What is Ask.fm?
Ask.fm is a social Q&A site where users can ask other users questions. The questions can be from a named user, or completely anonymous. It is unmoderated (unless a user reports something), has no parental controls, and is an Latvian company. The concept seems harmless: you register, create a profile, and ask/answer questions that are posted to you. The problem is around the anonymity of the messaging. In the settings, you have the ability to block anonymous questions, but most users do not do this. You have the ability to blacklist users, assuming you know who they are. The terms of service says that you need to be 13 years old or older to join the site, but this is bypassed regularly.
Why should you worry for your kids?
Michael Sheehan said it best in his article named "Parents Be Warned! Ask.fm is a Dangerous & Deadly Social Site for Teens & Tweens":
Again, this seems relatively harmless, right? WRONG! Ask.fm is rapidly becoming a site for bullies and seemingly sex-crazed users (even if it is simply innuendos in messaging). And I believe that parents (especially in the US) don’t know much about Ask.fm yet. It seems that since this service originally launched in Europe, it had more attraction there initially. Since then it has come overseas to the States.
Cyber-bullying is a problem:
There are comment threads that are quite bullying in nature (e.g., “you are fat/ugly/stupid/[insert insult here]“). The few cases where I have seen those types of comments, most users seems to shrug those off. Sometimes, other users jump to the defense of the bully-ee. A few of these types of mean comments are probably okay. But when they are piled on and repeated over and over, it becomes hateful and damaging.
Discussions about sex are common, and anyone can anonymously ask sex-related questions to your sons:
There are also many comments (and answers) that are sexual in nature, as innocently posed as “what color is your underwear?” These get dirty quickly, moving from PG-13 to R to NC-17 and beyond.
Even Wikipedia reports bullying on Ask.fm:
Recently the site has been the subject of several media articles regarding cyber-bullying. This was largely in response to widely-reported cases of anonymous offensive messaging and suicides apparently resulting from such bullying. The site has courted controversy by not having workable reporting, tracking or parental control processes which have become the norm on other social media web-sites.
Richard Piggin, deputy chief executive of the charity BeatBullying, said:
Sites like Ask.fm lack even the most basic child safety mechanisms or reporting protocols. They are of huge concern to us and the young people we work with.’
Jim Gamble, head of security consultancy Ineqe, said:
Ask.fm has become associated with some of the worst forms of cyberbullying and has been linked to a number of recent teen suicides in Ireland and the US. 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.
The Daily Mail reports that:
Pupils and parents are being warned by head teachers about the dangers of a rapidly growing social networking site that puts teenagers at risk of vicious anonymous abuse. Schools across the country are sending out letters advising pupils not to use Ask.fm, which has more than 30 million users around the world and has been linked to suicides and serious bullying.
Even UK's Prime Minister David Cameron said:
And the worst part is that your teenage kids are already on Ask.fm, or soon will be.
How can AskWatch help
AskWatch is a free software application for Microsoft Windows 7/8 that helps you:
- find your sons in Ask.fm
- keep track of the questions they receive and how they answer
- see who they are talking to
- highlight the Q&As that contain taboo words