We know that some of our Village School students have active accounts on Ask.fm, many of whom connected through their Instagram account. The Ask.fm Terms of Service state that account holders must be at least 13 years of age. Even for teens who are over 13, we strongly discourage their use of Ask.fm.
"Unlike its predecessor Formspring.me, Ask.fm is particularly nasty because its anonymous format and lack of ability to report abuse make it perfectly suited for cyber-bullying. The owner of the site is in Latvia and the site is registered in Micronesia, thus no legal recourse is available. And the owner acknowledges in a recent interview that Ask.fm is used primarily by teens and bullying occurs but seems to show no concern whatsoever for the kids using his site."
What are the Risks for Children Using Ask.fm?
We understand that question apps are mostly great fun and only cause harm when abused.
But judging from what we are hearing on the ground, abuse is widespread.
You only have to skim through the site to see that sexualised, abusive and bullying content can be, and is being posted unchecked.
The unique selling point of Ask.fm is its guarantee of anonymity, with the website recently telling its followers on Twitter it will never release the information of anyone who posts to the site.
The fact that you can ask someone whatever you like or post anything on their profile without revealing who you are, seems to heighten the levels of disinhibition often associated with young people communicating online.
In other words, we tend to say things to people online that we wouldn't say to their face - this is exaggerated when we communicate anonymously.
The result is that liberally scattered amongst the questions about celebrity and lifestyle are highly sexualised, abusive, and downright nasty questions and comments.
The site also raises many issues around privacy. It has very few privacy controls which mean that both questions and answers can be viewed by anyone, even non-users of the site.
This is the default setting and there doesn't appear to be an option to change this: once a post is published it is publicly accessible.
In short: Ask.fm lacks even the most basic technical protections for young users. There is no mechanism to report abusive content on the site. No source of advice for young users, and no privacy controls.
Advice for Parents About Ask.fm
Above all else, it is vital that you have good, open communication with your child about what they do online.
Remember you may not know all there is to know about tweets, blogs and apps but you do know about parenting and all the same principles apply.
You should sit down with your child and discuss their use of Ask.fm.
Setting rules and boundaries around your child's use of this site is important.
All children are different and parents need to decide what approach is best for their child.
Typical approaches vary: from agreeing what is suitable behaviour on the site, regularly monitoring their activity, or not allowing them to use it at all.
At the very least you should agree that they will always treat others with respect and let you know if anything happens that upsets them.
For rules and boundaries to be really effective they are best developed between you and your child.
Having this chat with your child can give you a lot of information about their online activity and concerns.
The conversation surrounding the agreement of rules can often be as useful as the contract itself.
If your child has had an input in developing the agreement in relation to their use of Ask.fm they are more likely to see the rules and sanctions as fair and are therefore more likely to abide by them or discuss them at a later date if they feel they should be changed.
It is also worthwhile to be up front about sanctions for not sticking to the agreement.
One of the reasons children say they don't tell parents about things they come across on the internet, is because they feel parents may take away their internet access.
You should consider using other sanctions, like extra chores or withdrawing other privileges.
It is important that you reassure your child from the outset that they can come to you about anything they may have seen on the internet. Make sure the channels of communication are always open.
Remember that banning or forbidding a site outright may simply mean that your child will hide their use from you which will mean they cannot talk to you if they encounter problems.
What Parents Can Do
Some basic guidelines for online safety:
- Never post identifying personal information online. This includes your full name, address, phone number, school you attend, etc. It only takes three pieces of identifying information to find anyone online.
- Never post information about others. The phrase we use around Village is, “It isn’t your story to tell.”
- Anything you say online (via a website post or private email) should be something you would say to the person offline.
- Anything you post online (photo, video, text) can be viewed by others. Even if your account is private, others may forward your posts to those outside your network or to a public forum. When you post, you relinquish control.
This would also be a good time to discuss your family values, house rules on computer use, and what types of safety measures you have in place. All computers with internet connection should be in a public place in your home. Parents should know the usernames and passwords for their child(ren)’s accounts. Rules for internet usage should be understood by all family members and, preferably, posted near the computer. Some suggested computer/internet contracts, as well as other helpful information, can be found on our Village School Digital Families website.
Related Articles from the Daily Mail (UK):
Is Your Child Using the Sinister Website that Pits Friend Against Friend?
Pupils and Parents Warned Over Social Networking Website Linked to Teen Abuse