Ask.fm is a controversial Q & A website that has been translated into 24 languages and has close to 65 million users worldwide. Almost half of those users are under 18. This Latvia-based social networking site is one where users can ask other users questions. You can pose or answer questions or post comments and it is all anonymous.
Sounds okay. So what’s the controversy about Ask.fm?
Someone referred to it as a breeding ground for hate speak and bullying. News reports about this site in the past year have highlighted cases of cyberbullying and teen suicide. Ask.fm has been harshly criticized for not moderating content and its lack of privacy and identity controls. Two recent teen suicides in the UK have brought even more attention to the website and the negative ways it has been used.
As one BBC reporter said, “it’s the ability to say what you want without identifying yourself that is both the appeal and the danger of sites like this.”
I asked the youth I work with whether they had used the site and what their experience with it was. I was dismayed to hear them talk about the hurtful remarks that were made – from comments on their appearance to suggestions they should die. For whatever reasons these youth felt able to protect themselves and deleted their accounts.
In an open letter on the site responding to the recent criticism, Ask.fm outlines changes to their safety and reporting policies. They will make an abuse reporting button more visible, provide options for users re: anonymity and are setting up a harassment/bullying report category. They also say they will be hiring more staff to moderate the site. And they state they will be creating a resource site for parents.
Good. I applaud them for taking those steps.
Fixing the site addresses only part of the equation. As Kate Knibbs wrote, “Changing settings on Ask.fm is a flimsy Band-Aid solution to a much more pernicious problem than faulty privacy controls. The root issue, and the problem that needs to be addressed, is what users of these websites are writing.”  I agree.
So what can we do? As parents, teachers, counsellors we need to keep talking with youth about responsible positive online behaviour. We need to teach them it’s okay to unfriend people or to report instances of bullying. We need to educate ourselves about what’s out there and how it’s being used.
And as Knibbs goes on to say, “Every suicide related to cyber-bullying is a tragedy, and outrage is a good response. And reacting with concern and anger toward some of the disgusting things people write on Ask.fm is beyond fair.
But rallying against specific websites will not quell bullies. Until an effective anti-bullying education initiative develops or legislative changes provide a compelling deterrent, cyber-bullying is going to continue unabated. Instead of pointing fingers at websites, politicians should be working to influence policy that funds digital ethics education – because that’s the only way to instill real change.“ 
What do you think?
Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate counsellor of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc. http://www.therapyonline.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA