Parents: 10 frightening facts about Ask.fm

Mourners gather to celebrate the life of Hannah Smith, 14, who committed suicide after brutal abuse from cyberbullies.

Mourners gather to celebrate the life of Hannah Smith, 14, who committed suicide after brutal abuse from cyberbullies.

Miami, October, 29, 2013. Ask.fm is a social networking website set up in a question and answer format that is very popular with teens and tweens. It has received lots press attention lately and was referenced in the Florida bullying suicide case.

Many parents are unfamiliar with Ask.fm. I was pleased that the Babble article “What parents need to know about Ask.fm” brought awareness but I felt that it left out some crucial information for parents. Here are 10 frightening facts about Ask.fm that parents really need to know about the site that British Prime Minister David Cameron called “vile.”

* Ask.fm’s Terms of Service state, “Physical persons must be 13 years or older to use this service.” That’s right, tweens are not allowed on Ask.fm.  Use this rule to your advantage, parents. You can say no, and the website backs you up, as does COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law in the U.S.. (13 is the required age to have a Facebook and Twitter account, too.)

* No one monitors the content on Ask.fm.  The website states, “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.”

* The website “is increasingly being used as a means to communicate abusive, bullying and sexualised content,” according to Webwise. It “associated with some of the worst forms of cyberbullying” and has beenlinked to numerous suicides around the world, according to the Daily Mail.

* One user can block another user and must give a reason. Blocking someone, however, does not mean that they go away. A blocked person can still access the profile to view all other interactions.

* The site can be used anonymously, so users often have no way of knowing who is bullying or harassing them on the site.

Users cannot increase privacy settings, as they can with the adjustable settings on Facebook and Twitter. See the Ask.fm Privacy Policy here.

* Ask.fm is integrated with Facebook and Twitter – all these accounts can easily connect and what is posted on Ask.fm is easily shared and can appear on those other sites with next to no effort.

Schools in Britain have advised students and parents to not useAsk.fm. Following the suicide of a 14 year-old girl in Britain who had been bullied on Ask.fm, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “There’s something all of us can do as parents and as users of the internet and that is not to use some of these vile sites. Boycott them, don’t go there, don’t join them – we need to do that as well. I’m very keen we look at all the action we can take to try and stop future tragedies like this.”

* After Cameron called for changes at Ask.fm, the company issued a rather shocking statement. Founder Mark Terebin said, ‘We only have this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all. It seems that children are more cruel in these countries.’ One teenager over the summer received messages like “drink bleach”, “go get cancer” and “go die,” and those are quite similar to those seen in the United States.

Ask.fm is based on Riga, Latvia, which is why U.S. and British authorities often have a long wait to gather data from the site.

A user can disable his/her account, even if the password is forgotten. Kids have been known to tell parents that it is not possible. This is not true.

Parents should also be aware of other sites that can be use for less than good purposes, including Kik, the smartphone message and Voxer, a walkie-talkie-type app for messaging. Of course, there’s always the shadySnapchat as well.

When talking with kids, remind them of this rule of thumb:  “If you wouldn’t share it with your family, don’t share it online.”

Chicago

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