'Why don't you kill yourself?': Hannah Smith's grieving father calls for halt to sinister world of internet abuse

After 14-year-old's death, David Smith accuses ask.fm of 'making millions out of misery'

They are easily found lurking unpleasantly among the pouting selfies of the Beliebers and the Miley Cirus wannabees. Innocent teenage questions on pop music, beauty and relationships interspersed with something all-together more sinister and hectoring.

"Why don't you kill yourself? Why are you such a gay? Why don't you get over your (dead) sister?" are just some among the more printable inquiries to be found on the "popular" page of social networking site ask.fm.

The Latvian-based internet phenomenon, in which teenage users can pose each other anonymous questions, is at the centre of fresh controversy and concern following the death of a British schoolgirl.

David Smith, the father of Hannah Smith, 14, who took her own life after being taunted by online bullies urging her to drink bleach and cut herself, has called on Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene to regulate the site and others like it. 

Speaking from his home in in Lutterworth, Leicestershire Mr Smith accused ask.fm of "making millions out of peoples' misery" and said he feared another teenager could die after being abused.

The anger mirrors events in Ireland earlier this year when ministers lobbied their Baltic state counterparts to investigate allegations of bullying on the Riga-registered site following two similar tragedies there.

So far the deaths of four teenagers have been linked to ask.fm - a social networking tool which has recorded extraordinary growth since it was founded by two brothers in the Latvian capital in 2010.

Today, more than 65m people have joined - half of them aged under-18. Its iPhone and Android apps are bestsellers and 300,000 new users sign up each day. The site is hugely popular in Brazil, Columbia, Germany, Canada and, of course, Britain.

Niall Cowley, international director of the charity BeatBullying said it was the anonymity that was proving the huge draw for young people. "It is a massive concern," he said.

Whereas Facebook and others had engaged with governments and NGOs on the subject, ask.fm was "doing nothing", he added.

"Anonymity increases disinhibition. You think you will get away with it and that there is no recourse so you are more likely to behave in a way that you would never do in real life," said Mr Cowley.

Ultimate regulation of ask.fm comes under the control of the Latvian Transport Ministry. But campaigners say there are many international protocols for sharing information on cybercrimes and international trafficking which could see the names of trolls and bullies passed to the UK authorities.

In a statement ask.fm expressed sorrow at Hannah's death and pledged to work with British police investigating "the true circumstances of her suicide". It points out that users can switch off anonymous questioning and block or report offensive incidents.

But campaigners say the ask.fm is not taking the welfare of its young users seriously - a claim it rejects. Yet its terms of service state that it does not monitor anonymous content and that the company has "no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste."

Tributes left outside the home of Hannah Smith (PA) Tributes left outside the home of Hannah Smith (PA)

 

Founder Mark Terebin's sparked anger when he told Irish broadcaster RTE following the tragedies there: "There are no complaints regarding cyber bullying from parents, children or other sources in other countries. It seems that children are crueller in these countries (Ireland and the United Kingdom)."

His brother Ilja was reported as suggesting that children trolled themselves to get attention.

Founders Ilja and Mark Terebin were born into an affluent military family in Riga before studying at business school and setting up a furniture business.

The brothers have in the past been accused of making homophobic comments on their site. According to his Russian language profile Ilja Terebin declares himself a "measured vegetarian" but adds "if you give up fish you'll start feeling sorry for queers".  He also describes how he admires driven, brave people "from Richard Branson to Joseph Goebbels."

The home page of the website ask.fm (PA) The home page of the website ask.fm (PA)

 

Along with two friends they caught the wave of the social media revolution modelling their venture on the US question and answer website Formspring.

In 2011, with just a few hundred thousand people logging on, they came to the attention of Rubylight, a Latvian technology venture fund, which had already facilitated the growth of Russia's second largest networking site Odnoklassniki.ru.

The fund's senior partner Vitaly Rubstein told a London conference for internet chief executives last year how they helped iron out technical glitches after buying into ask.fm in 2011 resulting in growth of one per cent a day.

"They built this business thinking globally. It's not so often that people from such small countries think globally right away as they start their business. Immediately they are thinking of taking over the world with their service," he said.

Teenage victims of cyber-bullying

Hannah Smith, 14, was found hanged at her home in Lutterworth, Leicestershire last week. She had been abused by trolls over her weight and a family death as well as being accused of self-harming. Bullies urged her to drink bleach and cut herself on ask.fm. Her father has called on the Prime Minister to clamp down on the site.

Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Leitrim, Republic of Ireland, died last year after being subjected to a torrent of abuse over her weight and mental health. Despite standing up to her anonymous bullies she took her own life. Her death prompted calls for action in Ireland to against bullies using social media.

Erin Gallagher, 13, was discovered by relatives at her home in Ballybofey, Donegal, just 24 hours after threatening suicide. She had been physically and mentally bullied by tormentors. Police seized computers after her death in October last year but no one has been charged.

Joshua Unsworth, 15, from Goosnargh near Preston, Lancashire had offered to help other teenagers suffering from online bullying cope. However the teenager, described as a “thoughtful, loving and compassionate boy” took his own life in April. Messages posted on his site said: “You really are a freak’, ‘no one likes you’ and ‘you deserve sick things to happen to you”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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 General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'