Upon scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently, I was bombarded with links from many different people to their Ask.fm sites, begging me to relieve them of their boredom.
What is an Ask.fm you ask? Well, the simple answer is that it is ‘a social networking site’ supposedly similar to Facebook or Twitter. Ask.fm is a question and answer site, designed so that people can ‘get to know you better’. The site is easy to sign up for; you enter your email, create a password and the age restriction of 13 is easy to bypass. After this you are good to go! You can now post the link to your Ask.fm on Facebook and watch the interesting questions roll in.
Sadly there is so much more to this site than this, and the ease with which they are able to be used becomes stark and terrifying. Ask.fm has no apparent privacy settings available when you create your account and to ask an Ask.fm user a question, you do not even need an account yourself. All you need is the link to any account and you can ask away, all the while staying anonymous.
Along with other social media sites, Ask.fm is becoming yet another method of invading others’ privacy, as due to the lack of privacy settings anyone at all can view your Ask.fm; parents, friends, teachers, and scarily enough, people you have never even met. As an application claiming to help people ‘get to know you better’ you find people you have barely even spoken to before know more about you than you could have ever imagined, just through reading your answers to personal questions. When first starting up on Ask.fm, you are immediately faced with the standard personal question: ‘who do you like?’ which is a ridiculous question in itself, as who in their right mind would share their crush with the whole world? Thankfully most people stay silent on that subject but I found that questions like this were the least of my worries, discovering questions like ‘what colour underwear are you wearing?’ and ‘how far have you gone with your significant other?’. This becomes worrying as anyone could be asking these questions. Unfortunately, naïve people do answer them, telling their ‘anons’ things they have never even told their parents or closest friends.
What people don’t realise is that their secrets are now exposed and can be seen by anyone and everyone; people they have never even met now know their regrets, biggest fears, and why they’re depressed. Yet as dangerous as these aforementioned problems sound, there are even worse issues out there. Ask.fm has become a commonplace tool of abuse where people send nasty anonymous ‘questions’. These are not just mere snide remarks, these are comments where Ask.fm users are being told to ‘kill themselves’, that they are ‘a waste of oxygen’ and that ‘the world would be a better place’ if they were dead. This is made worse by the fact Ask.fm has no workable tracking, reporting or parental control system and no comments are ever deleted by the site despite the fact they contain explicit threats. Although allegedly Ask.fm now has a ‘report’ button and the option to block other users, I must stress the fact that you don’t have to be a user to send anonymous hate messages.
Recently, Ask.fm has been linked to a number of teen suicides. The most recent case, 14-year-old Hannah Smith, who hanged herself after being told she should ‘drink bleach’, ‘go get cancer’ and ‘go die’. At least six suicides have been connected to the site and there have been calls for the site to be banned and taken down. British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a boycott of the site, but has anything been done? The site is still going strong, after heartlessly boasting the fact of reaching 70 million users just mere days after Smith’s death. The creators of the Latvian-based site claim that Ask.fm is just a tool which helps people to communicate with each other, same as any other social network, and are backed up by columnist Karlis Langins; “I think it is just another case of parents blaming everything for their child’s death and politicians reacting in a populistic manner.”
How could this be true when there has been clear evidence that prior to the suicides of these teens they had received such abuse? How can parents be expected to protect their children from dangers that they have never even heard of until it is too late? It is becoming impossible to protect people from the increasing dangers of the internet. New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD and sites like this will only increase this number. It is hard to believe that we live in a society where people feel they have the right to sit behind an electronic device and tell someone their life is not worth living. This is becoming a frightening reality as people now have no fear of the consequences – because there are none. It is pathetic that there are people out there who believe that they can cause others to take their lives. It has become apparent that we live amongst a race of cowards.
The fact is, we all have a responsibility to make sure people stay safe on the internet. As adolescents, we need to question everything and stop ourselves from being cruelly exploited. If you see this abuse being carried out, whether it is to you or someone you know, make a stand. If it is someone you know, talk to them about it. Do not let them suffer in silence.
Delete your account, talk to someone about it, get help. There are so many people out there who can get you through bad times, including parents, siblings, friends, Youthline and the 298 Youth Health Centre. Please do not think you are on your own. Suicide is not the answer, because the only one who loses is you.
Visit these pages if you need some help:
0800 37 66 63
Free text :234
298 Youth health centre: