I wrote a letter to Ask.Fm a Latvian question-and-answer site with a usership of almost 21 million. The website is popular amongst teenagers as social banter. Following the suicides of three teenagers in Ireland, I decided to express my dissapointment at their apperant lack of privacy settings which lead to cyber-bullying.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to you today to discuss the cyber-bullying taking place on your website. Cyberbullying is not only a social disease, but one which has infiltrated it’s way onto the online realm, and unfortunately, onto your otherwise unproblematic website.
In this modern world, the insecurities and imperfections of young girls are not only emphasised but targeted by virtually every source of media they covet the admiration of. Nowadays, girls are judged by their sex appeal from the age of ten, criticised for their love lives, or lackthereof, before graduating primary school and placed under scrutinising eyes not only in their personal realm, but under society’s microscope in tandem.
Girls imagine themselves on the firing line of vicious judges, their self-worth evaluated by their talent, beauty and social popularity. How social popularity is determined is an often rigorous and emotionally-scarring process involving the scrutinization of the self, dismissal of individuality and adaptation of a social facade harmful to others.
When cliques and image are vital, the majority of teenagers adopt a persona prescribed by society, rather than expressing their true selves. When one’s entire insecurities are rooted behind a closed door to be decorated and evaluated by one’s peers, one tends to long to alter it.
As a teenage girl myself, I often feel unappreciated, undervalued, as though my personality could be improved. Because of this, I withdraw, saying little and feeling ever self-conscious. This is the atmosphere bred by today’s judgemental and frivolous society.
Because of such feelings, teenagers long to know how their facade could be further embellished. Perhaps this fear and longing for acceptance in a turbulent world is what turns the youth towards websites such as yours, an anonymous mind field, a dangerous portal hole between the hateful corners of the facade and the public realm.
Here, teenagers can express their jealously, resentment, discrimination and disgust at their peers, hurting them from behind the computer screen. Back in the day, bullying was face-to-face, in front of a limited audience, and from school open to school shut. Now, the bullying takes place anonymously, as though the bully is somehow victorious in tormenting their victim from afar, on front of an immense and eavesdropping audience.
Where is the fun in this?
As you may or may not be aware, another child has committed suicide in the Republic Of Ireland, this time a 12-year-old who was a victim of intensive cyberbullying. This totals to three ask.fm cyberbullying-related suicides amongst under 15s in the past few weeks.
As a part victim of bullying, I understand the trauma this causes. Teenagers are broken enough by hormonal changes, social anxieties and family issues. Why do we need to be exposed to an anonymous circle of judgement? Bullies use this as a medium to express their angst over a sideways glance, effectively crushing their enemy from within. Why is this hatred acceptable?
I do not suggest you remove your website from the Internet, as this does not remove cyberbullying. I understand that your website is your intellectual property to do as you wish. I simply recommend that you establish proper privacy settings by giving users the options of IP-blocking possible cyberbullies.
I have visited your website and found that there is very little means of controlling who comments on your ask.fm page. I understand also that it is not your responsibility to chastise the public with kindness, and that not every conversation taking place on your website is hurtful (some of my friends thoroughly enjoy using your website), but this anonymous fun is no longer fun for the family and friends of those who have lost a daughter, sister, friend or contemporary due to cyber-bullying, which you have the power to help prevent.
I hope you will help to end this epidemic, enforce stricter cyberbullying measures and ostracise those who do engage in acts of cruelty. Although it is not the responsibility of your company to help kids suffering with tormentors, I presume it saddens you to think of the kids in your life being affected by this and taking their own lives as much as it does me.
I struggle to imagine the emotional tension and trauma undergone by the classmates of these suicides. The repercussions on the local community are surely a poorly-weighted consequence for anonymous “fun” online.
I understand that the purpose of ask.fm is to allow friends to share random throwaway comments, but it has become a tool for anonymous and terrifying harassment. This is most certainly not the liability of ask.fm, but I am certain that you will find it in your hearts to further your privacy and harassment measures, preventing yet another loss of life on our island, or on our world as a whole.
What is your opinion on cyber-bullying and sites such as this one?
Do you use Ask.Fm and have you witnessed bullying?
Slight confession – this letter did not blow me out of the park, so I am asking your opinion – do you think it is of a good enough quality to send to Ask.Fm?
Also, ask.fm believe it is not their business to resolve this problem -Irish kids are just considerably crueller than their European counterparts.