As a new social site targeting teens gets more popular and reaches new heights with its user base, it has been blasted by concerned parents who cite several teen suicides linked to the service.
According to Lynna Lai of wkyc.com, Ask.fm is a site where teens can post questions and answers completely anonymously and away from the spying eyes of parents. An excited girl asked about the site had nothing but praise for it.
"It's a website that you can like, post comments, and tell people how you feel about them, but it's completely anonymous," chimed the girl.
The big problem, however, is that many parents are not aware of it — and that the freedoms of internet anonymity can be both positive and negative.
"I've never heard of that," said Chris Lowe, mother of two teen daughters.
As Eric Wilkson of KING 5 News reports, Ask.fm is the latest to capture the fleeting attention spans of teens and tweens. Users post questions about themselves or others and wait for responses. What makes this site different, though, is the lack of privacy controls, and the fact that those instant responses can be completely anonymous. A quick scan of the site shows everything from insults over body image to posts encouraging suicide.
Ask.fm has about 65 million users, many of them children. Analysts believe kids have moved to the site because so many parents police their more mainstream accounts.
"It's a free-for-all," said Dr. Kimberlee Armstrong, principal at Kenmore Junior High. "I worry about the potential harm students are causing other students."
A student was being bullied via Ask.fm and her school and suspended the bully, while sending an email to parents warning them about the site, as Kimberlee recently discovered. She encouraged parents to talk to their kids about Ask.fm's dangers.
"We're noticing its sending kids in a downward spiral," said Armstrong. "It can affect every aspect of their lives. That's when we have to intervene."
Though the site may be fun, some conversations or comments can turn into a brutal attack as one girl timidly admitted.
"I've seen people talk on anonymous [mode], like, âGo kill yourself, nobody likes you. Cut yourself,'" she said.
Parents are pressuring Ask.fm to take more accountability. The site is already popular in the U.K, where news reports have linked Ask.fm with at least 4 suicides. In Kenmore Junior High two more cases of cyber bullying are under investigation at the school, with more across the district.
"A lot of kids suffer in silence," said Kenmore Jr. High Class Co-President Edward Yang.
In the wake of mounting pressure from European authorities, Latvia-based Ask.fm pledged to hire more staff this summer to moderate comments on the site.