Ask.fm: Controversial social network linked to teen suicides defends anonymity

Site claims 117 million users worldwide - half of whom are under 18

The controversial question and answer-based social network Ask.fm has defended its use of anonymity but admitted that it “has a responsibility” to its younger users.

The site was criticized after the suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith whose family claimed she was the victim of cyber-bullying, although an inquest found that on the “balance of probabilities” the teenager most likely sent the “vile” messages to herself on the Lativan-based website.

Founded in 2010, Ask.fm lets users ask others questions with the option of anonymity. Answers can be posted in text or video format, and registered users are presented with a feed of questions.

The site is available in more than 30 languages and claims that more than 30 million questions and answers are created each day.

“Our users can ask questions both personally and anonymously and we believe that anonymity is appealing to young people,” the site’s director of external affairs, Liva Biseniece, told the BBC.

“It gives them a lot of benefits to explore, maybe, sensitive questions, explore important questions, without fear of being judged.”

Ms Biseniece said that the company had hired a safety officer and put in place new measures to curb abusive content including a ‘bullying’ category to report questions and an option to block a specific sender.

“We've done it, we're constantly working on it, we are improving how we are dealing with this," said Ms Biseniece.

The site claims to have around 117 million users worldwide – half of whom are under the age of 18. Campaigners say that the site needs to do more to stop abuse, given its unique position among younger web users.

"We don't think that ask.fm is doing enough," said Scott Freeman, founder of the Cybersmile Foundation, told the BBC.  "They just don't realise how important it really is to offer teens, at every turn, as much help as they can."

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