Officials say Ask.fm can be a haven for cyberbullies

Officials say Ask.fm can be a haven for cyberbullies

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Source: WBRC video Source: WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

Authorities have a new warning for parents about a new social media site that many claim is a haven for cyberbullies.

The biggest danger of Ask.fm is that posters can be completely anonymous.

The site works like really any other social media site. You go on there, create a username and password and once online you can go out there and post questions to pretty much any user. The difference between this site and another one like Twitter and Facebook is that this one can be done without ever having to leave your name or any other identifying mark.

Officials fear that at least one girl has already taken her life because of what happened on Ask.fm. Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old from central Florida, was attacked by cyberbullies for more than a year.

Many of the posts sent to her urged her to take her own life. And Sept. 9, 2013, the Polk County Sheriff's Office says the young girl climbed a platform at an abandoned cement plant and jumped to her death. It was later discovered that Sedwick had recently signed up for several new apps, including Ask.fm.

"The Internet can be a great tool," Lt. Mike Yarbrough with the Jefferson County Sheriff's office said. "But it can also be a very dangerous place."

Yarbrough says it's only a matter of time before Ask.fm really takes off in the United States and parents should be educated on the site.

"Just like you would keep your children away from somebody down the street in person, you would do the same thing here," Yarbrough said.

To see what Ask.fm is really like, FOX6 News created a dummy account. It didn't take long before we found examples of cyberbullying. An anonymous user posted this message to one girl's page: "You are the reason our country is not respected, kindly put a gun in your mouth and pull the trigger."

"The problem is adolescents, while technologically advanced, socially they're not," UAB psychologist Josh Klapow said.

Klapow says teens are more likely to fall victim to a cyberbully because their need for peer approval is so high.

"The scary part is that teens and others are going to these web pages and they are taking these comments that are being posted and they are internalizing them," Klapow said.

He says parents need to take a very active role in policing their children's computers and cellphones.

"The less hesitation they're going to have to put out comments and thoughts and statements that otherwise might not occur if you had to look someone face to face," Klapow said. "Unlike traditional bullying, where it's face to face, there is no end."

In response to the cyberbullying controversy, officials at Ask.fm have announced sevearl changes, including an increased team of content moderators and high visibility of privacy features.

And some good news: under the privacy tab, there is an option to block anonymous posters.

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