There has been much said in the news recently about the tragic consequences of the anonymous comment site Ask.fm – a high profile site popular with teenagers. But what is it about this sort of site that attracts people into making vicious comments about their ‘friends’, peers and indeed colleagues - we must remember that this domain is not exclusively that of today’s youth but also involves adults too.
To try to understand the psychology of this phenomenon, I took a look at another of these sites, which boasts on the home page that the website is “100% anonymous”. I don’t need to register to explore further, just click a button to claim I am over 18. So now I’m in.
I’m now presented with a selection of four recent posts, three of which appear to be about school pupils which is interesting given the age ‘restriction’ and two of the four include some colourful language describing the person in question - well that’s encouraging, now I know what’s expected of me.
So I click the button to post my own ‘gossip’. I’m asked for my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org it is then) and then I’m free to make up my own gossip (as suggested by the site itself).
Now it gets a bit more serious, I have to tick a box to say that my comment is not about someone under 18 – well I have already seen that that’s been done before, so tick. Next, that it isn’t threatening, pornographic, racist or otherwise objectionable – seen that too, so tick again. Finally that it doesn’t contain private information – OK, I promise.
And that’s it. My disparaging remarks about Pluto and Minnie are there for them and the world to see. Regardless of whether the comments are true or not, they are public and I can’t take them back. But that’s OK surely, because it was anonymous so it’s not really hurting anyone – particularly me right? There will be no repercussions for me and I can always deny it if questioned. It was all too easy.
Perhaps then, it’s the ease and speed at which a comment can be made public that contributes to the impact of this sort of site. Making a spur of the moment comment after a classroom spat (or staffroom spat for that matter), could be regretted moments later, but the damage is already done and can easliy lead to cyber bullying.
It seems that there is no protection given to those on the receiving end. Yes the site has a means of user-moderation, but surely by the time the comment is live and has been seen by just about anyone who is interested, it's too late?
If you have any thoughts on this type of site, we would love to hear from you. Please use the comments section below – we do only ask for your name and comment, but we do moderate all comments before allowing them to be published on the site.