there was even an Anxroid app to help get around the anonymity.

There has been an emphatic response to incidences of ask.fm cyber bullying. As these events have become known to the public at large, an outcry has gone out requesting help in locating the affected victims, identifying any perpetrators and making the cyber safety situation widely known among those persons who could easily be affected by the situation. Ask.fm itself is tightening up its security requirements and is distancing itself from any notions that it may be behind any of the problem.

Despite a proactive response to the problem, additional safeguards are needed to prevent potential bullying victims from being drawn into the vicious cycle of bullying. There must be a demand that all online sites enact protections wherever possible to safeguard vulnerable users against bullying.

It seems that if the site is not prepared to protect the children that use it, then parents must be extra vigilant to keep them safe. However, in a world where technology evolves at breakneck speed, monitoring teenagers’ activity on social networking sites is no easy task, help protect your teens and loved ones from ask.fm cyberbullying. 

Got experiences with ask.fm bullying? what happened to you in relation to ask.fm bullying? let it out and tell us what is happening with ask.fm bullying?

Learn more about What is Ask.fmStories of 7 Teen Suicides Because of Ask.FM Bullying, and our 100 Must Read Cyber Bullying Articles

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1 Comment

  • Aiesha
    Sep 05, 2013 at 05:41 pm

    And I hope that young man who’s trying to get the site shut down suceeds in his mission! What a bunch of nonsense!

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