What is ask.fm?

ask.fm is an online question and answer website, which has been in the news recently due to links to cyberbullying and two tragic teen suicides in Ireland. So why is the site so controversial?

Anonymity. It is sad but true that people are far more likely to post negative or abusive comments online if they are able to do so anonymously. Ask.fm allows users to do this, meaning that anyone can say anything they want. As a result you get posts such as “why are you boring and stupid?” (posted onto the profile of a teenage girl), “who would you f**k at our school?” (on the profile of a teenage boy) and “One good reason you should live” (on the profile of a 16 year old girl).

Tip: If your students use ask.fm, recommend that the ability to answer anonymous questions is disabled in their account settings.

Unmoderated content. As you can tell from the questions above, the site is not moderated, so there is no-one sitting in ask.fm’s office with responsibility for removing offending posts. As they state in their terms and conditions “You understand that in using the ask.fm service you may encounter content that may be deemed objectionable, obscene or in poor taste, which content may or may not be identified as having explicit language. The ask.fm service allows for anonymous content which ask.fm does not monitor. You agree to use the ask.fm service at your own risk and that ask.fm shall have no liability to you for content that you may find objectionable, obscene or in poor taste.”

Minimum age. The minimum age to use the site is 13, two years younger than Facebook. This inevitably means that children younger than 13 are using the site. This is the core of the controversy around ask.fm - presenting young teens with the opportunity to post online in an unmoderated environment where they can post anonymously is asking for trouble.

ask.fm is the brainchild of web entrepreneur Mark Terebin, who is based in Latvia. In the face of media criticism of his site, he has denied any responsibility, blaming a lack of “…values in families and schools” for the bullying, suicides and suicide attempts linked to ask.fm. The website, he claims is “…just a tool which helps people to communicate with each other, same as any other social network, same as phone, same as piece of paper and pen.”

ask.fm lesson

Talk to your students about ask.fm, and ask them if they understand why the site is in the news. Use it as a discussion point on the topic of online safety and cyberbullying, and encourage the students to challenge the way the site works if they think it is wrong, or could be improved. Use the site as a way of exploring issues and asking the questions:

  • Can online comments really make someone suicidal?

  • Why do people post negative comments online?

  • What do they think of Mark Terebin's comments about the site?

  • Should ask.fm be banned from school networks?

ask.fm into policy and practice

The outcome of these discussions could be incorporated into your school e-safety policy, or students could draft recommendations to be emailed to parents who may be concerned about this issue.

Written by E-safety Support on March 25, 2013 14:59

The Student View

I've been working closely now with Digital Leaders for about 2 months now and it's been fascinating seeing how students work and engage with the internet and social media. As much as these are really good students and tech-savvy with ICT, it has been enthralling to see how they go about engaging with each other on the internet and using the tools available. The nature of this group also allows me to have more full and frank debates on the topic of e-safety outside of normal class discussions.

When discussing e-safety with the students, I was surprised to see how little they actually cared about this issue. They actually understood the idea of child protection, and stated that they had been told this from a really young age. I guess this is the same principal as 'don't talk to strangers' in primary school, and by the time the students had reached year 9/10 they actually didn't seem that bothered. One of the things I did ask them was how they thought they were perceived on the internet (the idea of digital dirt) and again, this didn't seem to bother them. However, when I suggested finding an open student profile and displaying it in the classroom they seemed mortified, so maybe this is a way of showing them how they show themselves to the wider world.

However, I also discussed with them something we covered this year in the areas of viruses, spyware, malware etc. and they said this was one of the more interesting takes on e-safety that they have had this year. They found this more insightful and said they were more likely to think about how they use Facebook in the future than before with the idea of online predators (I did a starter activity on Digital Forensics and the students really loved it!)

Of course, online predators is one aspect of e-safety not to be overlooked, but maybe we should challenge how we approach this topic. The idea that people are watching you on the internet is a scary thing, but nowadays with the sheer amount of information that we (all) are used to putting online, maybe we should revisit the idea of e-safety. Should the idea be to tell students not to put personal details online OR should we teach them what happens when we do and let them make their own educated decision?

Written by Ben Gristwood on March 25, 2013 14:59

E-Safety - Education Before Legislation

Schools in built up areas are identified easily by the safety railings immediately outside the school gates. It's fairly common knowledge that these are placed there to ensure that when children leave the safety of the school perimeter fence they do not walk straight out into oncoming traffic.

There are some similarities to be drawn in the ways that schools ensure children's online safety while in the school environment. Schools maintain a zone of internet safety by denying children access to blocked sites, eg. Facebook, adult content and by applying filters that actively find and block content that features certain keywords.

Simply having a perimeter fence around the school and safety railings are not effective tools in themselves for educating children about road safety, they are merely preventative measures. These measures on their own are not enough, it is highly important that children learn about the risks and hazards so that when they are outside the zone of safety provided by these physical guards, they can use roads safely.

The potential distraction is that as we put more barriers and safeguards in place around the provision of internet in schools, we overlook the unfettered access that our children have to content outside this environment. We perhaps fall into the trap of believing that our children access the internet in a zone of safety, but this is an illusion. A balance needs to be struck between putting physical limits in place and educating the children so that when those limits are not in place they don't go on an unfiltered binge.
Parents can easily forget that the smartphones children carry around in their pockets have unfiltered access to the internet 24-7. Trying to put any effective limits or filters in place on the child's own smartphone can present a real challenge. There is also the potential danger that a parent will believe that the measures and safeguards in place are 100 per cent effective, resulting in a misplaced trust in the technology.

Children are unlikely to understand why the safety railings are in place outside the school gates without any explanation. In as much as the safety railings don't actually teach children about the hazards of crossing busy roads, internet filters and blocks do not alone teach them how to browse safely on the internet.

I would advocate that we should instead listen to our children's own perceptions and concepts of e-safety and after listening seek to shape their impressions in the direction of clearer understanding of safety and where the risks lie. When we tell our children not to use a particular site, app or social networking tool – how do we know that they will abide? Some parents insist on being accepted by their own children as friends on Facebook on the expectation that their child would never post anything that they would not approve of.
As our children rush to share their real world lives online through the growing plethora of social media apps, it is important that teachers and parents don't place too much value on purely physical barriers to protect the safety of our children online.

We may not remember how our parents first carried us across the road, then held our hand and later as our parents' trust deepened they allowed us to cross on our own. It is far wiser to place greater emphasis on educating our children about e-safety, than legislating for it.

Written by Alan O'Donohoe on March 25, 2013 15:00

Join E-safety Support

  • Protect your pupils
  • Support your teachers
  • Deliver outstanding practice

Recent Stories
Story Tags
addiction anti_bullying_alliance anti-radicalisation apps ask.fm assembly avatars awards awareness bett Breck_Foundation bug bullying BYOD calendar cber_bullying censorship ceop chatfoss checklist child child_exploitation childline childnet child_protection childwise christmas ClassDojo classroom competition cookies CPD creepshot CSE curriculum cyberbullying cyber_bullying cyber_crime cybersmile_foundation cybersurvey DCMS Demos development devices DfE digital_citizenship digital_footprint digital_forensics digital_leaders digital_literacy digital_native digital_reputation digital_wellbeing eCadets education e-learning emoticon e-safe esafety e-safety e-safety, e-safety_support #esscomp #esstips ethics exa exploitation extreemism extremism extremism, facebook fake_news fantastict fapchat FAPZ film filtering freemium friendly_wifi gaming #GetSafeOnline glossary GoBubble gogadgetfree google governor grooming #GSODay2016 guidance hacker hacking icon information innovation inspection instagram instragram internet internet_matters internet_of_things internet_safety into_film ipad iphone ipod irights IWF #KeepMeSafe language leetspeak lesson like linkedin malware media mental_health mobile monitor monitoring naace national_safeguarding_month navigation neknominate netiquette network news NHCAW nomophobia nspcc NWG ofcom offline ofsted omegle online online_safety oracle parents phishing phone Point2Protect policy pornography power_for_good pressure PREVENT primary privacy professional_development protection PSHE #pupilvoiceweek ratting rdi reporting research risk robots safeguarding safer_internet_day safety SCD2015 #SCD2016 school sdfsdf security self-harm selfie sexting sextortion ShareAware sid SID SID2016 SID2017 SID2018 smartphone snapchat snappening social_media social_media, social_networking staff staff_training #standuptobullying statutory_guidance Stop_CSE stop_cyberbullying_day stress students survey swgfl SWGfL tablet teach teachers technology texting tootoot training TrainingToolz troll trolling twitter UKCCIS uk_safer_internet_centre UK_youth unplug2015 virus webinar website we_protect what_is_e-safety wifi wi-fi windows wizard yik_yak young_people youthworks youtube YPSI yubo