Open Letter from Ask.fm

The following is re-posted from Ask.fm’s web site. The original content can be found at http://ask.fm/open_letter.html

Thursday, 8 August.

We would firstly like to again express our sincerest sympathies to the family of Hannah Smith, whose death was a true tragedy. As we ask_2636875bexplained to the press earlier this week, as soon as we heard the news we approached the Leicestershire police and have been speaking to them throughout this week. We are committed to supporting the Leicestershire police in their investigation to ensure that they are able to uncover the true circumstances surrounding Hannah’s suicide.

We ask the press and public to respect that for legal and privacy reasons neither we – nor the police – are able to discuss the circumstances surrounding Hannah’s case any further.  We will therefore not be giving any interviews on this subject.

However, in view of the unprecedented press interest in the role of social media platforms such as Ask.fm, Facebook, Twitter and others, we would like to reassure all users and parents of users that we are committed to ensuring that our site is a safe environment.  We do not condone bullying of any kind, or any form of unacceptable use of our site.

We have implemented various measures over the past months to continue to improve our users’ safety, and we have implemented improved reporting policies. We have been working with experts at the UK’s Safer Internet Centre, and thus the wider EU InSafe organisation, and are in constant discussions with them regarding our privacy and safety policies and the ways in which we may be able to enhance them. This is an on-going activity, which Ask.fm is wholly committed to.

In view of this week’s events, we wish to highlight a number of existing “safety” features available for users for Ask.fm:

  1.         The site has an ‘in-question’ reporting function, which has been in place since 2012, and is similar to the in-Tweet function announced by Twitter this week.  This feature enables our users to report with just one click any question that they may find objectionable or offensive.
  2.         It is integral to the site that users should have control over what appears on their Ask.fm feed.  We have never allowed questions to be published on the site before they’ve been answered. Thus – if a user receives a question that they find objectionable or offensive, they don’t need to respond and we encourage them to report the question to us.
  3.         We believe one of our site’s advantages is that everything is open – rather than hidden in private inboxes.  This means that anyone can report anything they see that may be of concern. If parents see something on their teenager’s Ask.fm page that they are concerned about, they too can click the in-question reporting button and alert our moderators.
  4.         Anonymity can be switched off in a user’s privacy settings – our users have always been able to elect not to receive anonymous questions, and equally our users can also elect never to ask an anonymous question.
  5.         Although it is possible to post anonymously to the site, we would like to reassure parents that in almost all cases it is possible for Ask.fm to identify users – through IP technology, everything on the internet is traceable – and in extreme circumstances such as those we’ve experienced this week we work through existing legal frameworks to ensure this information is accessible to the appropriate legal authorities.
  6.         While many sites use automated machines to monitor content, we have a team of human moderators that works around the clock – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days per year.  They manually check every photograph or video that is posted to our site – ensuring that anything of a sexual, pornographic or violent nature is removed.  Our moderators also read and deal appropriately with every concern or report that is raised by a user; we remove content if we feel it infringes our Terms of Service.
  7.         We have a direct working relationship between Ask.fm and the EU’s InSafe organisation. This means that if a concern is ever raised through the EU InSafe channels, they have a designated contact liaison at Ask.fm.
  8.         We comply with the United State’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (1998) and we are working with a renowned expert to ensure that our moderation policies continue to lead the way in this area.

As we stated above, we are constantly working to improve our site, including its safety features. We are currently working on a series of updates with more safety features and information.

In view of some of the recent press reporting, what is important to note is that the vast majority of our users are using the site appropriately and are just having fun.  However, we would like to reiterate that it’s really important that anyone who sees anything they do not like or feel uncomfortable with uses the appropriate reporting mechanisms to bring these issues to our team’s attention as soon as possible.

Our site has grown rapidly over the past year and one of our greatest challenges (like any fast growing business) has been ensuring that our internal resources and capabilities are able to expand at a proportional and appropriate rate.  We strive to ensure we have the best people and this includes our moderators and customer services staff, where we have invested heavily to reflect this growth.  We will continue to do this.

We hope that this corrects some of the recent media reports and offers reassurance to our users and their parents that our site has safety features which are in-line with, if not better than, other social networking sites.

The vast majority of our users are very happy teenagers, who use Ask.fm to converse with their peers around the world about the things that interest them.  Bullying is an age-old problem that we in no way condone – and while its evolution online is disturbing, it certainly is not unique to our site. We will continue to work with the appropriate organisations to safeguard against bullying on Ask.fm – and we would welcome the opportunity to align with the rest of industry and society in fighting it on a higher level.

We are proud of the phenomenal popularity of the social network we have created and strive every day to make it better and safer.

Mark and Ilja Terebin

 

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