'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”.

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel