These are just some of the questions that get asked on ask.fm, a social media site that allows users to invite anonymous answers. Kids put those kinds of questions out there in the hopes that they will learn the “truth” from people who don’t feel compelled to spare their feelings.
They hope the “truth” turns out to be good news: No, you don’t look fat. Yes, she truly likes you. I am your real friend xoxo.
But too often, it doesn’t work out that way.
Freed by guarantees of anonymity and emboldened by the computer screen standing between them and the person they are hurting, kids can say terrible, hurtful things. Ask.fm is often involved in cyberbullying incidents — from casual cruelty to death threats. There have been a number of bullying-related suicides linked to use of the site, and one British family has released a public statement asking that the site be taken down following the suicide of their 16-year-old son.
Launched in 2010 as a rival to similar sites like Formspring and Honesty Box, Ask.fm has since surpassed them in popularity. The Latvian-based site reportedly has over 40 million members. The site can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, so questions can be posted to friends and followers. Ask.fm has courted controversy because it doesn’t have any of the reporting, tracking or parental control processes you can find on other social media sites. (Click to Tweet.)
Some schools in the UK and Hong Kong have sent out letters to parents advising them not to allow their children to use Ask.fm.
What do parents need to know?
- Sites that allow anonymity reduce inhibitions. Kids who wouldn’t be cruel face-to-face and don’t get to see the consequences of their actions may feel justified saying hurtful things online.
- Seriously consider telling your children they are not allowed to use Ask.fm. For more information, stories of bullying online and support from other parents dealing with the fallout from ask.fm-related incidents, check out this popular Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/AskFmShouldBeDeleted.
- Whether you allow your child to use the site or not, have a conversation with them about civility online, flaming, and how anonymity might change how people act.
- If you choose to allow your child to use Ask.fm, show them how to use the privacy tab in their settings to block anonymous posts, so that all comments are linked to the names of account holders.
- Users can also create a blacklist to block comments and posts from those known to be cruel and/or aggressive online.
- If your child chooses to link Ask.fm with their Facebook account, they can adjust the settings in Facebook so that posts are seen by the following: public, friends, only me or custom settings (allowing them to choose specific friends).
- Supervise your kids’ activities online, especially on sites such as these. At minimum, you should have their username/ password and sit down with them once in a while to monitor what’s happening online.
- If your child is involved in a bullying incident on Ask.fm, tell them not to respond. The best option is to delete the app and account. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Ask.fm does not have any formal reporting mechanism, so you cannot get the perpetrator blocked by the site.
- For more information for parents about Ask.fm, consult this Webwise Guide.