5 experts and 3 parents have answered
The idea of forcibly closing Ask is not only unrealistic due to the obvious legal implications but furthermore it detracts from the point that these websites are just one piece of the puzzle. Sure, we could close ask and pretend everyone is suddenly happy and dapper, but this would be nothing more than an exercise in futility.
The most important thing is discovering why teenagers feel compelled to send abusive messages in the first place. Now we cannot sign everybody up for therapy (austerity and whatnot) but what we can do is target our school system. Once per year for the past 5 years I was subject to an almost identical lesson on staying safe online which was useless, dull and boring. We need a massive overhaul of how we teach children e-safety and it needs to be engaging and interesting.
Technology is our friend, not our enemy; if people embraced technology in all its glory they would be able to relate to young people and provide actual assistance. 5-minute PowerPoint presentations by a 60 year old guy who has never used Facebook in his life does not suffice to teaching children correctly about the internet. We need third party agencies to undertake interactive learning days (off-curriculum days) in all schools at least twice each academic year.
To put it simply: we cannot blame websites for the lousy standard of education we provide our children. Would you blame a car company because your child hasn't learned to drive?
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Even if you hadn’t heard of Ask.fm before this week, it’s now almost impossible to ignore, as criticism from parents, anti-bullying campaigners, and the media reaches critical mass. The Latvian-based social network has been linked to the deaths of four UK and Irish teenagers in the last year, and many people are calling for the site to be banned, or even closed down.
The site was founded as a rival to Formspring, but has since gone on to become the most popular website of its kind among teenagers. The premise is simple; people invite questions from other users of the site, and these responses can be posted anonymously. This has led to the site becoming a hotbed of bullying among teenagers, and some schools had already warned parents of the dangers before the tragic death of Hannah Smith.
As tragic as the results of extreme cyberbullying can be, the calls to ban or close down Ask.fm are not only virtually impossible, but are in danger of missing the real issue.
The site is based in Latvia, and is not engaged in any criminal activities. UK ISPs and parliament are understandably reluctant to take action against legitimate companies operating outside of their jurisdiction. It’s worth remembering that last week everyone was blaming Twitter for allowing violent and abusive messages to be sent to users. This type of abuse isn’t confined to certain sites; it’s prevalent across the whole spectrum of social media, including Facebook, YouTube, and even online comment sections.
What is certain is Ask.fm should be required by its users and advertisers to drastically improve its safety and reporting mechanisms (La Monde recently reported that it employed just 50 moderators to monitor 30 million posts daily). Even more importantly, we need to get to the root of why young people feel compelled to write the vile messages that have driven teenagers to suicide. Until children, parents, and the authorities tackle the insidious culture of cyberbullying that affects so many young people, it doesn’t matter one jot how an individual social network operates.
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It should allow the user identify who asks the question but that will kill their user base
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The website isn't the problem.
As with all social media websites, the owners create the structure, the users bring the content. A huge amount of emphasis is being put on what content is added to the sites but so much more education and time needs to be put into what users do with and react to that information. The recent tragic event highlights that some young people need help to cope with what can be a cruel world, online or offline. Young people need strong support networks support their development.
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Closing down a website like Ask.fm won't prevent this type of behaviour from reappearing somewhere else, there is a demand for this type of service and if one closes down another will launch in it's place.
What is important is that we help children to understand both an appropriate way to conduct their behaviour online and the possible dangers and pitfalls that lurk out there on the internet. It's also important for young users of sites like these to understand that they shouldn't have to accept bullying or threatening behaviour. Although Ask.fm does not provide the ability for users to report abusive or inappropriate content, most other social networks do, and kids should always feel that they are able to turn to parents, teachers or friends. Children need to know that there is support out there for them if they're experiencing cyberbullying.
Ask.fm should be providing a way of identifying certain individuals, even if they don't make it a public feature. They also need to allow their users to flag or report offensive content.
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Traditionally "the world" is policed by specially trained experienced keepers of the law. Policing an online social world effectively would be a huge task and one that could really only be done automatically with the limitations that that would entail. Maybe companies should be required to hold some form of a licence to operate with people under a certain age. I realise this is might be far fetched but whilst I agree we need to educate the users - our children - the onus should be on the corporate body to effectively manage such issues especially if they are generating revenue. I think also that a real name and the relevant checks on the authenticity of that name should be a basic requirement.
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I don't think we should only argue that the website is not the problem but that the problem lies with the users. Ultimately any site is given a tone and an identity by how it is managed as much as what the users contribute = Cyber Anthropology ;-) There are some great replies on this thread. I agree the site should not be closed since the users will just move on to the next site BUT I certainly agree that the site needs to managed in a different way so that the environment it is taken from a loose community to a proper community of practice.
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Ask.fm should not be closed as it is a valid medium for communication, however the media are turning it into social media version of Candyman. Say AskFM three times infront of the mirror and the bogeyman will appear. The one thing that is an absolute guarantee is that its traffic will now have gone up and people who knew nothing about it will now visit. In fact in many ways this reminds me of chatroulete. It started off as an experiment where people could just chat to random other people but that soon turned into a random flashing competition. With any of these mediums there are people who will abuse it and there needs to be a right mix between freedom and protection. Of course these are two opposite ends of the spectrum and they don't mix at the minute. However we are looking at the wrong part of the problem. The site itself is not the problem. We need to look at the users themselves and understand the psychology behind them. Often younger users will see it as a bit of fun, others will use to blow off steam, some will troll and some will use it as validation of themselves. When the last 2 groups mix, that is when we have the problem. Where possible kids should not have a laptop in their room, they should be able to use them in a shared room or space. Obviously there will come a time where kids will want a bit more space and this is where the role of the parent or guardian changes. Parents need to engage with their children and talk to them about the differences in the way people behave in real life and then online. The fact that people think they can get away with saying hurtful things but these people are being spiteful. You need to help your child keep a positive self image and if need be ask for help. Speak to the school or there are groups out there. Look for changes in your child's behaviour. Do they seem to have become more withdrawn for example? It is a terrible thing that happened to that poor child and its not laying the blame at the parents either, but its about increasing awareness and a parent understanding their role in this. Closing down a site like this is a knee jerk reaction and does not solve the problem.