Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Block ask.fm, police urge

ask.fm has been linked to cyber bulling. Photo / Stuart Munro
ask.fm has been linked to cyber bulling. Photo / Stuart Munro

Kiwi mothers are renewing calls for the controversial social networking site ask.fm to be shut following another suicide linked to cyber bullying between users.

Police are urging parents and schools to block the site after speaking with the people behind it.

The deaths of four British teenagers have been linked to the site since September, including that of Hannah Smith, 14, last week. Hannah had received a series of abusive messages on ask.fm including "go get cancer" and "go die". Her sister Jo, 16, has since been subjected to similar online abuse.

New Zealand police told Latvian-based ask.fm several months ago that its website is linked to cyber bullying in New Zealand.

"They suggested that users should disable the anonymous question function to minimise the chances of bullying occurring," a police spokesman said yesterday.

"Our advice is for schools and parents to block the site completely as the harm it causes far outweighs any perceived benefits."

But parents here want the site shut down and say the sooner it happens the better.

One Auckland woman spoke out about ask.fm in June after her 12-year-old daughter was asked to provide explicit photos, told to kill herself and abused.

The woman, who declined to have her name published, to protect her daughter, has since been lobbying New Zealand companies to pull any advertising from the site.

The woman said this week that she was encouraged by the response from a number of large organisations and advertising agencies.

"Quite a few have said they were unaware of the nature of ask.fm and undertook to withdraw their advertising," she said.

"It is truly awful what young girls are exposed to these days. Reading of another suicide is heartbreaking but chilling too. It could so easily be my child or a friend's child.

"Most kids nowadays don't tell their parents even when they receive extreme abuse on ask.fm."

In Britain, high-profile companies and charities withdrawing advertising from ask.fm include Save the Children and Vodafone.

Another Auckland mother whose 14-year-old daughter was targeted by bullies labelled the site "cruel".

Her daughter had deactivated her account over the abuse but was now using it again.

"It's actually quite addictive, as they want to know what's being said about them, both negative and positive," the mother said.

"To all those parents who say it's my responsibility to keep her off: you're dreaming. I don't think they have stopped and realised how many WiFi hotspots we have these days and how many gadgets can actually access the net. Short of taking all her electronic gadgets off her and keeping her housebound forever, it's virtually impossible."

She said ask.fm drew teenagers into a "vicious cycle" that they could not win. "The sooner they shut it down the better."

Staying safe on ask.fm

• NetSafe recommends that young users of ask.fm prevent anonymous questions being posted by choosing "Do not allow anonymous questions'' in their privacy settings.

• It is possible to block an abusive user after receiving a second message from them, by pressing "block'' next to each question.

• Users can also use a "report'' button to notify the site of abuse.

- NZ Herald

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