Log onto Facebook at any given time and you’ll almost always see a few people posting their Ask.fm account links, prompting their peers to ask them questions through the anonymous social media site. It experienced an explosion of popularity among teenagers, with over 20 million users as of November 2012. That figure has more than doubled since then. Unfortunately, the anonymity of Ask.fm creates significant potential for cyberbullying and the spread of malicious rumors by allowing anonymous individuals to send in unmoderated questions and comments to insecure users without ever being held accountable for their statements.
At first glance, the site seems relatively harmless—simple banter about after-school plans and some obscure information you never would have dared to ask someone in person. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Ask.fm has traditionally not employed privacy settings, prohibiting users from controlling who can and cannot see and question their accounts. With no parents to look over students’ shoulders, Ask.fm has become a breeding ground for cyberbullying and unnecessary online drama. Questions that deal with private and personal stories are often asked without hesitation, and answers that openly insult or shame others are not uncommon. Sexual language, profanities and obscene name-calling add to the picture—all for the world’s viewing pleasure. Oftentimes users don’t even ask others questions, but simply send blatantly rude statements. The fact that users can hide behind their computer screens has only encouraged crude and hurtful questions and comments. Most of the victims actually know their tormentors, but the site’s signature anonymity allows them to commit acts of bullying without getting in trouble. In cases like these, young people are often naïve and susceptible to harm without even realizing the severity of what they are doing. Anonymity creates irregular conversation that would not take place if questioners were identified. It removes social trappings and restrictions, prompting students to do rash, harmful and dangerous things.
It is true that users have a choice as to whether they want to answer questions. Yet they often unwittingly choose to answer them, even if means hurting someone else or putting themselves in a dangerous position. Even if they choose not to, malicious questioners are given an anonymous and unregulated path to the users. We have constantly been told to keep our Facebook clean and to not post things that could potentially get us in trouble. The same goes for any social media site. For whatever reason, people seem to disregard this when it comes to Ask.fm. People often use Ask.fm simply to pass the time and they don’t think before posting.
The few minutes of entertainment you might get by answering questions are not worth the consequences and risks that come with Ask.fm. Answers on Ask.fm about yourself and others can easily be used against you. Along with anything else on the Internet, it is important to keep in mind that anyone can get access to what you say, and even by deleting your account or specific answers, there are ways for that information to get out.
—Ganapathi, a senior, is a Copy Editor.