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The Ugly of Ask.fm

February 19, 2012

Ask.fm is an anonymous question and answer platform that is presently trending with our youth, and it is fully integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Much like Formspring and Spillit, Ask.fm allows a user to anonymously ask and answer any question online, no matter how ugly or controversial. Given that Ask.fm is totally integrated with the most popular social networks presently being used by our youth, a user can invite friends and followers to ask a question, or post a comment to their Facebook Timeline, Tumblr Dashboard, or Twitter Feed by using an Ask.fm App.

Having viewed Ask.fm, and given its “guaranteed” promise of anonymity, it was not surprising to me to see how many posts contained abusive and peer aggression content, as well as highly sexualized and very nasty comments that are posted un-vetted. Again, this did not surprise me given the anonymity of the site, which is only compounded by what psychologists call the “disinhibition effect” that online communication allows for. In other words, people will say things online that they would not normally say face-to-face, especially if they are guaranteed anonymity, thus preventing accountability and consequences to inappropriate actions.

When it comes to privacy settings, Ask.fm offers very little, which means that all posts are public, permanent, searchable, and therefore very exploitable even by those who are not Ask.fm members. When it comes to reporting abusive content to Ask.fm, there are no options that I could find.

Ask.fm, as well as Formspring and Spillit, are websites that every parent, teacher, and school should be aware of. It is also my opinion that Ask.fm should also be a site and an app that should not be used by our kids given its inherent ability to be abused. As always, family communication about ethical online behavior, and being a good digital citizen, is a must when it comes to ensuring that our kids do not participate in less desirable behavior that has become rampant in sites like Ask.fm.

Also of note, when are we as parents going to pressure lawmakers to take a harsher stance against sites like Ask.fm, who offer no checks and balances to ensure that their product is used in an ethical and safe way? There is no way that Ask.fm cannot know that their service is being used to spread hate and harm to others, but they appear to be willfully blind, and refuse to self-police such undesirable behaviours. This is one reason why I support the Red Hood Project here in Canada. This group believes that those who own sites like Ask.fm should be held accountable for keeping our kids safe, and they have started a grassroots movement to make this happen. I highly recommend reading further into it.

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur

AKA #thewhitehatter

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