According to the Pew Internet, teens, although still on Facebook, “have a waning enthusiasm for Facebook.” They are looking for new social media sites to add to their laptops and mobiles. Two of the rising stars for teens are Twitter and Instagram. Some other sites are also on their radar. One site I hear about and parents should definitely watch out for is ask.fm.
Ask.fm is a question and answer site that reminds me of Formspring. On ask.fm, users can ask each other questions and answers are posted on their profile. Ask.fm is available as an app or on the desktop. Teens, over 13 years old, can sign up and create a profile by filling in their name, username and email or using their Facebook or Twitter account. Once they are on, they can add more information to their profile such as a picture or their location.
On ask.fm, they can ask anyone a question. They can choose to ask it anonymously or include their username. The default on ask.fm is to “ask anonymously” with this box automatically checked. Questions can be sent directly to one person or sent to all users. When they receive a question, they can either write their answer or record a video answer.
All ask.fm profiles are public. But, questions only appear on their profile if they answer it. Users can follow each other anonymously. If they follow someone, the person’s answers and likes appear in their newsfeed. They do not have to follow someone to ask them a question. Teens can also link ask.fm to other social media and their answers automatically appear on their Facebook or Twitter profiles.
Unfortunately, this q&a site, like it predecessor Formspring, is gaining a reputation as a cyberbullying site. When teens first sign up, ask.fm starts them off with 5 questions. These questions are simple things like “what is your favorite food?” or “What did you do yesterday?”. Scrolling though ask.fm, it is clear teens do not always stick to these general questions.
The ability to ask anything and remain anonymous has led some teens to abuse this site. Teens are using ask.fm to stir up trouble or send vicious questions. Questions on ask.fm have been linked to cyberbullying incidents in both Ireland and the UK. In fact, several schools in the UK have sent out letters warning parents about this site.
Teens can try to reduce inappropriate questions and harassment by not allowing anonymous questions. Under settings and privacy, users can choose “do not allow anonymous questions”. They can still ask question anonymously but they won’t receive anonymous questions. Teens can also block other users from asking them questions by scrolling to the bottom of the person’s profile and choosing block. Blocked users will appear in the Blacklist.
Ask.fm does allow users to report inappropriate questions. Every question has an arrow in the top right hand corner. Teens can click on this arrow and report any question they see even ones not sent to them. They can report it as spam, hate speech, violence or pornographic. According to an interview with ask.fm, they have 50 moderators who examine the reports.
However, in their Terms of Service, ask.fm also states –
You understand that in using the ask.fm service you may encounter content that may be deemed objectionable, obscene or in poor taste, which content may or may not be identified as having explicit language. The ask.fm service allows for anonymous content which ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the ask.fm service at your own risk and that ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste.
If your teen is interested in ask.fm, talk to them about the potential problems with anonymous q&a sites. Hiding behind a screen, some users use the freedom of anonymity to send cruel questions. Teens can try to reduce inappropriate questions by not allowing anonymous questions or ignoring the question so it does not appear on their profile. Given the likelihood of receiving a vicious or hurtful question, teens should think carefully before joining this site.
For more information on ask.fm, check out
- Ask.fm: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Webwise
- Social cruelty on Ask.fm & the whack-a-mole tendency by NetFamilyNews.org