On June 7th, parents with children in the Scarsdale Middle School received an email from the school warning them against the use of a social media website called ask.fm. The school reported that students have been using the site to “post hurtful and inappropriate material.”
The email from the school read as follows, “ASK.FM is a social networking site where teens can send and receive anonymous questions and comments. Teens can connect to this website through their Facebook and AIM accounts. The website allows for online conversations and does not require that teens reveal their identities. We have learned that some of our students have innocently set up ask.fm accounts hoping to hear positive affirmations from their peers. However, the temptation to use this site for cyber-bullying and harassing other teens is prevalent.”
The school urged parents to find out if their children were using ask.fm and to warn them against possible bullying on the site. They told parents to check their child’s Facebook or Aim pages to see if they were registered for ask.fm. In addition, they recommended that parents monitor their children’s internet activity and keep the computer in a common area so that they can keep an eye on what their kids are doing online.
Here is what we learned about ask.fm:
Ask.fm allows users to create a profile with their picture and information about themselves. Users can access the profiles of other users and can choose to ask a user any question anonymously or to include their user information along with the question. Ask.fm is a multimillion dollar company and has about 760,000 visits a day. Formspring served as a model for ask.fm as well as other Q&A sites. Formspring, which essentially has the same format as ask.fm launched in 2009 and was an instant success.
However, sites like ask.fm and Formspring have been subject to criticism recently. As users can anonymously say whatever they want to other users, these sites have led to cyberbullying and even suicides. In 2010, a West Islip graduate committed suicide after being harassed on Formspring. In 2011, a 15-year-old girl took her life after abuse on Formspring.
The anonymity of these websites gives teenagers the freedom to write anything they wish without fear. These sites are meant to be forums for teenagers to get to know each other better or for celebrities to connect with their fans. However, the unintended consequences of these websites may outweigh the potential benefits as some of the anonymous comments have been hurtful and damaging.