Cyberbullying: We Still Need to Be On Alert

Truth be told, tracking down any solid numbers on cyberbullying has proven hard. I know because I have spent the better part of the night searching for them. In all of this, I have found many conflicting statistics on the subject. This is mostly because the surveys being run are among smaller, control demographics.

One thing that I can say for certain simply based on recent news stories is that issues of cyberbullying have been on the rise over the last year.

In Pennsylvania police are investigating the death of a 9th grade student, Julia Morath, stating that bullying may have pushed her to commit suicide. In Michigan, 11-year-old Tysen Benz committed suicide after being pranked on social media. And in California, two Marines (out of almost 500 being investigated) are facing punishment in a sex-shaming and cyberbullying incident.

While great strides have been made over the past decade to put an end to bullying, these stories only stand to prove that we need to continue working towards safer schools, communities and cyberspace for our kids.

Now, more than ever, is a time when parents and educators need to come together to bring this topic back into the spotlight in schools and encourage students to be on the lookout for bullying behavior and work together to put an end to it.

So many times issues of bullying are a flash in the pan conversation. While assemblies, rallies and awareness weeks are a great start they should never be an end game, they need to be the start of something bigger.

One of my biggest goals for 2017 is to find ways to continue to work with schools and communities to continue the conversations begun during my visits.

With the school year winding down over the next few weeks, I encourage teachers to find ways to bring lessons on bullying into the classroom before students are set off for the summer months. All too often we start to see incidents of cyberbullying spike while students are on break from school.

Bullies don’t take a vacation.

Plant the seed in their heads now to take care of themselves and their community during this time outside of school.

Now is also a good time to start looking at programs to bring in during the early months of the coming school year. September is “Back to School Month” as well as home to “Suicide Prevention Week.” October is “Bullying Prevention Month” as well as “Cyber Security Month” as well as home to “World Day of Bullying Prevention”, GLAAD’s “Spirit Day” and “National Character Counts Week.”

Take advantage of these opportunities to get students energized and use them as a launching point for continued conversations throughout the year.

From there it is important to keep that conversation going. Have student create posters to hang around the school highlighting the messages they learned. Find teachable moments from the news to help keep them aware of issues happening in real-time in the real world.

Over the coming weeks and leading into the new school year, I will be posting more on this and many more topics so please be sure to follow or subscribe to stay updated!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

 

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Twitter Polls Become Cyberbullying Tool

In late October of this year Twitter introduced a new way for its 500 million users to interact with one another by launching Twitter Polls. While Twitter has always offered ways for users to gather information and opinions TwitterPollsthrough hashtags or simply having users cast their vote through either retweet or favorites, this new polling option offers an easier alternative. While the poll questions and tallies are public information, who voted and how is kept anonymous.

Unfortunately, teens across the world have twisted this new option into a new form of cyberbullying.

Since being launched, reports of cyberbullying through Twitter polls have surfaced in middle and high schools in Utah, Montana, and Michigan.

How the Polls Work

The Twitter polling system is rather simple in nature. Users ask a question TwitterPolls02and can add up to four options as an answer. Once the poll has been broadcast the ability to respond remains active for 24 hours before polling is closed.

How Students Are Using It

In some cases, students have stated that the polls being posted were just jokes but soon they took a turn for the worse. Some polls being posted included: “Who is the Ugliest Girl In School”, “Who is Dumber: John or a Brick”, “Who is the Biggest Slut?” While the polling closes after 24 hours, the results remain on the account.

Is This Cyberbullying?

Absolutely! Bullying is defined by actions that are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviors intended to harm another. Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “When the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.” These polls have added an entirely new level to this.

Who Is Responsible: Parents or School?

I’ve spent the last hour pouring over all of the articles regarding this subject and there seems to be a common theme- no one wants to take responsibility over the issue. One school principal currently dealing with this issue had this to say in one story, ” the school has no connection to or control over the polls. That hasn’t stopped parents calling the school with concerns about what is being posted. He said he hopes Twitter can shut the accounts down before one of the polls leads to tragedy.”

I bring this up because it seems to be a common theme when it comes to social media, bullying and the law.

It’s important to first remember that each state has a different law when it comes to bullying both online and off. To learn more about your state’s law, I encourage you to visit bullypolice.org for a breakdown.

From there I want to remind both educators and parents that when it comes to raising our kids it takes a village. It’s corny. It’s overused. It’s true.

It’s important that communities work together to educate and prevent these issues from coming up in the first place.

Rather than turn myself into a broken record, I’m going to point you to an entry that I wrote last year regarding internet safety: Teaching Internet Safety: It Takes A Village. While a bulk of this entry talks about internet safety, I think the lesson can be applied to situations surrounding bulling. From there I’ll also recommend another entry for parents: Fight The Bully: What Parents Can Do.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Bullies Don’t Take a Vacation

I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older that each year seems to go by faster and faster. 2015 was no exception. I can barely remember Halloween and my tree is up and my halls are decked. The holiday season has arrived!

Winter vacation is quickly approaching and people all over the world are gearing up to spend more time with friends and family. This downtime also means kids will be spending more time in the cyber world and unfortunately, bullies don’t take a vacation.

ID-100112944With this in mind, it’s important that parents and educators take the time to remind kids how to handle situations involving bullies whether they are online or off. This is a great time to have a conversations with kids about your expectations for responsible online usage and remind them what action to take when dealing with bullies.

Some Quick Facts On Bullying

  • 7in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying.
  • 37%of them are experiencing cyberbullying on a highly frequent basis.
  • 20%of young people are experiencing extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis.
  • Facebook (including Instagram), Ask.FM and Twitter found to be the most likely sources of cyberbullying, being the highest in traffic of all social networks.
  • Cyberbullying found to have catastrophic effects upon the self-esteem and social lives of up to70%of young people.

Your Top Tool: Communication

When it comes to students the one item I have on repeat is “take time to think.” For parents it’s much simpler: “COMMUNICATE!”

A tidbit I share all the time is how my mother raised us. Rather than lecturing about one issue or another, she would ask what we knew about something. She would take the time to get to know what we were into and who we were friends with.

It was an easier time for her with the lack of mobile technology and social media but I think that this ideal can easily translate into the digital world.

Stay on top of what is going on in the world by following news stories about bullying and other online issues and talk to your kids about them. Ask them what they have heard and if they have any thoughts about what is going on.

Checking in with them regularly and having conversations will help them feel more comfortable coming to you in the future with these types of issues.

By avoiding going into lecture mode, you will be establishing a great sense of trust for your kids. That’s what I loved about my mom. She hardly yelled or lectured and in turn we were more likely to come to her with problems.

Why Kids Don’t Report Bullying

1) Consequences- Technology has become an essential part of daily life and therefore people’s social lives. Many kids fear that if they report being harassed through digital means, parents will ban them or take away access to technology.

2) Humiliation- Many kids are afraid that when an incident is reported to parents or teachers they will appear weak or stupid in the eyes of their classmates.

3) Fear of Making It Worse-In addition to classmates learning of them telling, many kids fear that the bully will continue their harassments and even enlist others to take part.

Dealing with the Issues

So what to do when your child comes to you with an issue? Keep that communication going.

Ask your child what they would like you to do with the information they have given you. Do they simply want you to be aware of what is happening or would they like you to take action. If action is the answer, what kind? Talk to the other child’s parents? Talk to school administrators?

Let them be a part of the decision making and they will feel more in control for themselves. It will teach them the valuable skill of standing up for themselves and not always relying on someone else (mommy or daddy) to take care of all their problems.

Let them know that you are always and forever on their side no matter what!

Have your own thoughts? Please feel free to share them below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Image courtesy of Marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

New Ask.fm Owner Wants To Eliminate Bullying, Moves Company to the US

In summer of 2013, popular social networking site Ask.fm brought bullying back to the forefront of the minds of people around the world, sparking debates on privacy and digital responsibility (see What Parents Should Know About Ask.FM)

askfmofficeThe site allowed users to interact anonymously by asking and responding to questions. Naturally, young users took advantage of the ability to remain in the shadows of the internet and took to posting mean, threatening and harassing comments to users leading to a number of bullying related suicides.

In a quite deal for an undisclosed amount of money, Ask.fm has been purchased by the owners of popular dating app Tinder and will be moving the company to the United States.

The company behind the deal, IAC, will be working in conjunction with the New York Attorney General’s office and investing “millions” into making the web site safer for users.

A statement by the NYAG’s office reads:

Under the terms of the agreement, Ask.fm will revamp its safety policies and procedures, including creating a new online Safety Center, hiring a trust and safety officer to act as a primary safety contact, and establishing a Safety Advisory Board to oversee all safety issues. Ask.fm will also review user complaints within 24 hours and remove users that have been the subject of multiple complaints. An independent safety and security examiner will be appointed to examine the changes and report on compliance to the Attorney General’s Office for three years.

This is a major relief to parents and educators alike who have seen the site growing in popularity since its introduction in 2010. Today it boasts over 130 million users with roughly 700 posts made each second.

The brothers responsible for the founding of the web site will no longer be involved with its operations as a part of the deal.

“They had a laissez-faire, libertarian attitude,”  according Chief Executive of IAC, Doug Leeds, emphasizing that under the new regime, threats of violence and other distressing content would “not be welcome”.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Imagine Dragons: Cyberbullies?

Anyone that has met me know that I have a sense of humor. Sometimes it’s a bit bleak but I always understand there’s a time and a place. If I spot something that seems out of place, shocking or funny I will gladly point it out to a friend to share a laugh or perhaps relive the tale later.

The last thing I would do is take that same moment and share it with over 9 million people.ImagineDragons0

On June 27, 2014 that’s exactly what was done by Imagine Dragons.

While walking through an airport in Sweden one of the band members spotted a man wearing what is referred to as a mankini (I think).  Now, I can totally see nudging my buddies to take a look and share a look of “what” and leave it at that. The band took it one step further by videotaping and man and posting the video to both their Instagram and Facebook pages. The combine total of their following on these sites is just shy of 10 million people.

I first saw the video on my Instagram feed and was very upset at what I was seeing (I’m having trouble embedding the video here but it can be found on their Facebook page in the June 27th posts.).  I took the time to compose my thoughts and posted them on the comments for both the Instagram and Facebook posts.

” Dear Imagine Dragons, I am going to kindly request that you remove this video from this and any other feeds. Whether you realize it or not, this is a form of cyberbullying and sending the wrong message to your 9 million plus followers here on Facebook. I know for a fact that many young people look up to you as role models and inspirations and by posting a video like this and laughing at someone who is different, you are delivering the idea that doing something like this is not only okay, but funny. I am a big fan of yours, with your CD playing almost non-stop in my car and seeing something like this on your feed is greatly disappointing. Please consider the impact that you have on the beliefs and values of your fans before posting photos and videos such as this. Imagine this person is a fan of yours and sees himself on your Facebook feed being made fun of. How do you think that would make him feel? How would it feel if someone did this to you. You have the unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many and that is not something that should be taken lightly. Thank you.”

As it has been a number of weeks since this has taken place and the video remains intact, it’s safe to assume that my comments have gone unnoticed by the band. They, however, did not go unnoticed by fans who were quick to stand by the band’s actions (click image to enlarge and read).

ImagineDragons006

Rather than getting into a heated debate with these and other comments I decided to sit down here and share my full thoughts on this.

While I completely agree that it was never the band’s intentions to bully this gentlemen, their actions led others to negative actions and comments.  It took a while to find a comment “tame” enough to share. While many were just admiration of the band, others took ImagineDragons003their comments to the offensive level, sharing slurs and worse. Whether people realize it or not, this is a form of bullying and invasion of privacy.

Yes, this man was dressed in a way that certainly grabs your attention and I’m certain that the band aren’t the only ones that snapped photos and shared on social networking sites. But they were the ones with millions of followers.

As I mentioned in my comment to them, they are setting the standard for their fans. I have seen so many comments on their posts about how much they inspire people through good and bad. That is a lot of power to have and not something to take lightly.

Again, I’m one for a good chuckle but broadcasting this out to millions around the world is a bit much. It’s sharing the message that doing this is funny and okay. This is telling their millions of young fans that they can do this do and watch it go viral.

But you have to take the time to think of the people on the other side of this. Again, yes, clearly this man was wanting attention but how much? Based on some comments I read, this was more than likely a dare for a bachelor party. Something shared among those seeing it and that’s it.

Imagine Dragons gave him worldwide attention that perhaps he didn’t want.

It’s important to take a step back and think about actions. This is something I’m constantly telling my student audiences. Just because we have the power to share something with the world, doesn’t mean we should.

I’m once again going to ask that the band please remove this video from their feeds and take time to consider the full impact of their posts in the future.

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Fight the Bully: What Parents Can Do

I get asked a lot of questions. Seriously, I’ll show you my inbox sometime. It’s truthfully one of the best parts of my job, being able to impart wisdom that I have picked up from over five years of travelling around the United States and talking with people. ID-10063311Of all the questions I get asked, the biggest from parents has to do with the issue of bullying both in the real world and the digital. For myself and even my parents growing up, when it came to bullies we were told to “suck it up” and that it was a part of growing up. More and more we are learning that these attitudes are dangerous when it comes to the health and safety of our children. It’s not as simple as sucking it up. The digital world has changed how we interact with one another and that goes for bullying. The advent of social media and mobile technology has created a breeding ground for issues that are constant, permanent and unavoidable. Some Quick Facts On Bullying

  • 7in 10 young people are victims of cyberbullying.
  • 37%of them are experiencing cyberbullying on a highly frequent basis.
  • 20%of young people are experiencing extreme cyberbullying on a daily basis.
  • Facebook, Ask.FM and Twitter found to be the most likely sources of cyberbullying, being the highest in traffic of all social networks.
  • Cyberbullying found to have catastrophic effects upon the self-esteem and social lives of up to70%of young people.

Your Top Tool: Communication When it comes to students the one item I have on repeat is “take time to think.” For parents it’s much simpler: “COMMUNICATE!”

A tidbit I share all the time is how my mother raised us. Rather than lecturing about one issue or another, she would ask what we knew about something. She would take the time to get to know what we were into and who we were friends with. It was an easier time for her with the lack of mobile technology and social media but I think that this ideal can easily translate into the digital world.

Stay on top of what is going on in the world by following news stories about bullying and other online issues and talk to your kids about them. Ask them what they have heard and if they have any thoughts about what is going on. Checking in with them regularly and having conversations will help them feel more comfortable coming to you in the future with these types of issues.

By avoiding going into lecture mode, you will be establishing a great sense of trust for your kids. That’s what I loved about my mom. She hardly yelled or lectured and in turn we were more likely to come to her with problems.

Dealing with the Issues So what to do when your child comes to you with an issue? Keep that communication going. Ask your child what they would like you to do with the information they have given you. Do they simply want you to be aware of what is happening or would they like you to take action. If action is the answer, what kind? Talk to the other child’s parents? Talk to school administrators? Let them be a part of the decision making and they will feel more in control for themselves. It will teach them the valuable skill of standing up for themselves and not always relying on someone else (mommy or daddy) to take care of all their problems. Let them know that you are always and forever on their side no matter what!

Have your own thoughts? Please feel free to share them below!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Britney, Pitch…

Okay. I was fully planning on getting back into blogging this week with some amazing and thoughtful posts about identity theft, the first lady, and surviving Ikea. While those are all coming, I was bombarded on Facebook by a completely insane story gone viral.

Britney SpearsBritney Spears.

A supposed track by Britney Spears without auto-tune was “leaked” onto the internet and people are going insane.

As it was the top story in my trending topics on Facebook, I took the bait and gave it a listen. It’s not the greatest, but in listening you can tell that something is up.

Please take a quick listen for yourself:

And here we have the power of the internet.

I have been a fan of Britney Spears since day one and I know she isn’t perfect. I remember being shocked hearing her sing live during the “Femme Fetale Tour” because the “Circus Tour” had been fully phoned in.

Once the track hit the internet the conspiracy nuts went crazy and the ‘Alien’ producer William Orbit was quick to defend the singer in an online statement. He claims that it was a warm up session.

I think it was all for not.

Listening to the track on the Perez Hilton site (this same track was posted to the Huffington Post) I think it’s obvious that the CD version was manipulated by someone with too much time and a decent computer.

Another reason why I’m calling “BS” on this whole thing is that there was now at least three different versions of this “leaked” track circulating around the net.

I am taking the time to write about this because it shows the power the internet has over people. Britney has been the subject of scrutiny since day one and I will admit that some of it is justified. This however, is a fantastic example of cyberbullying.

People are attacking Britney and saying some pretty terrible things. Thankfully she has been dealing with by using my rule #1 when it comes to bullies: Don’t Respond.

The Britney camp has yet to respond this track in any way with the statement from Orbit being a standalone response.

I think Chris Crocker said it best, “Leave Britney alone!”

Let’s focus on bigger issues people and don’t believe anything you find online without researching it a bit, especially if it shows up on your Facebook trending feed.

Thanks.

What Parents Should Know About Yik Yak

We’re back with the “What Parents Should Know” series. This entry is ripped straight from the headlines in my own backyard after a pair of bomb threats caused Marblehead High School caused an evacuation. This isn’t the first issue schools are having with the app as rumors of violence and instances of cyberbullying are running wild within the three-month old app.

Yik_Yak

About the App (from the Android Store): Yik Tak is anonymous, local and social – interact with other around you by posting Yaks… With Yik Yak, you can talk about anything and everything- share your stories anonymously… Yik Yak lets you post anonymously or under an alias.

As you can see, one of the biggest problems with the app is a user’s ability to remain anonymous. This is allowing people to post anything they’d like without fear of repercussion.

Upon downloading the app I quickly learned that users enjoy the anonymity because the app doesn’t require that a profile be set up. Once you have the app loaded you are good to go with posting. The app works off your phone’s GPS, allowing a user to see and be seen by the 500 closest users within a 5 mile radius of your location.

Given the lack of profiles on the app my normal method of reporting on an app isn’t going to work so I’m going to bullet point the pertinent information.

Age Restriction: the app is limited to users 17 and over or “mature.” However this is moot if age and maturity restrictions are not set on your child’s phone.

Location: in order to use the app, your phone’s GPS must be broadcasting your location

Content: The app actively encourages users to share anything and everything. It then allows other users in range to “upvote” on the story. While posts are limited to 200 characters this hasn’t seemed to stop users from getting into trouble.

Anonymity isn’t real: Police arrested a student after receiving help from Yik Yak to locate user who had posted threatening material on the app. You’re not as safe as you think you are.MHSbombthreat2a

Reporting Inappropriate Content: The app does allow for users to report inappropriate content. One way is to click the “report inappropriate” button a post. The catch being that it takes multiple reports for the app to take action. Users can also screenshot the content and e-mail it to the developers.

While that is all well and good, this will not stop users from bullying or harassing others. As no profile is required for users, all the developers are able to do is remove the current harassing content and nothing more.

The screenshot to the right (click to enlarge) are the two bomb threats posted in regards to Marblehead High School. In addition to finding these I found a large number of Yaks that proved that foul language, sexually explicit content, threats, and cyberbullying rein supreme on the app.

Given the nature of the problems already associated with the app in its infancy, I wouldn’t recommend allowing your child to download the app to their phone. Utilizing the ability to restrict the maturity and app rating levels your child can download to their phone is key. To assist with this I will be posting instructions on how to do this as soon as humanly possible.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.

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

 

What Parents Should Know About Ask.FM

This week continues my regular series “What Parents Should Know.” This week’s entry was prompted by recent events.  Have something you’re wondering about? Send me a message and I’ll do my best to find an answer: info@joshgunderson.com

Following the August 2 suicide of Hannah Smith, parents have become very concerned about their kids using the popular social networking site, AskFM. The site is in the vein of others like Formspring (which is currently under new management and closed).ask-fm

Founded in June 2010, the site’s purpose is simple enough in allowing users to ask one another questions anonymously. The key to the site’s popularity and overall appeal to others being the anonymous bit.

Like most site, AskFM has simple beginnings, allowing users to ask each other harmless questions like “what is the last movie you saw?” or “what’s your favorite YouTube video?” Like all well-intentioned things, the site quickly became grounds for anonymous hate messaging and cyberbullying.

AskFM has gained notoriety over this summer as it’s been attributed to a number of European teen suicides. From July to August, the deaths of Daniel Perry, Hannah Smith, Erin Gallagher and Joshua Unsworth were said to have been instigated by bullying on the site.

askfm privacyPrivacy
Privacy for the site is basic at best. You have two options: allow anonymous questions or do not allow then. The site also allows you to Blacklist or block users who you do not wish to interact with. I suggest, that if you are going to the site, do not allow for users to interact with you anonymously. This is only going to lead to problems.

User Interactions
Most users are just using the site for the reason it was intended. I joined up about a week ago to learn more about the site and just today received a question from a fellow user asking me “What is your one major weakness?” I have the option of answering with text or recording a video response. (For those who are wondering the answer is Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bars from Disney world and if I had the ability I’d record me crying tears of joy while eating one in Magic Kingdom!).askfm002

Users can link their Facebook or Twitter accounts to find friends or search through the millions of users to find questions, answers or new friends.

The issue comes from the ability for users to interact anonymously. This allows for mean-spirited users to send messages like “drink bleach,” “go get cancer” and “go die.”

Reporting Inappropriate Use
Despite what the media is currently saying about the site, it is possible to report users for inappropriate use of the site. On a user’s pageaskfm001 in their questions you will see a downward arrow. Clicking on this bring a drop down menu with the option of reporting the content. That said, what the site does to control, remove or moderate this content, I have no good answer for you there. With 65 million users as of July of 2013, I can’t imagine that it’s easy to moderate every complaint that comes through in a timely manner.

That Being Said
At the end of the day, I can honestly say that when it comes to sites like AskFM, Formspring and others, do not allow your kids to use them. Any site that allows users to interact with complete strangers (see: Omegle) or allows for anonymous interactions is no good in my book. Any sane person would look at this site and say “No, thanks!”

I would strongly recommend sitting down and having a very serious conversations with your kids about sites like this. Remember to make it just that, a conversation. If you come in defensive and demanding, your kids will shut down and want nothing to do with the conversation.

I also have to say that I can’t help but point the finger at parents in these situations. Yes, Mark and Ilja Terebin (AskFM’s founders) should be doing more to keep their users safe and should rethink the way they are running things over there. Along the same lines, parents need to be paying more attention to the sites that their kids are joining and taking responsibility in keeping them safe.

If choose to allow your child to join sites like AskFM, I strongly encourage that you go over the site’s policies and privacy options with them. Make it a requirement that they cannot allow anonymous questions and users to interact with them.

Do you have a questions about an app or social networking site? Please feel free to e-mail your questions to info@joshgunderson.com and I will do my best to find you the answer!

Josh Gunderson is an award-winning Bullying Prevention and Social Media Specialist. Josh has appeared on MTV, Comedy and National Geographic. For more information about Josh and his educational programs please visit www.HaveYouMetJosh.com

You can purchase Josh’s book “Cyberbullying: Perpetrators, Bystanders & Victims” on Amazon! Available in paperback or for Kindle.