Friday, May 24, 2013

Ask.Fm: The Newest Teen and PreTeen Social Media Sinkhole

In the hallway at my school yesterday, a parent of a fourth grader asked me if I had heard about "" Ashamedly--because I'm supposed to be on top of these things--I said I had not. Apparently, it's the newest cyberbullying hotspot amongst some of the fourth graders. After a bit of research, I've discovered that it is in fact being used by several members of our community. The idea behind Ask.Fm is that it's like a game of 20 Questions. Only, there are unlimited questions. You have a photo, a tagline, sometimes a link to your feed (like Instagram or Tumblr) and then anyone either on your feed if you're private, or anyone at all if your're public, can ask whatever questions they want. You can answer, and the idea is that you're supposed to answer truthfully. Here's a great example of a middle school student's profile. I don't know this middle school student, but her page is featured on the home page, so I clicked, read and saw a whole bunch of details about her and her life.

So, how did this become popular and what's the problem with it? Instagram--the most popular social media site among tweens at this point--includes a link to the site on its pages. Thus, lots of curious kids followed their clickers to see what it was. And down the rabbit hole they went. I gotta admit, the idea is intriguing to me too. I don't have to come up with anything interesting to say about myself, I just have to answer questions that OTHER people post for me! I'm a flipping exhausted parent of a toddler; anything that saves me time and brain cells is attractive. I'm not sure what excuse tweens have for taking the path of least resistance.

As for what the problem is, that revolves around the fact that it's an international Web site. Tweens are tweens and cyberbuyllying is largely just a reflection of the very real bullying happening both in schools and out of schools. These technologies just make it easier to do what they are developmentally most likely going to do anyway. However, has these peculiarities:
- A user can register and access full functionality of the site ANONYMOUSLY.
- Unlike most other sites, there is no way to "report" or "block" someone who is abusive.
- The privacy settings (and that's using the word very loosely here) are very limited.
- The site is based in Latvia, which has no laws designed to protect children. There is no one to sue for the fact that children under 13 are its fastest growing segment. There is no one to ask for help to identify anonymous cyberbullies.

Social media sites are a lot like terrorist cells: You take one down and another one (maybe worse) just springs up in its place. Today's Snapchat is tomorrow's is next month's ______ (fill in the blank). For those parents and teachers out there, I'll tell you the same thing I always say, "It's not about the technology, it's about the child." If you have open and regular discussions about ethical behavior both online and offline they are much less likely to engage in cyberbullying. If your child has issues with self-control, you could consider using your filtering tool to limit access to this site. Either way, this is a parenting issue. I'm not sure has any redeeming qualities, but it's important that we are all aware that it's the next big thing...for now.

Image: abstract250206cameraobscura3.jpg By vicky53

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