Ask.fm: the Latest Website Shirking Responsibility for Cyberbullying Suicides
Last week, 14-year-old Hannah Smith, of Lutterworth, England, was found hanged in her bedroom. In the weeks leading up to her death, Smith reportedly had been subjected to cruel taunts and insults on Ask.fm, a question-and-answer social networking site that allows anonymous participation. Some of the messages Smith received even told her she should kill herself. Of Ask.fm’s 60 million users, around 30 million of them are minors. We need your help in telling Ask.fm to take responsibility for protecting them from horrific abuse.
Justice for Rehtaeh Parsons
Cyberbullying is not a new phenomenon, but we have thankfully seen some progress in the effort to bring justice to victims.
In November 2011, Rehtaeh Parsons, from Nova Scotia, Canada, was raped by four boys, who then photographed her and distributed the photos online. On April 4, 2013, Parsons hanged herself in her bathroom. Four days later, her family decided to take her off life support because she had injured herself so badly.
At first, the police couldn’t “prove” who had taken the pictures or posted them online, so the girl’s rapists were not prosecuted. Over 42,000 outraged Care2 activists signed our petition demanding that this and all further injustices like it be investigated promptly, not thrown out based on “insufficient evidence.”
Now, over four months after Parsons’s suicide, two men have finally been charged. One 18-year-old man faces two counts of distributing child pornography, while another 18-year-old man faces charges of making and distributing child pornography. Police said they would not release the identities of the accused, as they were minors at the time of the alleged offenses.
Why child pornography charges? Legal experts say that child pornography laws are not a perfect fit for dealing with cyberbullying images, but they are one tool, along with laws against sexual harassment and cyberbullying, that prosecutors can use to hold teenagers accountable.
From The Guardian:
Earlier in the day, Rehtaeh’s parents said news of the arrests brought them some solace, though the girl’s father expressed disappointment that his daughter never saw justice served. “She’s dead now. She’s gone,” Glen Canning said.
The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, applauded the progress in the case and said Rehtaeh’s death was a terrible tragedy that touched people across Canada. “I just want to say how pleased we are that progress has been made. I hope this will provide some measure of comfort to family members.”
Nova Scotia Takes Action Against Cyberbullying
Rehtaeh’s case prompted Nova Scotia to become a leader in efforts to prevent the hurtful distribution of sexual images and other types of cyberbullying.
A new law took effect in the province on August 7, allowing people to seek a protection order to place restrictions on or help identify a cyberbully. The law also allows victims to sue for being cyberbullied and, most importantly, it requires principals to respond to cyberbullying, even if it occurs outside of school or school hours. In addition, it sets up a special unit to investigate complaints of cyberbullying, the first of its kind in Canada.
Take Action for Hannah Smith
Hannah Smith’s suicide, however, proves that the issue of cyberbullying is not going away and needs to stop.
Thanks to Care2 activists like you, we have a measure of justice for Rehtaeh Parsons, and now we are asking for your help again in telling Ask.fm that it must take responsibility for abuse on the site and for the death of Hannah Smith.
Please sign our petition demanding that Ask.fm triple its resources on moderation and instate harsh punishment, like IP blocking, for anyone caught using hate speech on the site. Sign today to send a clear message that we will not tolerate the site making millions off of children’s suffering.
Thank you so much for all that you do.
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