Parents Need to Ask Questions About Ask.fm

Cybertip.ca receiving concerning reports about a popular social networking site for youth

July 9, 2013
For Immediate Release

WINNIPEG, MB: The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is warning the public about an anonymous question and answer site called Ask.fm that is presently trending with Canadian youth. Recent reports made by the public to the Canadian Centre’s Cybertip.ca program (Canada’s national tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children) has raised significant concerns about tween’s and teen’s exposure to and/or involvement in sexually explicit commentary, cyberbullying, threats, and harassing activities on this very popular site.

Ask.fm allows users to anonymously post comments and questions to other users’ profiles. Most concerning is that it has been used as a platform to encourage others to self-harm, and in some instances, commit suicide. The site has been linked internationally to a number of cases of extreme cyberbullying and harassment as well a handful of teen suicides.

Unlike other social networking sites that provide privacy setting options, all profiles on Ask.fm are public, and can be searched by name, email or location. The purpose of the site is to enable users to ask other users questions, or post comments (which can include photos and videos) which seems harmless enough — except that it can be done anonymously.

“Parents need to understand the serious risks that a website like Ask.fm can pose to their children,” says Signy Arnason, Director of Cybertip.ca. “The combination of its lack of privacy settings and the ability for users to post comments and questions on other users’ profiles anonymously, makes the social media platform ideal for harmful interactions.”

With nearly 57 million users worldwide, Ask.fm is particularly popular among youth likely due to it being a parent-free online space. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, this relatively new social networking site is mostly unknown to parents across the country.

“We’re not only talking about peers anonymously bullying other youth and inciting harmful behaviour, but also vulgar chatter, derogatory remarks, and social-media assaults involving very young people,” says Arnason.

"Parental involvement is key to ensuring that children and teens do not access Internet sites that can be harmful to themselves or others," says Supt. John Bilinski, Officer in Charge, Canadian Police for Missing and Exploited Children, RCMP, Behavioural Science Branch. "It is important for parents to be informed about and aware of what their children are accessing online, and to also discuss with their children the potential dangers that can be found online."

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is strongly encouraging parents to take the time and learn more about Ask.fm and determine their child’s level of engagement with this site. To learn more about ways to increase your child’s safe and responsible use of the Internet, visit www.needhelpnow.ca.

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