ask.fm

Why We Shouldn’t Boycott Ask.fm

ask.fm

If you were to believe the recent media outrage, or even the statement from prime minister David Cameron, you might be under the impression that Ask.fm was some rogue website where everyone posts anonymously to mock and bully each other. Suicide is a tragedy for any family, and bullying is a problem online and offline, but targeting a particular site which actually does offer ways for users to report problematic material will not make any difference whatsoever.

In reality, Ask.fm offers users a simple way to report offensive material on the site in a single click (see that Twitter?), and whilst much of the discussion on the site may be done anonymously, users have been able to tick a box to prevent anonymous people posting answers to their questions. Ask.fm merely provides a platform for discussion like many other forums on the web including some very large sites such as Reddit.

This is not to say that there are not some sites on the web where mocking and bullying are part of their culture, that is the exact niche in which 4Chan has made a name for itself, but that does not tend to be a place where vulnerable children tend to frequent.

Trolls are an issue online on all social networks, but it is not up to the social networks to try and determine what failing there is in society that has resulted in people finding enjoyment in these activities. If a social network offers a very easy way to report offensive and harmful material (and act on these reports), to block users, and to block anonymous users if desired, then I believe they are doing their part.

We need the police to also step up and actually prosecute people who make death or rape threats or send people other highly offensive material. We have the laws in place that trolls can be prosecuted once they step over that line, and those laws need to be enforced. It was simple enough for the police to arrest and jail those talking about rioting on social media a couple of years ago, but for some reason when the threats are directed at individuals rather than businesses and the state then currently they tend not to be acted upon. This needs to change.

Lastly, parents need to learn how their children are using the internet. If a child was being bullied at school, when a parent finds out they rightly go to the school to address the situation. However, currently many parents simply do not understand how bullying happens online or how to report those users and address the issue, possibly involving the police if a crime is involved. Social media is not the problem in most of the cases of online bullying, it is that as parents do not understand such services and how people use them, and as such they cannot offer the support and help that children need.

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