School administrators and parents need to know of a new social media website tool popular with children as young as 13, known as Ask.fm.  The Latvian-based website allows a person to create a profile with very few privacy controls in place.  Once a profile is established, anyone can anonymously ask the new user questions.  The anonymity provides the person asking the questions the freedom to say whatever they want without repercussion or detection.  Many people use this freedom to lodge insults and cruel comments, and make sexual advances aimed at their targets.  The site has been described as a “stalker’s paradise”  and has been linked to cyberbullying.    Cyberguardiansonline.com sums up the problems posed by this website as follows:

  • Schools around the world are sending out letters advising pupils not to use Ask.fm
  • Site lets anyone see details of boys and girls as young as 13, then post comments or questions
  • There is no way to report offensive comments
  • Has become linked to a number of recent teen suicides

It was reported late last year that one Florida teen committed suicide, in part because of cyberbullying that occurred through Ask.fm.    There have also been calls to shut the website down, although the likelihood of that happening is slim.

Teens today are drawn to new technology related to social media.  Unfortunately, the creators of some of these websites and apps do not necessarily have the best interests of children in mind.  Privacy is not properly addressed by many of the latest social media sites, which opens the door to cyberbullying and poor decision-making that may have long-lasting consequences for the teens using these sites.  Although it’s primarily up to parents to learn about and monitor online behavior, schools would be wise to educate themselves about the social media students use, since the problems that originate online often spill over onto campus.

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