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.

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.