Askfm: Anonymous Q & A
Ask.fm is an app for teens, age 13 and older that enables its users to ask other users anonymous questions. Ask.fm also encourages its users to integrate their account with their followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook. The app was intended to provide a forum for adolescents to share their thoughts and questions in an open environment and freely discuss various topics. Unfortunately, the forum can be used for hateful and salacious discussion. The app has already been linked to four documented cases of suicide in the United States, Ireland, and Great Britain.
The four instances of suicide occurred after users had been being bullied on the app. In one instance,…
Jessica L. was asked “Can you kill yourself already?” with another user commenting, “Nobody even cares about you.” She had also been belittled and ridiculed by app users. In the months leading up to Ciara P.’s suicide she had been called a “slut” and “ugly” by Ask.fm users. One day before Erin G. committed suicide she had informed her Ask.fm persecutors that she was going to commit suicide by saying “u prob think it was funny when a f#@in put a rope round my neck cause of yours, you are that sad!” Sadly her older sister committed suicide two months later. Finally, Amanda T. committed suicide after a man distributed nude images of her on the Internet.
In cases like these, bullies anonymously and persistently ask their victims inappropriate and derogatory questions, send hateful messages, or use the app to distribute other users’ personal information, leaving the victims unable to cope. The app developers claim that they monitor the app, but it is not clear how closely the discussions are being monitored given the number of inappropriate questions posted.
The Technology Wellness Center encourages parents to openly discuss Ask.fm, and other apps, their children are actively using. Ask your children if they have seen any inappropriate questions or if they have experienced any bullying from other app users. It’s also important to ask your children if they have ever bullied one of their peers. These are all good questions to start the conversation; however there are several steps that parents can take to get ahead of these types of situation and potentially make these conversations easier.
- Parents need to remind their children that they have unlimited access to their children’s cellphones, even if their children pay for their own phone and data plans.
- Parents need to follow through and regularly check their children’s cell phones apps, games, and messages. Children will catch on quickly if parents are “all talk, but no follow through.”
- Parents should check cell phones at random times throughout the week. Don’t do it every Sunday night, instead, check your children’s cell phones twice one week, then skip a week, then every other day, etc. This helps to ensure that your child is not deleting information when they know the “weekly check” is coming.
- Parents should inform children when they first obtain their phone that they need permission to download any app, and if they are caught with an app they did not receive permission to download, then they lose the phone for a predetermined period of time.
- Parents should explore apps that their children want to download with their children. Parents should never “OK” an app and give permission with just a cursory look. Despite Ask.fm’s reputation for being associated with bullying and eventual suicide, the app does have useful purposes. Parents can discuss the potential pitfalls of an anonymous app such as this and have a reasonable discussion with their children about the reasons their children want the app.
- Parents should have ongoing discussions with their children about the apps they are using. A one-time conversation does not satisfy a parent’s responsibility for being informed.
- If a problem, like bullying, arises on one of the apps parents should have multiple discussions with their children about their feelings related to the bullying. Check in with them daily. This checking in and discussion should also occur if a parent learns their own child is bullying others online.
- Parents need to help their children develop a strategy of what to do if they witness bullying online. Children are very resourceful and can help determine what solutions will help them navigate the emotions and behaviors related to bullying.
- If parents discover that their child is being bullied and their child appears to be suffering emotionally, then it is paramount that the parents seek counseling for their child. Sometimes having an impartial third party who will listen to both sides and help find solutions is key in navigating the perils of childhood. In a way, the therapist becomes the app the child wants to use to share their thoughts and feelings.
In the end, The Technology Wellness Center, does not believe that apps cause suicide. However, these apps expose children to additional sources of bullying that their parents never had to face. Since our children have increased risk for being bullied or engaging in bullying behavior, parents have to be more involved than ever in helping their children navigate this new forum of bullying.