Currently, CfDP receives quite a few questions about Ask.fm. If you have been travelling space the past two months you might not have heard about the new craze and the many stories of bullying in the media. In this article, I will briefly attempt to clarify what fascinates people about Ask, and why it is a good idea to be on the sidelines as parents or professionals.

What is Ask.fm?

Ask.fm has been around about 5 years. Originally based in Lithuania, Ask.fm has recently been acquired and re-branded by an American company. So, Ask is not new at all; however, the Danish interest is. Two years ago we saw a lot of media coverage on a similar social medium, Formspring, much in the media of the exact same reasons Ask is in the media now: Cases of bullying occur because one has the opportunity to remain anonymous. Basically, Ask is built on the concept that people “ask each other questions.” You create a profile, connect it to other social media to find friends, and you are ready to go. All profiles are public, so you can ask questions to complete strangers, if you like. A principal function of Ask is that you can choose to ask question anonymously; a feature that most people choose when they ask questions.

A lot of the questions asked are completely ordinary: Do you like Coca cola or Pepsi? Or semi-ironic:

“Deer or Dolphin?”
“Dolphin!”

Other questions concern trivialities of everyday life and experiences of being young.

“Are you a virgin?”
“Um, hope I’ll be alright :))”

In other cases, some sort of border is crossed and questions can quickly turn confrontational. It becomes very easy to “cast bullets”:

“I really don’t care what you call me, I hope you know that Sigurd fingered her but that’s how it goes. Too bad you don’t believe me but that’s just how it is. just telling you to be nice”
“If you’re so sure it’s true, would it do any harm to message me privately?”

“I dare you to send a picture of you taking a dump?”
“Yes, post your snap and I’ll get you a shitty picture ;)”

“Isn’t Zandra just totally demanding of attention and annoying sometimes?”
“Why do you ask?”

“Why are you badmouthing Fie and her girlfriends?”
“When have I ever talked bad about Fie, she’s a lovely girl, have nothing bad to say about her??? And who are her girlfriends? Couldn’t have badmouthed anyone who I don’t know, this is just too dumb hahahah”

“How do you feel that Mendez is talking shit about you?”
“That’s kind of sad. She can say whatever she wants, don’t care too much but I didn’t really expect it from her”

“Are you only 170 cm tall!?”
“No I’m 173”

A modern version of Truth or Dare

To understand the fascination of Ask, as an adult, one has to remember their own teenage years. You may remember the game of Truth or dare where you can ask each other intimate and personal questions? Or the anonymous “you are cute” message from someone at school? Teenagers’ play with identity certainly also takes place on the web. It can quickly become very intriguing; and it can actually also be a solid tool to help understanding “the other sex” or like-minded people. The opportunity to ask things you would not ask face-to-face is extremely appealing. In that sense, it is a good idea to offer youngsters an outlet to ask questions about teenage life which could easily be somewhat embarrassing to ask in the physical world.

Cyberhus, for instance, has successfully been running a project where people are able to share body secrets with one another. In this case, it is only positive that one can step out of the spotlight for awhile. Only, the problem is that anonymity is often equated with people letting their inner beast out. A lot of youngsters unfortunately choose to abuse the functionality of anonymity, and they get nasty towards each other.

Normally, my position on social media is that mostly there is no such thing as wrong social media but rather wrong ways to use them. Ask.fm kind of challenges that thought because lots of profiles contain material that creates conflict. If a social medium deliberately creates that much conflict, in this context, it may also be appropriate to warn against the medium itself. However, I also believe there are many positive ways to use anonymity. So I would rather that we broadly teach young people about faceless communication and cyberethics. How does it affect the real human beings on the other side of the screen who are faced with very negative comments? How do we define sound and moral use of Ask.fm?

Over the years, speaking to youngsters at schools about the fascination of Formspring, and now Ask, a lot of students tell me that the driving force is THE DRAMA! The fact that Ask almost guarantees a reality-like atmosphere makes the platform exciting to visit and follow. Conflict is a difficult news criterion to compete with, but young people need to learn there are real people on the other side – and real consequences of one’s actions.

How can you advice on good use of Ask.fm?

First of all, you have to understand that EVERYTHING is public on Ask. When you create a profile on Ask.fm, nothing can be done to prevent others from seeing the questions you get asked. As parents or professionals, it provides excellent insight into young people’s lives of codes and identity. Go to Ask, search a name, and get a glimpse of young people’s online lives.

Spotting any abuse of the service, you should encourage people to block and report the abuse. By reporting abuse you help stop the teasing on their part but possibly also that of others. You can inform youngsters about the option of using Aks.fm’s built-in privacy settings.Using these settings, you can choose NOT to allow anonymous questions. This will most definitely eradicate the worst bullying. However, it will (probably) also remove 90% of the questions you would otherwise get asked, which in effect is often why people allow anonymous questions.

Age requirements on Ask.fm

You should also read and pass on Ask.fm’s abuse policy which provides clear insight into what Ask, themselves, view as wrong usage of their service. Comparable to most other social media, Ask has an age requirement of 13. As a parent, I very much believe you should consider enforcing that age limit on Ask; The amount of conflict is vast, and cases of misunderstandings and bullying are more likely to occur, the younger you are. Finally, it is a good idea to inform our young people that anonymity also has a limit. Crossing legal boundaries is reportable to the police, and Ask is then able to locate the owner of a given profile.

Although it may be difficult, it is important to make an effort to emphasize with people’s fascination of Ask, and not just focussing on the misuse. However hidden it may sometimes seem, Ask and other similar services also have some strong qualities that actually help young people during their teenage years.

This article is originally posted in Danish.

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