Fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith, of Lutterworth, England, was found hanged in her bedroom on August 2.
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, and has around 30 million users who are minors, out of a total of 60 million. In all, the site has been linked to the deaths of four teenagers in recent online bullying cases.
We asked for your help in telling Ask.fm to set up better safety measures to protect young people from horrific abuse. Almost 40,000 Care2 activists signed our petition urging the Latvian-based social media site to develop a better safety policy, and they listened. On August 19, less than three weeks after Hannah Smith’s death, the social networking site unveiled upcoming changes to address the issue.
The BBC reports that Ask.fm said it would:
• Hire more staff, including a safety officer, to moderate comments on the site
• Create a “bullying/harassment” category for reported comments, alongside “spam or scam,” “hate speech,” “violence” and “pornographic content”
• Raise the visibility of a function to opt out of receiving anonymous questions
• Limit the number of features unregistered users were able to access and require an email address upon sign-up for registered users
It also said that many of the changes would be live on the site by September.
The father of Hannah Smith welcomed the changes:
“I think it’s too late, but it’s not too little,” Dave Smith said in an interview with the BBC. “They’re actually taking a step forward and they’re making things safer for children on the internet.”
Smith went on to say that he didn’t believe that Ask.fm needed to be shut down, since it had shown it was ready to make its site safer. However, he did call on the government to bring in new regulations so that people are safe on the internet, and so that anyone who is abusive can get prosecuted for that.
Meanwhile, it was revealed that yet another teenager, 17-year-old Daniel Perry, had been urged to kill himself by anonymous users on Ask.fm in the months leading up to his death in July.
Perry had online conversations with someone he believed was a girl of the same age in the US. He committed suicide by jumping from a bridge in Scotland after a recording was used to try to blackmail him, and following a warning that he would be “better off dead” if he failed to pay up.
Cyber bullying is alarmingly common among young people: over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. More than 50 percent of these young people do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs.
By deciding to tighten up its safety procedures, Ask.fm is taking a step in the right direction, and this announcement has been welcomed by child safety experts.
The pressure to make it illegal to offer this kind of service to children without making sure they are who they say they are is important.
The UK Safer Internet Center announced that it was “delighted” by Ask.fm’s proposed changes and added that the increased visibility of the “anonymous opt-out option” was an important development. The group put out a statement advising users, especially children, to switch off anonymous questions and to report any abuse they see on the site.
These are important steps towards protecting our young people.
Thank you again for signing the Care2 petition.
Photo Credit: screenshot from online BBC video