Cyber Culture: Ask.fm's new users may be walking headlong into a stormcloud of anonymous abuse
Wednesday 10 July 2013
Debate surrounding another variety of bad online behaviour has resurfaced in the past week – again related to kids, and again because of the way anonymity allows us to behave like idiots.
The website ask.fm has come in for sustained criticism as concerns over the lack of protection it gives to its younger members begin to snowball. For those not familiar with it, it's essentially an "ask me anything" question-and-answer site where you create your own text-based chatshow; you're the guest, the rest of the ask.fm community are the hosts. Having beaten off competition from the now-defunct Formspring and vying strongly with Tumblr's "Ask" feature, ask.fm now has 57 million slightly needy users who revel in the attention it brings them.
But 50 per cent of ask.fm's users are under 18, and many are under 13, having opened accounts that violate the site's terms of service.
The problems with this are manifestly obvious; online fishing for compliments from anonymous or pseudonymous people inevitably leads to abuse, fighting and bullying, all of which can be deeply traumatic.
Ask.fm, almost an anti-Facebook, has an unregulated, slightly transgressive feel that's undoubtedly part of its allure; some of the questions thrown at you when you sign up, like "If you could do anything now, what would you do?", make is unsurprising if information that should be kept under wraps is drawn out.
Of course, bullying occurs in many forms; humans can be brutal and to lay the blame for a number of recent teenage suicides squarely at the door of ask.fm would be unfair. But the response of its founders – to say that the site merely reflects the shortcomings of society and lack of education – seems slightly irresponsible, particularly when 200,000 new users each day may be walking headlong into a stormcloud of anonymous abuse that they're simply unable to handle.
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