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

Yik Yak (Don’t Come Back!)

If Ask.FM taught the world anything, it was that teenagers and the ability to remain anonymous cannot be mixed. In the summer of 2013, the popular Q&A web site became known worldwide after a series of bullying related suicides. Despite the public outcry, the site’s developers refused to aide in the investigation into instances of bullying and threats.

Social App newcomer, Yik Yak, found themselves being compared to the infamous Ask.FM this past week when stories of threats of violence and bullying caught the nation’s attention.

(Check out What Parents Should Know About Yik Yak to learn more about the app)

The app has been linked to the arrest of an Alabama teen for threatening to shoot someone, countless bullying incidents and bomb threats at schools in California, Georgia and Massachusetts.

Unlike it’s anonymous predecessor, the developer’s at Yik Yak have heard and responded accordingly to the outcry of parents and educators over the last week.

In what can only be described as an unprecedented move, Yik Yak has teamed with Maponics to license GPS data for over 100,000 public and private schools in the US. Using this data they are creating “geofences” around middle and high schools which will actually disable the use of the app while the users is within that area.yikyakbanned

As of early Thursday, these fences have gone live. In a statement, developer Brooks Buffington noted, “If for some reason the app is still accessible on a school’s grounds, all they need do is email us at yikyakapp@gmail.com and we’ll look into it ASAP.”

While I applaud this bold move by the developers, I see this as band aid on a knife wound.

Students will still have access to the app once they leave school grounds and the possibility of bullying, rumors and threats still exist.

It is worth noting for parents that the app is rated 17+ or mature. I encourage parents to set restrictions on their children’s devices to ensure they are not able to download these apps.

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.

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.