A hot new website has some parents and experts up in arms.
Ask.fm, a wildly popular social networking site where teens can post anonymously without the prying eyes of parents, has now been mentioned in news reports in relation to five teen suicides.
Critics say the site is encouraging bullying among teens.
Molly Cannon, 20, of Connecticut, remembers the day she first logged on.
“It started off when everyone was just like, ‘Oh, ask me questions on my Ask.’”
But quickly, Cannon says those innocent questions turned into brutal verbal assaults.
“Slowly it got worse and worse,” she explained. “I would be sitting in my bed, and I would cry because it was like, ‘How can people be so mean?’”
In the past year alone, some 6.3 million visitors, many of them young teenagers, have logged on to the site as a way to bond with other young people, and inadvertently opened themselves up to anonymous bullying.
“Teens look at that as an opportunity to do things they would never otherwise feel comfortable doing,” Hemanshu Nigam, a former chief security officer at MySpace, told ABC News.
“It’s every teen’s dream,” New York psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor said. “No. 1, it’s anonymous, and No. 2, most parents don’t know about it. I think it really reminds us as parents we have to look at our kids’ online behavior as faithfully as we do with what they do offline. We’ll pay attention to their friends that we can see physically, but we need to see what they’re doing online.”
The website, which is also popular in Europe, has been mentioned in news stories in connection with at least four teen suicides in the U.K. and Ireland. And here in the U.S., 16-year-old Jessica Laney’s best friend said Laney, of Hudson, Fla., took her own life after relentless online attacks.
“It is a dangerous thing for some teenagers to go on these sites because they are met with such hostility and such ugly statements,” said clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair.
Ask.fm users have been known to post vicious messages, such as ”drink bleach,” “go get cancer” and “go die.”
However, the local sheriff’s office says neither it, Laney’s parents, boyfriend nor the school district were aware of any bullying in her life.
Outraged parents are pressuring Ask.fm for more accountability, and Ask.fm has responded in an open letter:
“We are committed to ensuring that our site is a safe environment. … We have implemented various measures over the past months to continue to improve our users’ safety,” the company wrote.
To read Ask.fm’s full open letter, click here.