ASKfm is a question-and-answer site largely populated by teens. Almost half of its users are between thirteen and eighteen years old. Like many anonymous social media platforms, the site has become infamous for cyberbullying.
One needs only to read the reviews on Common Sense Media, a social media rating site, to understand the problems with ASKfm. One parent writes that the site “enable[s] destructive, distasteful, bullying and inappropriate behavior for kids and teens” and that “their fancy settings do not prevent kids from bashing and destroying the reputation of other innocent kids…”
Another parent – a self-reported “teacher and mother – writes this:
“Popular kids use it as a platform to become more popular, unaware or perhaps well aware that their comments can hurt others. Children with a low self-esteem are likely to fall victim to bullying as the site allows anonymous posts…it is the worst social media site I have ever seen.”
Why Do Teens Use It?
Here’s a valid question: if the site harbors so much negativity and causes so much distress to adolescents, why do they use it?
What’s the thrill in getting embarrassing and hurtful questions and messages day after day – from anonymous people?
Several researchers set out to answer this very question. In the study “Beyond Cyberbullying: Self-Disclosure, Harm and Social Support on ASKfm,” University of Maryland professors analyzed data from more than 40,000 ASKfm users and interviewed more than 240 teens currently using the site.
The results showed that some teens, especially those with mental health issues, find solace in this anonymous community.
Self-Disclosure and Anonymous Support
ASKfm gives many teens the chance to engage in anonymous self-disclosure. Evidence shows that anonymous self-disclosure can be beneficial to teens struggling with mental or physical health issues, especially when they receive social support after their confessions.
In the authors’ two-part study, more than half – 54.4 percent – of the participants said they made identity disclosures because they wanted to cheer themselves up. These types of disclosure included personal information such as relationship status (“Patrick and I aren’t dating, lol”), preferences (favorite color/TV show/animal), opinions on friends (“Thoughts on Sarah?”), and opinions on certain issues.
“Self-disclosing on a semi-anonymous social media platform can be cathartic and comforting,” the study authors wrote.
Additionally, they found that a large percentage of teens seek social support on ASKfm because they struggle with mental health issues. Much of their discourse involved self-harm, self-injury, and depression. These teens are drawn to ASKfm because they receive emotional support on the site, as well as positive feedback, which allays their negative feelings.
For example, a common type of post on AskFm is a “Suicide List.” Teens ask peers to like the post if they have ever been hurt, or have hurt themselves, in specific ways.
What happens after such a list is posted is that the original teen then sends positive feedback and encouragement (usually in the form of sympathetic comments) to everyone who “likes” their post.
The teens who send these types of posts typically struggle themselves with this sort of negative behavior. By sending emotional support to other teens, they also receive the benefit of online solidarity. By their account, both parties benefit from this sort of exchange.
Fishing for Compliments
Another way that teens receive emotional support on the platform is by asking friends – anonymously, of course – what they think of them.
Questions like “Thoughts on Sarah?” or “What do you think of Ben?” are plentiful on ASKfm, and they’re usually posted by the Sarahs and Bens themselves. Teens do this to fish for compliments, receive an honest assessment of their relationships, or both. The response to many of these queries is often positive (if not gushing) praise. Obviously, this makes the questioner feel good. It also clears up any confusion about said friendship.
In this way, teens cement their friendship and relationship statuses – and they use ASKfm.
Parents: Check the Reviews – and Talk to Your Teen
There’s a reason why social media platforms are popular. In the case of ASKfm, one primary benefit seems to be the emotional and social support teens receive from disclosing information about themselves, sharing discussions on sensitive topics, and receiving compliments from others.
Parents of teens sharing suicide lists or even just liking such posts – which is cause for concern since it indicates a high likelihood that they, too, have experienced the behaviors on these lists – need to get their teen professional mental health treatment as soon as possible. Never take suicidal ideation – i.e. thoughts or talk of suicide – lightly. If your adolescent is considering hurting themselves, or is currently self-harming, they need to be taken to a psychiatric hospital. Then, upon discharge, they will probably need residential treatment.
But your teen could need professional help even if they don’t seem to be a physical danger to themselves or others.
One thing that parents need to understand is that a constant need to receive attention from others on social media may indicate deep-rooted insecurities. If your teen spends lots of time on ASKfm or any other social media platform, and reacts sensitively or anxiously to certain posts, it may be time to have a heart-to-heart about whether they need professional help for any mental health issues.
However, parents still largely oppose to this risky site. Skim through the reviews on Common Sense Media, and you’ll see why.