After the suicide of Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old teenager from Leicestershire, England, it is time to step in and regulate websites such as Ask.fm that allow hateful, anonymous postings.
Smith was a regular user of this social network according to CNN, as she was allegedly using it to seek advice on the skin condition, eczema. Smith’s innocent intentions were met by cruel responses: On Aug. 2, Smith’s 16-year-old sister Jo reportedly discovered that Smith had hanged herself. In order to protect our youth from a similar fate, government intervention is needed to stop Ask.fm.
In today’s world where advanced technology has become the center of everyday life, traditional school hallway bullying has manifested itself in a new niche within the Internet.
Social networking websites are online hubs crawling with countless teens interacting with each other freely, and user rates skyrocketing by the minute.
Ask.fm is a website on which users create profiles for themselves and accept anonymous questions and comments to their profile. It has 70 million users worldwide, half of whom are under 18, and gains nearly 200,000 new users daily.
The Q-and-A-style site allows users to anonymously ask other users questions, which can then be publicly posted to the profile. While the site was probably founded with intentions of being a fun and easygoing medium, this is rarely the experiences of teen Ask.fm users.
Ask.fm promotes hateful, psychologically scarring interactions with its anonymous asker feature, which self-conscious adolescents find themselves hooked on in search of confidence. These fragile teens are more often than not met with shallow questions and comments ranging from, “Are you a virgin?” to “You are ugly and annoying,” to “You are fat.” They will sign on to their accounts to find their question inboxes flooded with posts such as “Everyone hates you.”
Smith’s death has fueled mounting calls in Britain for preventative action against abuse through social media that started when widespread reports of women receiving rape and bomb threats via Twitter began piling up. An online petition urging the government to act following the despondent teen’s death has now reached more than 10,000 signatures, and Prime Minister David Cameron has even called for the establishment of a commission to review the responsibilities of social networking site managers and draft a range of preventative action possibilities.
But even with these increasing pressures, cyberbullying continues to plague the Internet. The truth of the matter is that it is too difficult for emotionally unstable teens to stay away from these hateful words or even turn off their computers. As teen users choose to publicly post these questions and their answers to their profiles, either responding in agreement or retaliating with some sort of witty comeback, they unintentionally propagate self-hate and further injure themselves. Many teens even continue to publicize their Ask.fm accounts on their other social networking profiles in search of more opinions, spurring an endless cycle. Abuse through social networking sites is threatening our youth, and it is urgent that government action is taken to shut down Ask.fm and similar sites in order to put an end to the hatred circulating online.
According to The Guardian, Ask.fm has pledged cyberbullying reform through increased user protection following Smith’s death. The company has planned to modify policies regarding reporting and moderation, registration and corporate visibility. Unless the site decides to remove its anonymous user feature completely, however, mere reporting reforms will be ultimately useless in putting a stop to cyberbullying.
Though considerations like Cameron’s commission to investigate possibilities such as adding a “red button” to social networking sites, which flags out experiencers of cyberbullying to guidance counselors, are steps in the right direction, the fact that the Internet lacks transparency makes such approaches futile in the war against online abuse.
With endless opportunities for bullying through anonymity, if the Internet does not see any kind of serious government intervention in the near future, cyberbullies will continue to sit behind their keyboards trolling social network sites and posting the cruelest and nastiest comments left and right. According to the Pew Research Center, 93 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 are active on the Internet several times a day. Since the most fragile age group is also the most frequently online, today’s adolescents are at an even more grave risk than ever of experiencing severe psychological scarring with the imminent possibility of consequent physical harm.
The sooner Ask.fm and similar sites are eradicated, and stringent regulation of other social network sites occurs, the sooner our youth are protected from the swarm of cyberbullies driving fragile teens into an abyss of trauma.
Rojine Ariani is a sophomore majoring in political science and international relations.
Follow Rojine Ariani on Twitter @rojineariani