Parent App Alert: Asking For Trouble – Ask.fm

 

Cyber-safety world is all a-buzz with warnings about Ask.fm, a newish social media choice favoured by teens for its anonymous question-and-answer format. It’s no surprise (to adults) that Ask.fm lends itself to bullying behaviour and plain old nastiness.

Parent App Alert: Ask.fm

A few years ago, Formspring was causing similar problems. Ask.fm appears to be riskier because it has no privacy settings or parental controls. The company operating the site is situated in Latvia and settles disputes according to its laws. Cold comfort if you don’t speak Latvian. While users must be 13 or older, it offers no means of verification. Users can blacklist others, but this presupposes you know who is tormenting you, something that isn’t so straightforward when questions are posted anonymously. (It’s possible to post them with a user name, too.)

Interaction can be pretty innocuous, with questions about favourite bands and fashion. It gets a little more gnarly with questions like, “Who’s your best friend?” In middle school social spheres, those kind of questions tease out loyalties and fuel petty clique wars. The ugly end of the Ask.fm spectrum is chock-a-block full of hateful comments (in the vein of “I wish you’d kill yourself, already”) laced with insulting labels like “freak,” “slut,” “whore,” and “b***h.” And be warned: conversations can get dirty quickly.

According to an April article in the UK’s Daily Mail, the site has been linked to six suicides. One 15 year old old took his life after enduring months of hateful interactions on the site. An article in January reported UK schools were issuing warnings to pupils and requesting that parents prevent their kids from using the site.

As a parent and a school counsellor, I cannot think of any good that could come from anonymous questions posed to and by people with under-developed prefrontal cortices. There’s too much risk and not enough common sense in the mix. Ask.fm is a site that reeks of trouble. Sure, there’s plenty of harmless content on the site, but the potential for problems with immature users is too great.

If you want to find out if your child is a user, ask them. Get them to show you their Instagram profile and look under their name for an Ask.fm url. On Facebook, look at their profile contents, specifically “Contact Information,” where websites can be entered.

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Michael Sheehan blogs at High Tech Dad, and he’s one switched-on dad and blogger. I linked to him in my article on KiK + Instagram. He recently posted an excellent exposé on Ask.fm. There are lots of useful tips for parents, including how to use the Search function to find people (like your kids.) I especially appreciate his stance on communicating with your kids first, rather than just willy-nilly shutting down access.

 

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