Hateful and vile; the two words David Cameron recently used to describe undeniably controversial website Ask.fm. And who can blame him for laying such claims?
The most recent in a string of suicides linked to the website has caused a media storm so vast that many have been left wondering whether it should exist at all. Bullies anonymously told schoolgirl Hannah Smith to 'go die', 'drink bleach' and 'get cancer' online and soon after the 14 year old committed suicide, and was found in her bedroom by her older sister.
Her mother has understandably called for a mass boycott of the site (which has recently reached 70 million registered users) whilst BT, Specsavers, Vodafone and Save the Children were quick to pull their advertisements in the wake of the scandal. As much as I would like to believe these actions will even dent the can of worms that is cyberbullying, I do not share the widely held belief that outlawing Ask.fm will see an end to this epidemic by any means.
We must face it; there are some people who simply aren't nice enough to use Ask.fm. There are several teenagers who certainly aren't nice enough to use Ask.fm. Ask.fm should be used for unearthing teenaged crushes, finding out what a classmate really thinks of your new haircut and maybe at the very worst, to swipe answers for a looming mid-week maths test. Instead it’s used to alienate and ostracise peers, at a time when life is all growth spurts and greasy hair and most could do without any more reason to self loathe. An unfortunate cocktail of vulnerability, anonymity and often jealousy leaves hatred at the helm of a potentially inoffensive website.
Ask.fm as a concept is not wholly flawed. The idea of being able to anonymously ask questions isn't a necessarily a threatening one. It isn't an intrinsically harmful site; but it does have a handful of harmful individuals behind it. The same tragic events will only be repeated via another social media site if Ask.fm is banned, as it has already begun to be. Trolls have merely emigrated from one website to another, already bombarding Hannah's Facebook tribute page with snide remarks about her parents and brushing her passing off as 'one pathetic suicide case'. And this isn't the first occurrence; American teenager Amanda Cummings' made worldwide news when her Facebook memorial page was subject to a barrage of sick messages at the hands of bullies.
Ask.fm is a community for the cowardly, a lounge for the lily-livered and a get-out-of-jail-free card for the gutless. But so are countless other places on the web. Trawl most forums and you'll see a cyber-confidence instilled in commentators akin to that of Harry Potter, slinking around Hogwarts under his invisibility cloak. Cyberbullies thrive off anonymity and the threat of only a virtual ass-kicking.
Like thousands of other sites, Ask.fm remains a vehicle for the cruel to do the dirty with virtually no repercussions. It offers no more incentive to insult other than 'just because'. Its offered anonymity is no different to the creation of fake accounts internet trolls are so fond of on other forms of social media. If we take down Ask.fm, do we really take down cyberbullying as a whole, the same cyberbullying that took place before (and will surely take place after) its existence? People trolled on Myspace, bullied on MSN and now victimise on Twitter and Facebook; when children want to bully, they will bully anywhere and by any means. Until we teach them the serious effects of their behaviour, prohibiting Ask.fm will merely send a generation of cyberbullies in their droves to another site.