Charlottetown girl urged to commit suicide on Ask.fm social web site

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Screen grab of an exchange a Charlottetown teen received on a social networking site called Ask.fm. The Guardian blocked part of the conversation that may have been offensive to some readers.

The nudge was cruel, mean spirited and hateful.

It could also have proven deadly.

Roughly six months ago, a Charlottetown teen started tapping away on the controversial and heavily criticized social networking site called Ask.fm.

The 14-year-old girl battles with mental health issues. Two months ago she tried to end her life.

Days later, her mother informs The Guardian, the girl was communicating on Ask.fm.

An anonymous site user, apparently aware of the girl’s fragile state, told the teen to take her own life, that she wasn’t worth being here.

The girl was terribly upset by the unconscionable posting.

On Sunday, more of the same, perhaps by the same anonymous Ask.fm site user.

The user fired off the following despicable message to the teen:

“You disgust me. You disgust everyone. You’re so pathetic, you’re nothing but a worthless attention beggar. You’re a piece of ----. It’s crazy how much a person can be hated, by the way, that would be you. The most hated person! ****ing loser. Go cut yourself and die, faggot.’’

Mom, quite naturally, was furious.

“I was angry — very angry,’’ she says.

She reported the incident to the police. The police said they are aware of the site, but cannot do anything. The Charlottetown mother wants somebody to do something.

She doesn’t want teens to use the site. Ultimately, she would like to find a way to shut the site down.

“I feel like parents don’t really know what social media sites there are out there,’’ she says.

Parry Aftab, a lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security law, is very familiar with Ask.fm.

The social site was founded in Latvia and is available in a few dozen languages. The site lets kids ask questions and answer questions posted by other users. Exchanges can be done anonymously. Bullying is a major concern.

As with many social sites, some users keep things friendly and clean, while others post hateful comments or sexual come-ons.

Some of those comments have dire consequences.

“We have more suicides from Ask.fm than from any other site out there,’’ says Aftab, who founded the site wiredsafety.org to combat cyberbullying.

Aftab has reached out to the Aask.fm site consistently for the last three years.

“They have not been very co-operative with law enforcement or us,’’ she says.

Aftab, who has been able to shut down similar social sites, expects that to change.

“When you deal with these sites you either shut them down or you fix them...make them more user friendly,’’ she says.

“I’m optimistic that Ask.fm will change its practices to be safer for young people to use it...to stop cyberbullying among their users.’’

Currently, the site doesn’t monitor content, but users can report behaviour that’s violent, pornographic, or contains hate speech.

“If your teens do use the site, they’d be best turning off anonymous answers and keeping themselves out of the live stream — and knowing how to handle abusive behaviour if they do run into bullies,’’ advises the website commonsensemedia.org.

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Latvia

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  • Nancy Willard
    July 24, 2014 - 12:14

    My book on cyberbullying was the first ever published, Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats (Research Press). If the above situation was presented to me, I would strongly encourage an investigation into the possibility of self-cyberbullying. This is a phenomenon that occurs when an extremely distressed person creates one account, and then an anonymous other account, for the purpose of sending these kinds of horrible messages to themselves. I obviously cannot say for sure without an investigation that this is what is happening. But investigating this possibility is what I would suggest. Nancy Willard, Embrace Civility in the Digital Age