ASKfm is a social media platform, based in Europe, with more than 200 million users around the world. It’s particularly popular with teens. In fact, more than 40% of its users are adolescents ages 13 – 18.
On the site, users ask and answer questions to each other—directly or anonymously. Such questions can range from the innocent (“What’s your favorite show?”) to, as you might imagine, the more personal.
Which is where it gets concerning.
Concerns About ASKfm
Browse through the app one day, and you’re likely to see teens asking each other intimate questions. Questions about their sex life, drugs of choice, and other inappropriate topics. Hate speech. Pornographic content. And often, it’s not just questions…it’s accusations. Slanderous rumors, masked as inquiries. The app gives kids an open invitation to engage in reputation-killing gossip, use bad language and insult others, and yes—bully their peers.
It’s the anonymity which makes it frighteningly easy to bully. In fact, a parent review on Common Sense Media, which rates social media platforms for safety, writes that the app “should be renamed ‘bully fm’.”
Bullying on ASKfm
The following are all real questions or posts that have been asked on the platform, taken from a variety of media sources warning parents of its dangers:
“Who are the ugliest girls in 12th grade at [school]?”
“Why don’t you kill yourself already?”
“oi mate when you go back to school am gona [redacted] stab you…and im gona put you in hospital”
“Why are you so fat/ugly/stupid?”
“Why are you such a b****?”
There are other posts that are too sensitive to share. Many posts ask for racy photos and videos of teens. Others are rife with vulgarity.
And the site is completely unmoderated. It relies exclusively on users to report whether content is inappropriate. If they don’t, nothing happens.
ASKfm and Teen Suicides
Unsurprisingly, ASKfm has been linked to at least nine adolescent suicides. Adolescents as young as 13 have killed themselves after receiving waves of hateful messages. Erin Gallagher from Ireland endured so much bullying on the site – by one specific, anonymous person – that she specifically mentioned ASKfm in her suicide note. On the site, peers asked her “questions” about her weight, about her relationships, accused her of faking her depression, and commented that she had no respect for herself.
Fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith, also from the UK, received vile messages on ASKfm. Peers told her to “go die u pathetic emo”, “drink bleach”, “go get cancer” and “u ugly —- go die evry1 wuld (sic) be happy.”
Hannah committed suicide as a result of the relentless bullying.
Ways to Stay Safe on ASKfm
There’s a way to limit the danger of ASKfm, and that’s by turning off all anonymous questions. But only your child can do this. And, to tell you the truth, your adolescent may not be tempted to do so, since the entire point of the platform is the thrill of getting attention from anonymous peers. Your child is also the only one who can block specific users from posting or asking questions on their profile if they’re being harassed. ASKfm has no parental controls.
The good news is that anyone can report inappropriate content. So even if you’re not a member of ASKfm but stumble upon a post that makes your stomach turn, you can report it. The support team will then review whether the post is indeed inappropriate and remove it and/or cancel the user’s account. The bad news, again, is that there’s no way to report a user altogether. You have to go one by one and report all their posts, which is severely time consuming, and hope that the support team ends up removing the user altogether.
Advice to Parents
So, should you be concerned if your teen has ASKfm? The answer is yes.
ASKfm can truly be dangerous for teens. Parents should have conversations with their adolescents and teens about the possible hazards on the site, as well as with other social media platforms. Of course, blocking or banning such an app altogether would prevent any of the risks associated with ASKfm, and that’s our recommendation. Not allowing your teen to have the ASKfm app or visit the site altogether is the safest measure you can take.
However, if you personally feel comfortable with your teen having such an app despite all the risks, then discuss the issues of cyberbullying and bullying with them. Make sure they know they should come to you if they ever have any concerns, or if anyone is ever harassing them on the site. And lastly, we recommend directly monitoring the posts on their profile every now and then, yourself—even if they don’t like it. That way, if you find anything inappropriate or worrisome, you can address it directly.