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What Is Ask.fm: Has Social Media Hit Rock Bottom?

Ask.fm is a relatively new social network that has gained notoriety in recent months for its questionable format and possible connections to six teenage suicides. An “ask and answer” website that allows users to receive anonymous questions from “friends,” ask.fm has quickly grown into an outlet for cyber bullying.

As of July, 2013, ask.fm has attracted some 65 million users. However, unlike other social media websites of considerable size, ask.fm lacks reliable reporting, tracking, or parental controls. Likewise, the site provides no privacy controls, which are offered by both Facebook and Twitter.

Dangerous Social Media Sites: No Parental Control

According to ask.fm’s terms of service, users must agree to the following:

“The ask.fm service allows for anonymous content [that] ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the ask.fm service at your own risk. Ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene, or in poor taste.”

Founded in 2010 by brothers Ilja and Mark Terebin, ask.fm has seen considerable growth in the past year alone. However, this growth has also inspired newfound exposure. The site’s focus on anonymity is now under fire.

Perhaps because of recent outrage over the abuse perpetrated on the site, ask.fm co-founder Mark Terebin recently told USA Today that the site has hired some sixty-plus moderators to keep users away from negative content. (With more than 65 million users, though, this set-up leaves each moderator with more than one million users to monitor.)

Ask.fm is based on anonymity. This is quite unlike Facebook and Twitter, which require users to identify themselves and take responsibility for their content. As such, users of ask.fm are able to engage in vicious cyberbullying without fear of transparency or accountability.

Problems On Social Websites For Teens

The ability to accept questions anonymously on ask.fm is the default setting. But users can change their settings to reveal the usernames of those interacting with them on the site. However, anonymity remains the key feature of the site. Users may be hesitant to change their settings in any way that disrupts this premise.

The Terebin brothers seem equally committed to their site’s focus on anonymity. Mark Terebin recently told the UK’s Daily Mail that cyberbulling and the tragic uptick in user suicides has nothing to do with ask.fm. Instead, he insists, “The problem is about education, about moral values that were devaluated lately. Ask.fm is just a tool [that] helps people to communicate with each other, same as any other social network, same as phone, same as piece of paper and pen.”

While users are ultimately responsible for their own account settings and user activity on ask.fm, the website has provided an environment that is uniquely conducive to cyberbullying. Unfortunately, ask.fm’s founders and moderators have chosen to defend the anonymity function of the site rather than implement basic reporting and privacy functions to protect their young users’ from abuse. For this reason, parents may want to ask their teens whether they’re using the service. Maybe it’s time to start a conversation about its downsides.

Emma Freer

Emma Freer attended Ruffing Montessori and Laurel School in Cleveland, Ohio. Emma gave the senior speech at her high school graduation.

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