Ask.fm has been in the UK news a lot in recent weekslast week after a serious case of cyberbullying on the site caused a young girl to take her own life. After the sad news spread, it emerged that her sister was subsequently targeted with similar treatment.
The exact rules and policies of Ask.fm seem to be shrouded just as other networks are as well. In fairness it would be a strange company that led with the message to its users about antisocial or abusive behavior when trying to get someone to sign up and start communicating with their friends.
The major social networks, ask.fm included, offer advice, support and systems to protect teens from Cyberbullying. Being bullied either online or offline can be an extremely damaging experience. It’s of vital importance that victims understand that there are people they can come to for help. Lets look at Ask.fm as an example as they are then ones currently being criticized…
Ask.fm has (at my count) up to four different ways for victims of cyberbullying to get help.
- Disable anonymous questions
- Blacklist abusive users
- Report functionality
- Cyberbullying support staff
At the most basic level, every user can enable or disable anonymous questions. Allowing people to ask you questions anonymously will obviously increase the temptation for people to leave you hurtful or mean spirited comments as they don’t have to take the consequences of being the person posting them.
Then there’s the blacklist. Much like the ability to block users on other social networks, Ask.fm users can blacklist people who are being abusive. It’s no one-stop-fix for cyberbullying but it’s an important feature that gives users control of who they are in contact with.
More directly, Ask.fm gives its users the option to report any abusive or antisocial behavior that they come across. You can report a user for a number of reasons via their profile page:
Lastly, there are support teams in place to help anyone having trouble with abuse on Ask.fm.
One such example is http://ask.fm/Teensupport365 which offers friendly advice and support from teens to teens experience cyberbullying or other social problems on the website.
The challenge from a parental perspective is getting your teen to understand the options and features available to them for the protection of their privacy and also to stop anyone from bullying them. Many policies and options tend to get shoved in settings and menu systems that mean you need to search them out to switch them on, but press this point home to your kids as they need to be aware of the tools available to them.
The best piece of advice I can give you on this is setup your own account, go find the options that allow your account to be private, stop anonomous messages, blacklisting etc. That way you can have a discussion with your kids about it from a point of knowledge rather than making them do all the work, and we all know Teens don’t do the work parents ask them too.
What is clear is that abusive, threatening and antisocial behavior is not unique to Ask.fm. Anyone who has spent time on Twitter can tell you that it can be a toxic environment (just ask Caroline Criado-Perez), and the same goes for the world’s largest social network; Facebook where it is said that 89% of cyberbullying among 10-17 year olds occurs.
The task of managing abusive and hateful behavior on the Internet is a monster one. In July, AVG attended the Child Internet Safety Summit in London where industry leaders, educators and politicians came together to discuss the future of the Internet and how best to make it a positive and constructive environment for our children and ourselves.
In an interesting debate about cyberbullying and how we can protect children and individuals from abusive and hateful messages online, it was widely motioned for social networks to take greater responsibility for keeping their sites bully free.
Are you the victim of being bullied or are your kids?
If you or your kids are unhappy or feel victimized when using Ask.fm or any other social network, it’s important to know that there are people and sites that offer help and advice.
Open a dialogue. It might seem old fashioned, but a great way for teens to get help with bullying and Internet trolls can be talking to parents. Parents can be more understanding than you might have thought. While you might not feel they really understand what you are going through, what chance do they have if you don’t let them know that you’re being bullied?
If you’re anxious about talking to your parents the a neighbor or relative is just as good and maybe easier to approach. You could get in touch with one of the support websites that give you free, anonymous advice to help you deal with bullying and threatening online behavior.
Here are three, but there are lots more:
In conclusion, if you or anyone you know is being made unhappy by abusive or bullying behavior on Ask.fm or anywhere else, take action!
Here’s what you can do:
- Disable anonymous questions so you know who you’re speaking to
- Blacklist users who are being malicious or threatening
- Report abusive users
- Contact cyberbullying support staff
- Talk to your parents, relatives or even a neighbour
- Use free Internet resources to get some advice