While most of us are familiar with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, fewer have heard of Ask.fm. But the site has an estimated 4.3m unique monthly users. And, recently it has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Founded in Latvia in 2010, Ask.fm allows users to post anonymous comments – which are often abusive or sexual in their nature – onto the pages of youngsters as young as 13.
Earlier this year, 15-year-old Josh Unsworth took his own life after enduring months of abusive messages on his Ask.fm profile. And now friends and family of 14-year-old schoolgirl Hannah Smith, found hanged on Friday, say Ask.fm has claimed another victim.
The day before she died, Hannah posted an elaborately hand-written message which read: “You think you want to die but in reality you just want to be saved.”
Her grieving parents posted the news of their daughter’s tragic death on Facebook, slamming Ask.fm for not tackling cyber bullies and calling for it to be removed completely from the web.
Hannah’s father Dave Smith wrote: “On Friday morning, my daughter was found hanged last night. I seen her Ask.fm account and someone had been telling her to die.”
He said his heart had been broken and would “take a long time to repair”. He also asks “What’s left after Hannah took her own life?” And he talks about how he sleeps downstairs because he doesn’t want to go to bed and how he goes out for walks just because he can’t stand being in his empty house.
Friends and Ask.fm users responded by calling for greater awareness of, and action to tackle, cyber bullying. One user, Chloe India, said: “The haters need to realize. These situations need handling fast, too many people commit suicide because of the haters/ cyber bullies on here and other social networking sites.”
So far, Ask.fm has not commented on Hannah’s death, but its online disclaimer states: “The Ask.fm service allows for anonymous content which Ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the Ask.fm service at your own risk, and that Ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste.”
Clearly that is no compensation for Hannah’s family who will never get over the loss of their “beautiful” daughter, or for the anti-bullying campaigners battling to have sites such as Ask.fm banned.
An online petition has been launched to demand that Ask.fm is shut down completely. The petition describes cyber bulling as “an ever increasing problem within the UK” adding that one of the biggest offenders is Ask.fm.
It claims posts on Ask.fm have led to “bullying, mental health problems and suicides, as well as grooming.”
“The problem cannot be allowed to persist,” adds the group, “and whilst there is public opinion about digital rights, please sign if you would like the Government to step in and insist that Ask.fm and similar sites help us protect our young people”.