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Today’s children have never known a world without Google. Their entire lives have been in the digital age, and they’re often far more tech-savvy than their parents. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for parents to understand the technology landscape and educate their children about the proper uses — and hidden dangers — of the Internet and social media.

One social media service that has become rather controversial is Ask.fm. It’s a question and answer site that’s really popular among the 11–14 crowd, and while its premise is harmless enough, anonymous interactions on the platform have proven worrisome for parents.

Before we dive into this, I want to note that I would never advise parents to limit their children’s use of technology as a whole or forbid certain aspects of it without explaining why. You’re not preparing your kids for the real world by sheltering them from the Internet, but it would be wise to teach them about the potential dangers and urge them to steer clear.

With that said, let’s take a look at why many parents have taken issue with Ask.fm.

Ask.fm is the Perfect Cyberbullying Platform

Due to its anonymous nature, Ask.fm is quite conducive to cyberbullying Cyber Bullying Unmasked - The Tragic Case Of Cassidy Cyber Bullying Unmasked - The Tragic Case Of Cassidy Kids can be cruel. Almost as cruel as so-called grown-ups. That cruelty has found its way on to the web and into the lives of countless young people who thought they might be able to... Read More . What better platform for bullying than one where you can say whatever you want anonymously?

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Using Ask.fm’s “See who’s here” panel on the homepage, it took me about 20 seconds to find this (messages are in reverse-chronological order):

askfm1

Here’s another example:

askfm2

And another:

askfm3

Again, it didn’t take long to find these just by browsing a few public profiles. And this is just the tip of the iceberg — many profiles are dominated by these types of messages.

As the video below by What’s The Big Deal reports, Ask.fm has been linked to at least six teenage suicides.

Interestingly, the phenomenon of anonymous bullying is not unique to Ask.fm’s teen and pre-teen users — we constantly see similar behavior in comment sections all over the Web. When users are anonymous, they often feel like they can say anything they want without fear of consequences. Combine that with the tendency to forget that there are real human beings with real feelings on the other side of the screen, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Anonymous Questions Often Turn Sexual

Ask.fm’s anonymity also brings sexually explicit messages to the table. Because any user can ask any other user a question (anonymously), there’s no telling whether your child is talking to someone their age or someone much older. Either way, questions like these are problematic:

askfm_thong

(“Pap” is an acronym Acronym Finder: Lookup Acronym Definitions Acronym Finder: Lookup Acronym Definitions Read More for “post a picture.”)

askfm4

And it goes on:

askfm5

Clearly, these are not appropriate (or legal) requests for 11–14-year olds — but they happen so frequently. In the time I spent browsing the website, I found far more cases of sexual remarks to minors than I care to count.

Ask.fm Is a Public Gateway to Private Conversations

The conversations that start on Ask.fm don’t necessarily stay on Ask.fm. Many of the platform’s core users are also avid users of Kik, the popular mobile messaging app 5 Best Free Messaging Apps For Android 5 Best Free Messaging Apps For Android Need a free way to send messages to friends and family with your phone for free? Check out these apps. Read More . For that reason, the question “What’s your Kik?” comes up a lot — often from anonymous users.

askfm_kik

Profiles and answers on Ask.fm are public. Anyone with an Internet connection can come along and see someone’s Kik handle if they’ve shared it in a previous answer. I’ve also come across several answers sharing cell phone numbers.

When the users who bully and harass others on Ask.fm get the chance to interact privately, the outcome can’t be good.

What Should You Do?

ask-fm-website-abuse

The Internet is one of the most important advancements in all of human history, and it has done a lot to enrich the lives of people of all ages. But the openness of the Web does have some drawbacks, particularly for children who may not have the greatest judgement or the highest self-esteem at this point in their lives. The culture of Ask.fm is one such drawback.

So what can parents do?

I would suggest talking to your kids about cyberbullying and online safety 6 Internet Safety Games To Help Kids Become Cyber Smart 6 Internet Safety Games To Help Kids Become Cyber Smart Digital education is not only about learning how to program or use a software; it’s also a lot about knowing the who the villain among the bits and bytes could be. With the age of... Read More and advising them to stay away from places like Ask.fm. You could also take a technical approach and install parental controls on your home computer Internet Safety For Your Kids: Enable Parental Control On Windows 8 Internet Safety For Your Kids: Enable Parental Control On Windows 8 The Internet opens great possibilities and countless risks, especially for children. Windows 8 has a built-in parental control called Family Safety. It enables the system administrator to monitor the activity of other users. Read More  to block access to such sites. Because Ask.fm does not actively police the content on its platform, the responsibility rests on you as a parent to keep your kids safe.

What do you think about Ask.fm? Should the company be held responsible for the terrible behavior of some of its users? Have you or has anyone you know experienced cyberbullying or sexual harassment online? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

  1. Raveesh Agarwal
    April 17, 2015 at 12:31 pm

    this will be my first comment on muo. And I like the article and what you're doing. :-) thank you.

    the kids are fragile and simple in nature. as we become adults we forget the sensitivity we had as kids and what we were.

    It becomes in our nature to expect adult behaviour and wisdom from kids..

    Its so so wrong. we as adults must take responsibility and actions to make this world not only Internet as a whole more and more friendly towards kids. That purity deserves to be protected. That's not weakness or weak heartedness. That's innocence. a sentiment as I read the comment second I see that a huge number of people (monsters now) have long forgotten.

    thankfully the author hasn't. Thank you.
    thank you very much mr author for the effort. :-)

    • Brad Merrill
      May 31, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      Thanks so much for the comment, Raveesh! Agreed on all points. :-)

  2. Rune
    April 17, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Are some people for real? Many comments proves the authors point exactly, without even understanding it themselves :)

    • Brad Merrill
      May 31, 2015 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks, Rune. Glad you took the article in the spirit it was intended. :-)

  3. CB
    April 17, 2015 at 7:01 am

    I appreciate knowing about sites like Ask, thanks.

    • Brad Merrill
      May 31, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      No worries. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Eddie G.
    April 17, 2015 at 5:18 am

    I guess for the less tech-savvy this might be a problem, but seeing as how I'm a Systems Administrator...I've already "blocked" Facebook.....Twitter.....Ask.Fm....and a slew of other sites from crossing the threshold of my home network. I have a teenage son, and he's quite smart, but I don't allow him to go to any kind of social media that I cannot monitor....(I've only recently let him get on Facebook!) and I monitor all the IP traffic that comes and goes from their home server address. So if / when I see something inappropriate on my network, I will investigate and intercept, and if need be....terminate. There IS such a thing as bullying, but I don't subscribe to the "cyber" part. Just like when you're watching a television show that doesn't interest you...you can turn the TV off...the same applies to the internet....there is the power button on the PC. turn it off and go find something more meaningful to do. I don't deny nor refute the girls' feelings as to how they spoke to her online, but the parents can extinguish this quickly by stepping in and becoming the buffer from the ignorant and totally cold-hearted comments. posted on there. It's funny that when people are signed onto a site anonymously they have all the bravery, all the bravado, all the "mouth" in the world....but if you ever find out who they are....if they're ever discovered or found out? all of a sudden their "ball$" shrivel to the size of raisins and their voices shrink to a falsetto. I don't have that problem...nor do I entertain it in my household or my life. For those people who have nothing better to do with their lives but sit in front of their PC and write comments to and about people...I feel sorry for them. The world....and Life is passing them by. Amanda? Ignore the comments of "Anonymous" there's obviously no sense in arguing with that type of person. And I pray that your daughter will "rise above" the comments placed on Ask.FM.....

  5. SBH
    April 17, 2015 at 12:55 am

    What purpose do sites like this serve? Why would young people hang out on sites like this? I can certainly see why a sexual predator would. How does a site like this make money? If a parent or responsible adult wants to eliminate sites like this all that needs to be done is eliminate the profitability. Our young people are too valuable to this nation to lose even one person. At 53 years of age and being an accomplished business man it seems rather odd that name calling and what not can have such a devastating effect on young people that they would "cut themselves" or worse. All you kids need to learn to love your selves. You need to understand that when someone tries to cut you down it is because THEY have a very low self esteem and hurting you makes them feel bigger. The best revenge is getting an education and living a good life. You can say "hello" to your tormentors later in life when they hand you your burger and fries at the drive through window and gawk at your expensive sports car. Thats what you need to do to those who bully you

    • dragonmouth
      April 17, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      "What purpose do sites like this serve? Why would young people hang out on sites like this?"
      What purpose does Facebook serve? Why do people hang out on Facebook? Why do kids hang out in malls or on corners? Ever hear of social networking?

      Over your lifetime you have learned how to deal with bullies, harassers and naysayers. You have grown a thick skin. You are reasoning as an adult. You have forgotten how things were when you were a child. You need to put yourself in the shoes of 11-14 year old. To them, their peers' opinions are very important. Very few children in this age group can say"If you don't like me, it is your loss, not mine" and move on with life. In fact, there are many adults who can cannot do that. They take offense at anything negative that is said to them.

  6. Anonymous
    April 16, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    This is ridiculous. When you have a profile on Ask.fm, you are May choose which questions you will answer. So if you do not like the question being asked, simply ignore it. Also, you have the option to block the sender of an offensive message. This keeps them from posting questions on your account ever again. My opinion is, that like many things in life, this website is not made for those who are weak or easily butthurt.

  7. Leah
    April 16, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    I have ask.fm but I had no idea what it actually was because I haven't checked it out. This article is very informative as it is quite different than what I had in mind.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks, Leah! Appreciate the comment. :-)

  8. Dan
    April 16, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    That can hardly be called bullying. In addition it isn't really possible to genuinely harass someone on a platform like that. It is absolutely nothing like being trapped in school and being harassed in person all day, every day.

    All the sexual ones show that in fact every quoted user is entirely savvy, and responds accordingly. Contrary to what people may believe children learn early on. The internet hasn't changed that.

    Seriously if those examples are the best you can do this looks like the usual scaremongering.

  9. Objective One
    April 16, 2015 at 9:05 am

    The Internet is a mine field of perverts and filth. Anonymity brings out the worst in people as can be verified by the posts in this section. Parents do need help raising their children and those who think differently don't need to have children. More than likely, it is the perverts themselves who are speaking out against this very helpful article, afraid they might miss out on the opportunity to abuse someone on ask. If you're any type of decent parent at all you will heed what the author has written. If not, then keep your comments to yourself and stay off the Internet as you obviously aren't mature enough to handle this much freedom of expression responsibly.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      Agreed - thanks for reading, and thanks for the comment!

  10. Imaduddin
    April 16, 2015 at 4:24 am

    LOL, I don't know why these guys are writing against your article in the comments.

    MUO just gave a review of the site ( like many others ) and told while giving three main reasons why Ask.fm is not a good place for kids.

    And even then, you are asking 'em eh, why is MUO telling the parents what they should do ?

    You know, you are not FORCED to follow what MUO says, they are just advising you based on some reasons, then it's your choice if you agree with them or not. After all, MUO guys aren't a bunch of hackers who'll hack into your computer and ban Ask.fm ? ( or are they :) )

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      Haha - thanks for reading, and for understanding! :-)

  11. bob
    April 16, 2015 at 3:54 am

    who the hell are you to tell parents what their children should do??

    • Raveesh Agarwal
      April 17, 2015 at 12:47 pm

      it isn't the author that is hell. Its what parents and children and all the good people go through because of existence of people like you. :-)

  12. Amanda
    April 16, 2015 at 3:30 am

    My teenage daughter has type 1 Diabetes, someone on ask.fm told her to just die and to kill her self and that she has diabetes because she so fat, which is not true she's not over weight, her pancreas has never worked, but I guess that's beside the point, this was so hard on her, she cried everyday all day for two weeks, it was very hard to see her in so much pain, I tried to contact with ask.fm to have them remove the horrible things they where sent to my daughter, but they told me everything was anonymous, they had no way to track anything.. I yelled at her to never get on that site again, I'm sure she has, they should have sites like this, it's putting kids life's in danger, what if my daughter had actually kid her self over this stupid site!

    • Jason
      April 17, 2015 at 1:16 am

      I notice an anonymous response to a comment on an article calling out the dangers of anonymous communication online. In this anonymous response is an insulting statement insinuating that a victim is somehow responsible for their own victimization. The reason given - she should "...log out of the site, and spend time with kinder people. The Internet is not made for people who are offended too easily. [sic]" At this point I must ask; is this a reasoned argument or simply the 'knee-jerk' reaction of someone who enjoys making anonymous inflammatory comments for the sake of offending someone else needlessly? It is my conclusion that this anonymous comment has accomplished nothing more than proving the premise of the article. Amanda, my prayer goes out for your family. Such arrogant egoism, as described in this article and demonstrated by some who have commented on it, is simply reprehensible. I submit, for all who read this, that the internet was made neither for self-indulgent, immature people to make asinine comments, nor for such to ask rude and imperinent questions of anyone, most especially of children. The fact that we have such freedom in no way excuses such behavior.

    • Raveesh Agarwal
      April 17, 2015 at 12:44 pm

      I will whole heartedly wish that Mr. anonymous above is dead and burning in hell by now :-)

      you said that your daughter's pancreas never worked. do consider the fact that the master gland is pituitary and hypothalamus. so with proper diet, natural living, maybe some naturotherapeutics, yoga and reflexology... i suggest she will be fine. I had type c. I know there is a lot of difference but I am no longer diabetic.

      what doctors tell you is the science they know. diabetes is very curable. If someone can anonymously try to destroy I will try to help :-) annonymously.

      do try to search for..

      "mandukasana"
      "shirodhara"
      "steam bath"
      "hot foot bath"
      "enema"
      "mud pack.of the stomach "

      I hope these give you new hope :-)

      as far as parenting is concerned I know she has a wonderful mom with her. Nothing will happen to her she's a very very strong girl :-)

      an anonymous stranger.

    • Mihir Patkar
      April 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      Thanks for commenting, Amanda, Jason and Raveesh. Sorry about the inflammatory comment from that Anonymous user. It has been deleted now.

      We're usually pretty tolerant here at MakeUseOf, but I do think that Anonymous could have made his/her point better, without resorting to the examples and tone they used.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 9:10 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Amanda. The effects of cyberbullying are very real, and it's sad that more isn't being done to police it.

  13. Anno Y. Muss
    April 16, 2015 at 2:31 am

    Basically any site that doesn't have a full time moderator is a minefield of comments like the ones listed in the article. Anonymity plays a big role in how brazen some people are, but not by much. Making your own user name anything other than your real name gives the still developing adolescent mind the green light to say whatever pops in their heads.

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Yep. It's interesting (and frightening) to see what happens when you give people anonymity.

  14. A Grandma
    April 16, 2015 at 2:05 am

    Thanks for the heads up on this site. Parents do need to be aware of where their kids are going on line. And they need to keep talking to them about the dangers. Even if the kids don't want to listen, they'll still hear you!

    • Brad Merrill
      June 12, 2015 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks for reading and commenting! You're absolutely right.

  15. James Korn
    April 15, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    I really doubt that parents need you to tell them of how to raise their children, they have enough problems with the department of education trying to do that.

    • Christopher M.
      April 16, 2015 at 2:15 am

      Lot of hate today. I really don't think that he's trying to tell them what they can and cannot let their kids do. This is a website for advice and opinions. It's more of an informative article for parents about Ask.fm.

      Just a note. This is pretty much the same thing that happens of Ask.fm. People being pricks because they can be anonymous.

      Good job proving the writers point.
      That man deserves a DB.

      • Brad Merrill
        June 12, 2015 at 8:31 pm

        Thanks, Christopher. Glad you took the article in the spirit it was intended.

    • dragonmouth
      April 17, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      "I really doubt that parents need you to tell them of how to raise their children"
      Judging by the way their little darlings act, many parents DO need someone to teach them how to raise their children.

  16. Maria A. Foster
    April 15, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Don't tell me where my kids should and shouldn't go you perv.

    • Gary Mundy
      April 16, 2015 at 3:55 am

      Very mature. Trying to bully someone that is calling out a site that allows bullying. Name calling? Really? Why?

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