As another teenage suicide is linked to the social-networking website, pressure grows on its foreign owners, parents and our government to act. This is from the Telegraph…
When Charron Pugsley-Hill opened the newspaper on Tuesday morning, she was met by photographs of yet another smiling teenager staring up from the page.
Hannah Smith, 14, from Lutterworth, Leicestershire, was found hanged on Friday at the home she shared with her parents after receiving a series of abusive messages – which told her to “drink bleach”, “go get cancer” and “go die” – on the social-networking website Ask.fm. She is the latest British teenager to have taken her own life following severe bullying on the site…
Chances are that you may not even have heard of the social-networking website, which was founded in 2010 by Russian brothers and internet entrepreneurs Ilya and Mark Terebin, the sons of a wealthy former Red Army serviceman. But Ask.fm gains 300,000 new and predominantly teenage users a day. Its iPhone app, launched in June, was last week reported to be among the most popular in the world.
Last month, a top grammar school became the first in Britain to ask parents to ban the site (and other social-networking pages) after an “exponential increase” in pupils self-harming. The Daily Telegraph has also seen a warning letter sent in May from a Hampshire college to the parents of pupils, after two students reported having suffered abuse on the site.
Hannah’s death has prompted her parents to join calls from others in Ireland, Britain, America, Australia and New Zealand for Ask.fm to be banned. But the site is based in Riga – the Terebin brothers are graduates of the Latvian capital’s International School of Economics – and is governed by Latvian laws. It takes its domain name, .fm, from the Federated States of Micronesia, a group of islands in the Pacific, as it is supposedly “global and inclusive” in its appeal.
Last night, Ask.fm released a statement describing the latest death as a “true tragedy” and said it would co-operate with the Leicestershire Police investigation. But in May, Mark Terebin, 28, claimed that in 90 per cent of cyber-bullying cases, teenagers actually posted the nasty comments themselves as a means to get attention. In a statement given to an Irish broadcaster, following the suicide of 13-year-old Erin Gallagher from County Donegal, last October, he appeared to suggest that British children were to blame for the recent tragedies.
“We have only this situation in Ireland and the UK most of all,” he said. “It seems that children are more cruel in these countries.”
The Daily Telegraph asked a PR company hired by the firm to clarify these comments, as well as homophobic ones reportedly made by the brothers on their Ask.fm pages. No response has been received.
“I think there are many good things about social-networking sites,” says Pugsley-Hill. “Occasionally I look on my 15-year-old’s Facebook page and he’s fine for me to do that. He is wedded to it. But if you say something face-to-face, you can see the effect it has. With cyber-bullying, you’re in front of your computer, letting a stranger into your house.
“I don’t think our politicians are doing enough, and I don’t think we are taking the danger seriously enough. There are going to be a lot more [deaths] because of this.”
Campaigners claim that while online bullying is rife on other social-networking sites, Ask.fm is more worrying because it allows people to post comments in anonymity.
…“Sites like this are based overseas and our internet service providers (such as Sky Broadband, Virgin Media and BT) don’t seem to want to touch them at the moment. I find that very difficult. It’s an area that the Government don’t seem to want to touch either, despite the fact that the Prime Minister talks a lot about internet pornography. He should be putting pressure on.”
The charity BeatBullying estimates one in three young people have been victims of cyber-bullying, with one in 13 experiencing persistent abuse. Of these, five per cent resorted to self-harm and three per cent reported an attempted suicide.
“There are children everywhere who are suffering in silence with depression and self-harming,” says Anthony Smythe, managing director of the charity. “Bullying has moved from something that ends at the school gates to something always there – from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed.”
…Ask.fm’s terms of service say users must be 13 or older, although this can be ignored in a registration process that takes seconds. A statement from the website says it has “policies in place that empower our users to protect themselves and to invite our intervention when required”. Users can switch off anonymous comments in their privacy settings, and if they do receive an offensive comment, they can block the user and report the incident. But campaigners say it needs better verification of users’ details, better monitoring of abuse and clearer reporting procedures.
We had a lot of reaction to the news of teenager Hannah Smith’s suicide on the site yesterday and a lot of disquiet with Ask.fm. Is it realistic to think a site like this can actually be closed down? And what about the copycats that would spring up? Is awareness and education a better approach? Or is there a danger that raising the profile of Ask.fm – even with the best possible intentions – will only encourage more teenagers to try it? How do you think the situation should be handled? Please share in the comments or on twitter…