Hannah Smith death: We'll name anonymous trolls, say Ask.fm founders – as advertisers pull out

Boycott cyberbully sites, says David Cameron after 14-year-old took her life after troll comments

The founders of the controversial website Ask.fm, which has been linked to the suicides of five teenagers, said they were working to improve its safety amid a growing backlash by advertisers and mounting public anger.

In an open letter Latvian entrepreneurs Mark and Ilja Terebin expressed sympathy over the death of Hannah Smith, 14, who took her own life last week after being subjected to a torrent of abuse by anonymous users of the site.

Prime Minister David Cameron called for a boycott of what he described as “vile” websites and said he was determined to take action to prevent further tragedies.

Meanwhile, advertisers including eBay, EDF Energy, The Sun, Laura Ashley, Specsavers, Vodafone and Save the Children withdrew advertising in a corporate stampede to disassociate themselves from Ask.fm.

In their letter the Terebin brothers, who founded the site in their native Riga in 2010 and have since watched it soar to 65m users worldwide, said they did not condone bullying.

 “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,” they said.

“The vast majority of our users are 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,” they added.

The brothers also said that in "extreme circumstances such as those we've experienced this week" they would be prepared to identify anonymous users via their computers' IP addresses and "ensure this information is accessible to the appropriate legal authorities."

Concern over the site emerged again this week after Hannah, 14, was found dead at her home in Leicestershire.

She had been urged by on-line bullies to cut herself and drink bleach. Her death followed that of Lancashire schoolboy Joshua Unsworth who died in March and two Irish teenagers, Ciara Pugsley, 15, and Erin Gallagher, 13, who took their own lives last year.

Jessica Laney, 16, was found dead at her home in Florida in December.

Many of the companies were unaware their products were appearing on the site, in which young people are encouraged to ask each other questions. Advertising is bundled up and sold on by agencies appearing as banners on the computers of users whose consumer habits are flagged up by imbedded “cookies” which track their interests.

Mr Cameron said parents and users should stop using the sites. “The people that operate these websites have got to step up to the plate and show some responsibility in the way that they run these websites,” he said.

Police in Halifax, Canada yesterday made two arrests in connection with the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, following a suicide attempt. A photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted had been shared online.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - London - £40K plus benefits - Salary negotiable

£38000 - £40000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: A leading consu...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat